Q: Archbishop J, how do we keep hope in a time of such deep despair?
In the first half of 2020 the question was: ‘Do you know anyone with Covid-19?’ By the second half of 2020, the question became how many people do you know with Covid-19? Now the question is, how many people do you know who died from Covid-19? Most people know someone or people from work, church, friends, or family who have died. The grief is palpable.
We are a nation plunged into grief! I believe we need to understand that before we try to figure anything else out.
On February 11, the number of our citizens who died because of Covid stood at 3,526. Many others have died because of the fear of going to a medical facility during the pandemic.
Official figures indicate some 120,380 citizens have contracted the virus since March 2020. Many others have home tested or just decided to stay home and recover and not report.
Add to the picture ten months of lockdown when we were housebound. In a middle-class home, that could have been fun at times. But the smaller the dwelling and the greater the number in the house, the greater the challenge.
Consider also the 20 months or so, when many children did not go to school. This was a significant loss for them; they were unable to see their friends, play sport or socialise.
And then, think of the many workers who lost income during the months of lockdown. They were wonderful citizens who had always supported themselves and their families.
They were forced to beg for food and other essentials because they could not work and had no earnings. When you must line up for food to feed your family, the loss of dignity is significant. Many were self-employed, taxi drivers, hairdressers, plumbers, etc.
Now add again the number of businesses that have closed and the thousands of citizens who have been impacted by this. An enterprise that, in 2020, might have shown stability could now face an uncertain future. Owners who have spent their savings may not now see a way forward to a meaningful livelihood. This too is significant grief.
Many families could not say goodbye to their loved ones. The last time some saw their loved one was when the family member entered the ambulance to be taken to hospital. When conscious, he or she could communicate, but when breathing became difficult there was no communication except through a kind nurse or orderly on duty.
I am asking that we all take a deep breath and exhale. We are a people in very deep grief. There are many reasons for our grief and many ways that grief has pushed us out of our comfort zone—out of our sphere of control and our usual responses. We need to read the anger in our society through the lens of deep grief. Only then will we have an appropriate response to this current crisis.
Many years ago, I journeyed with three families that suffered profound grief. Each family suffered through the tragic loss of a loved one.
I saw the families at about 40 days apart. In each, anger took over and tore the family apart. It was not what I expected. But each time, in each family the anger was such that reason could not bring about a perspective for reconciliation. Each locked into anger and a destructive path through blame, shame, and accusations.
I learnt then, in the bitter school of life that adults do not know how to face and live with grief. It leaves us powerless, and adults do not like to feel powerless.
So, in the face of grief, many times, adults choose another emotion—anger. This makes us feel powerful. Anger is destructive, but it is an emotion with which most adults find it easier to deal. It is one of the stages of grief.
Dr Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying outlined the five stages of grief that most people go through—Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance (DABDA). There are variations of the theory, but they all make clear: grief is a process that we need to understand and facilitate.
Grief and Dying—a Process
Trinidad and Tobago is in deep grief. We need to understand this and begin to facilitate a national conversation about the grief and the way forward.
Look at the depth of anger that we now have in our national discourse. It is toxic. We need to understand the ailment if we are going to be part of the solution that is needed.
The rising levels of depression and the higher levels of attempted suicide should alert us to the challenge we face.
Hope begins when we understand the situation and, more than that, when we believe we are understood and being listened to. In your family, your workplace, amongst your friends, listen deeply to those in your circle.
Listen past the pain and past the rage and the anger. If you can, repeat what you hear so the person knows they are being heard. Do not defend, do not give rational explanations, do not justify actions. Just listen and let the other person know they are being heard.
Call a friend you know who is hurting and angry. Listen deeply and allow them to know they have been listened to.
Many times, people going through grief experience loneliness. They feel isolated and cut off from others. Many who were close friends before the grief, choose to disengage because of how awkward, strained, and difficult the relationship seems to be. This causes further loss and isolation.
If you are in grief call someone you trust and ask them to please listen to you. Tell them you need to vent in a non-judgemental space. Then tell your story.
First, let us recognise we are a people in deep grief. Second, we need to let people tell their stories, express their anger and disappointment. We need to listen with love and accept whatever is said to us.
After the person has been heard, then we can invite them to name the hurt they feel and, ultimately, to forgive so relationships can be restored.
T&T is in deep grief, and we need to help each other through the stages of grief to acceptance.
Call people you know in grief and just listen to them. If you are in grief, call someone and speak.