Experts from Makerere University have warned that COVID-19 Pandemic poses unprecedented challenges to the grieving process. As of the end of June, the corona virus had claimed lives of over 2000 individuals each associated with tens or hundreds of bereaved individuals.
They say the situation has been worsened by the fact that many have not attended burials which in some cultures provide opportunity for bereaving and related rituals.
They were presenting at a virtual presentation on dealing with anxiety, stress and grief in times of COVID-19 and its variants.
Nakalawa Linda, a Clinical Physiologist at Makerere University’s Department of Mental and Community Psychology says while grief may be normal and a challenging part of life, some of it can be acute going by the recent examples where one losses several times with in the short period.
She says traditionally in places like Buganda and elsewhere burial followed last funeral rites or okwabya olumbe provide the opportunity to grieve but most of those ceremonies have been missed because of the COVID-19 restrictions which have to be known as scientific burials.
While some have witnessed burial through technologies like Zoom, many without access to technology have not witnessed the send of their loved ones.
Nakalwa says in times like now, everyone or those that have lost their loved ones need to be prepared for the grieving process. According to Nakalawa , failure to grieve can lead to mental illness including depression.
Nakalawa adds that individuals can deal with death through drawing from their spiritual and cultural resources, honoring the memory of the departed for example keeping some of their property to themselves and addressing their own fears of death.
“It is important to allow oneself to grieve. Amidst multiple cases, grieve each case independently,” she says. She further suggests that individuals can be aided by family to go through grief by letting them cry for as long as they can, allowing them follow funeral processions online if available, regularly give them phone calls to check on them and also speak about the situation continually with them. This will eventually bring healing to them.
Dr.Paul Nyende who is a social Psychologist and wellness expert advises that even amidst grief, other than sinking into focusing on the gravity of a situation, negative thoughts should repeatedly be challenged with positivity.
Studies elsewhere have found that individuals whose grief remains intense and impairing for more than a year tend to experience prolonged grief disorder or complicated grief.
For Uganda and the rest of the world, researchers say the pandemic has set the stage for more complex and prolonged reactions on the part of those who have lost loved ones.
71-year-old Betty Kiwana, has experienced this first hand having lost three people in the space of one week, a friend, a brother after two days and eventually her pastor two days after the brother had died. She says every death announcement that reached her was greeted with sharp wails as fresh experience and days of grief followed.
Perez Kwetuma similarly recounts how he recovered from grief last year during lock down after losing his only cousin to an accident.
Unlike his relatives that spent their time crying during the funeral, he went ahead cracking jokes to fill strong. However, days after the burial he was arrested with a feel of grief beyond his control and burst into tears as he left others in wonder.
“I do not know where tears came from but I started crying for over ten minutes yet all through the burial I had tried to act strong” he narrated.
Elizabeth Okello a counselor and president Uganda Counseling Association says the rate of depressive disorders in Africa is rising especially in this season because of people suffering multiple losses amidst a new way of grieving in lock down.
She adds that one can take note of slipping into depression from grieving with signs like change of sleep pattern, loss of appetite and even worse giving up on maintaining body hygiene.
“I found it psychologically impacting when the president says we shall bury military style. This kind of practice affects the grieving process,” She says.
COVID-19-related social distancing has a major impact on the grieving process in a number of ways. From the beginning of the pandemic, but even now, people often cannot be present with their loved ones during the dying process.