The COVID-19 Respiratory Infection has been with us for 2 years and four months and shows no signs of going away. We have no choice but to learn to live alongside it. Life has to go on for the living. Many of us have been affected, infected with the disease.
Currently in my country, Uganda, the new infections are low and there is no lockdown but we cannot afford to become complacent. The Ministry of Health statistics indicate that for the week between 26th June and July 2nd, the confirmed new cases of COVID- 19 were 468 and NO deaths. This is a result of increased vaccine coverage and acquired herd immunity from previous infections. The variant driving the epidemic now is less transmissible and records show that about 51% of the population above 18 are fully vaccinated.
During this period of relaxed restrictions, the tragic legacy of COVID-19 infection is unravelling. The bodies of those who died of COVID-19 infection in the diaspora are being brought back home for burial in their ancestral homes.
It would at least help the bereaved to achieve closure- resolve their feelings and then move on with their lives.
For the bereaved, the period of mourning has been unnecessarily long and painful. Nothing can put this in a better perspective for an indigenous African as the burial of the only known remains- a gold tooth, of the first democratically elected prime minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Patrice Lumumba was brutally murdered in November 1960 and most of his body dissolved in acid. One of his killers, a Belgium police officer, kept Lumumba’s golden tooth which was recently officially handed over to the DRC authorities in the presence of the Lumumba’s family. It was buried in a Mausoleum in Kinshasha on the 30th June 2022!
“ We are ending the mourning we started 61 years ago,’’ declared President Felix Tshikedi of the DRC.
In psychology, closure is defined as: a feeling that an emotional or traumatic experience has been resolved. It is a process and involves having many questions like why, how and what, answered to your satisfaction to help you understand what happened during a painful experience in life like the death of a loved one, break up of a relationship or loss of a job. Not all questions have answers and the process of closure takes long depending on the significance of the loss or the event that happened to you. Some individuals seek closure while others avoid it. Even with people with a similar need to closure like the death of a loved one from COVID-19 Respiratory Disease, one answer does not fit all. Every person’s need for closure is different depending on the circumstances- significance of what was lost. Our personality and values play a big role in how each one approaches closure. The need for closure is also related to one’s faith or religion.
Mentally understanding what happened helps you to accept the loss and move on with your life. Not everyone achieves closure more so after the death of a loved one. Failing to get closure can cause anxiety and depression.
The psychologists have laid out some important factors to consider while seeking for closure.
- Many of us take long to get closure.
- Others never get closure and tend to suffer from anxiety or depression as a result.
- You are in charge of getting your own closure not anyone else.
- Often you have to admit that you will never get the perfect answer.
- Closure is necessary for your own mental health.
- You have to give yourself time, space to mourn, to try to figure what happened, learn a few lessons from the loss which you can use to inform you in future when encountered with a similar loss.
- Do not blame yourself, focus on the positives to achieve closure.
- Closure is a complicated cognitive process. Accept that sometimes things go wrong though it may feel not fair.
- Life goes on. If you wait for so long, you may run out of time.
“Sometimes you don’t get closure, you just move on.’’ – Unknown
I was driven to read about closure as the bodies of relatives and friends who died of COVID- 19 infection during the lockdown, started being brought back for burial. Among them was my niece Maria Gorrette who had worked as a nurse in Arizona , USA, for over twenty years. She died in the line of duty in June 2020. She was 54 years old and a mother of three boys. To them, she was the strongest and most loving person they had ever known.
I for one was both happy and sad at the same time. I was happy that the ordeal was over- a sense of closure to allow them to go on with their lives. I was sad for having lost someone younger than me and so far away.
Her husband and three sons accompanied the body to lay it at rest in the family home.
Going through the funeral rituals was like opening and old wound.
I shudder to imagine what this family has been going through during these two years of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.
As Khalil Gibran said, “The mother is everything- she is our consolation in sorrow, our hope in misery, and our strength in weakness. She is the source of love, mercy, sympathy, and forgiveness. He who loses his mother loses a pure soul who blesses and guards him constantly.’’
I still have the nagging reminder that my best friend’s ashes are yet to be brought home for the final rest. The family will only do it when ready to go through the ordeal one final time. Her death still tears me apart. I just pray that time will gradually make it easier for me to live comfortably with it. Life is for living.
Another set of relatives who were able to bring back their father for burial in March last year, came back to perform the cultural and traditional last funeral rites three weeks ago.
In my culture, the period of mourning starts immediately after the death of the person and only ends after the Last Funeral Rites have been held. No celebration event like a wedding can be held in that family until the period of mourning has officially ended. Traditionally, it used to take about nine months for the family to organise this function . As times have changed; many people are in employment and many young ones now live and work outside Uganda, this period has become flexible.
The essence of the Last Funeral Rites is for the members of the same lineage and the heads of the clan to gather and officially mark the end of the mourning period for a deceased family member and be free to move on with life. Usually it starts on a Friday. Grass-thatched huts are built in the home of the deceased, plenty of meat and food is prepared overnight. One special hut is built at the entrance where anyone who is still overburdened by pain and grief could go in and cry one more final time. Friday night is a time for singing, drinking and dancing. In the wee hours of Saturday, following the guidance of one particular member of the family, everyone is compelled to move out of the house to the outside. Traditionally, this is the gist of the function- to clear death out of the house.
Later around 9 am, the chosen heir and his assistant or the heiress are officially installed in the presence of all members gathered. The head of the lineage dresses the heir/heiress in a piece of bark cloth, hands her/him the official symbols of authority, responsibility and duty . The heir is handed a spear, a rod and small gourd of local brew while the heiress is handed a basket and knife. The chief passes on words of wisdom and some money as a token. Other family members and clan heads can also participate in this function.
To move with the times, this cultural ceremony is followed by a church service or Islamic prayers to bless the heir/heiress and the family. Thereafter, celebration and merry making- food and alcohol are served and dancing follow for the rest of the day. By the time the members leave, they are hopeful about the future.
Our ancestors knew that death was universal and that mourning was for a season otherwise we would get stuck in it.
Even the elephants in the wild rumble loudly in distress after losing one of their own, mourn for some days and move on.
“Finding closure opens the door for us to see the new path we will take on our journey of life and living.’’ – Debbie Ziemann
Have you had to go through an experience of COVID-19 infection –related closure during the pandemic?
How did you manage to gather the power within you to rise above it?