Post-pandemic: Psychological demand for bereavements in the COVID-19 pandemic

Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Li Zhanshu, Wang Yang, Wang Huning, Zhao Leji, Han Zheng and Wang Qishan, as well as other Party and state leaders, stand in silence during the national mourning for martyrs who died fighting the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and compatriots who lost their lives in the outbreak, in the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, capital of China, at 10:00 am on April 4, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The world appears to be no longer the way we knew it, especially for the bereavements in the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In just a few short months, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our perceptions of the world to a degree typically seen only over years and decades. To chart a path forward requires meaningful research and deep human compassion. We must understand what we expect of each other and how this crisis is reshaping our perceptions, behaviors, values and societies.

It is regrettable that as a result of the continuing evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic, confirmed worldwide Covid-19 death toll passes 100,000 and still claims up. The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces the fact that we have a duty to open our minds to the lived experiences of others, as well as the tragedy of bereavement.

As we recognize the courage of human rights defenders everywhere, let us commit to protect those who seek truth and justice, and provide COVID-19 victims with effective remedies and restore their dignity.

China holds national ‘wail of grief’ to remember COVID-19 victims

On 4 April 2020, President Xi Jinping attended the national mourning period for martyrs who sacrificed their lives in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak and compatriots who died of the novel coronavirus pneumonia. Xi and other leaders joined all the Chinese people, and observed three minutes of silence to mourn for the deceased at the central leadership compound of Zhongnanhai. Air raid sirens and horns of automobiles, trains and ships wailed in grief. National flags have been lowered to half-mast across the country and at Chinese embassies and consulates abroad, and all public recreational activities will be suspended throughout the country.

4 April 2020 marks this year’s Qingming Festival, or Tomb-Sweeping Day – a traditional festival for Chinese families to visit the tombs of their ancestors to clean the gravesites, pray to their ancestors and make ritual offerings. As of 3 April, an accumulative number of 3,326 people had died of the contagion on the Chinese mainland. In Wuhan, Hubei province, the city hit hardest by the epidemic on the Chinese mainland, mourning activities were also held to commemorate those who had succumbed to the disease.

Unclaimed bodies of COVID-19 victims in New York will not be subject to mass burial, Mayor de Blasio says

Drone pictures show bodies being buried on New York’s Hart Island where the department of corrections is dealing with more burials overall, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in New York City, U.S., April 9, 2020. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

New York City officials say that Hart Island, which for decades has been used as the final resting place for people who died unclaimed, will also be used for unclaimed coronavirus victims.

Mayor Bill de Blasio responded Friday to concerns that mass burials would be necessary because of the high number of bodies caused by the pandemic. Drone photos appeared to show groups of caskets being covered with dirt in long trenches on Hart Island.

“There will be no mass burials on Hart Island,” he tweeted. “Everything will be individual and every body will be treated with dignity.”

The mayor said in the tweet, “The heartbreaking numbers of deaths we’re seeing means we are sadly losing more people without family or friends to bury them privately. Those are the people who will be buried on Hart Island, with every measure of respect and dignity New York City can provide.”

“This is not a new procedure,” the mayor said at a news conference, adding it’s a “sad topic.”

Press secretary Freddi Goldstein told CNN on Thursday, “It is likely that people who have passed away from (coronavirus) … will be buried on the island in the coming days.”

Hart Island has been used by the city as a public cemetery for over 150 years and is managed by the Department of Correction. The Hart island burials are mostly people who have been unclaimed at the city’s morgue for anywhere from 30 to 60 days, Goldstein said.

Over 1 million people are interred there.

The city is transferring unclaimed bodies to Hart Island to make way for other coronavirus victims whose bodies will be claimed, Goldstein said. New rules from the medical examiner’s office say bodies will be taken to the island if they go unclaimed for two weeks.

Only people who have not been claimed by relatives or a loved one will be buried there, Goldstein highlighted. Despite the new rule from the medical examiner, Goldstein said as long as morgue officials make contact with a relative within 14 days, they will not be moved to Hart Island.

“These are people who, for two weeks, we have not been able to find anyone who says, ‘I know that person, I love that person, I will handle the burial,’” Goldstein said. “These are people who we have made zero contact with the family.”

Usually, about 25 people are buried on the island each week, Goldstein said. But since coronavirus began claiming victims in the US, she said there are 25 people buried there each day.

No dignity in death: Piling bodies, no traditonal funeral for COVID-19 victims

Because even a dead person, is a potential carrier. They die alone, isolated from loved ones. Recent three cases show that coronavirus victims found no dignity even in death.

A coronavirus victim in New Delhi was refused a cremation. Authorities turned away the family members of the 68-year-old deceased. They said there were no guidelines. They were waiting for health ministry instructions.

How do you cremate a Covid-19 victim? Cremation ground officials were confused. The family, distraught. There was no time for grief. The logistics were more challenging.

This happened on March 14, the deceased woman was the second coronavirus casualty in India. Her family had to wait for a few hours before they could perform the last rites.

Nearly 6000 kms away, In Italy, the family of another victim was battling similar distress.47-year-old Teresa Franzese had succumbed to the coronavirus.

But authorities at Naples did not come forward to collect her body. Teresa’s brother had to appeal on social media to persuade authorities into helping him cremate his sister.

It was after a 36-hour-long wait that Teresa’s body finally found a casket. But several other victims are being denied even the dignity of a coffin or a casket.

Let’s take you to Iran, Where both — the death toll and the size of mass graves — are expanding. The mass cemetery of Qom can now be seen from space.

The burials here are not in accordance with the Islamic traditions. In Iran, corpses are traditionally washed with soap and water before burial.

But in Qom, the fear of the spreading coronavirus is preventing medical workers and the kin of the deceased from observing tradition..

The families of victims aren’t just dealing with death but also this taboo and fear. Medically speaking, the fear isn’t unfounded.

Experts say — the coronavirus continues to live in a patient much after he or she has died. This makes medical handlers and family members performing the last rites vulnerable to the virus.

That said, the victims cannot de denied the dignity of a burial. Nobody seems to have an answer right now.

The coronavirus has struck fear in the hearts of those who live and robbed those who die, of the basic dignity of death.

Antidotes to bereavements

While supporting robust public safety measures, we should scrutinize and take a strong stance on the situation of vulnerable groups who lost their loved ones. None of us will be truly free whilst these people suffer. The onus is incumbent upon each of us to uphold the spirit of everyone, everywhere:

  • Respecting lifetime contributions of each victim

We call on all of us to recognise the contributions made by people who have died during the coronavirus pandemic and pay tribute to their extraordinary stories. We must take collective action to reaffirm our commitment to implement the guidance of care of the decceased with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 and safe burial procedure.

  • Preserving dignity to the deceased

Many COVID-19 victims were subjected to heinous cruelty and robbed of their dignity and identities. We should shed light on any abuses and call on nations to take their repsonsibilities toweards this particularly vulnerable population who lost their loved ones.

The world is currently being ravaged by COVID-19, a virus that knows no border, passport or colour. It does not care if you live in wretched hovels of mud and straw or you are enclosed at the most beautiful, luxurious mansion. We are pulling the pilot of a kite spread all across the globe; no one knows exactly when everything will be okay once again. But I have a premonition there is sunshine in sight.

Today, the pandemic has killed thousands of people all over the world and still claiming lives but the purpose of this script is to state how coronavirus is preventing the dignity of the dead. Globally, most cultures bury their loved ones with dignity but it is unfortunate that COVID-19 has not allowed us to do that with dignity.

In Nigeria, we may not have got to a stage where a funeral home looks like a supermarket. But that is why all hands must be on deck. As individuals, we should follow the guidelines and directives of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control and the Federal Ministry of Health to remain safe. COVID-19 is a global pandemic which requires global cooperation.

In China, Italy, Spain, it is a harvest of death as families are devastated and find it hard to accept that their loved ones are gone. Italy has banned funerals because of the coronavirus crisis. For many countries, the virus is now robbing families of the chance to say a final goodbye, robbing them to sing “On the hills far away’’ by George Bennard.

In Spain, it is a reality many victims of COVID-19 are dying in hospital isolation without any family or friends. You ask why? Because the risk of contagion is too high, visits have to be banned. Last week in Spain, some bodies were left untouched; it took the intervention of military men to evacuate those corpses.

In South Africa, the number of people that can attend funeral of loved ones has been pegged to two. We are all sitting at the edge of our seat awaiting for that magic solution that will stop this pandemic.

In Africa, seeing loved ones die is always devastating, we love to hold their hands, firmly shake their bodies as if they should come alive. In the western world, they love to caress their cheeks and see them look dignified. Not being able to do all these is hurtful. It is painful to see your loved one buried without your presence or you are there and you are unable to mumble a few words.

When COVID-19 showed up, all other viruses shushed their mouths and are quivering at the popularity of a new-born toddler. This time round, we shall throw away the toddler with the bathwater. We don’t want it.

A big worry now is that how long are we going to be locked down? The Federal Government should as a matter of urgency subsidise the prices of sanitisers, kits, face masks and gloves and provide protective gear for task force and medical personnel. But more importantly, the government should provide immediate cash and food assistance to the needy. People who lack foods are insecure and at the risk of poor health. There is nothing too expensive to do to contain the pandemic that is spluttering and hissing like a cobra whose tail has been stepped on.

We listen with interest from different parts of the world minutes by minutes, second by second, as sweat flows into tributary streams of the world and pouring off our faces but I believe the world lived through flu in 1918; I can say with certainty that we will weather the storm and the coronavirus pandemic will disappear like a phantom.

  • Staying aware of the inadvertent impact of psychological demand

 

  • Preserving our right to know and the right to defend rights

We are committed to contributing to novel ways of working together and preserving the human dignity and the respect for the inalienability of rights that belong to both the living and the deceased with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

The legitimate protection of our health must not serve as an opportunistic pretext to muzzle those defending our rights to mourn the victims, including migrants and refugees.

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About Sunney 108 Articles
I am currently a Professor of Zhejiang Gongshang University, Hangzhou, China.

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