By: Eugenio Torres
By: Eugenio Torres
At any moment, the death of our loved ones is painful. But nowadays, in times of pandemic, it has been even sadder and more frustrating for those who have not been able to say goodbye, with their usual rituals, to their relatives or close friends who have died.
That’s the way the psychologist Gina Tarditi explains it and addresses the subject in her most recent book Mourning in the Middle of the Pandemic.
“During the pandemic, mourning is experienced in a very sad way, even in those cases of people not dying of Covid, but who die in this context. It is being tremendously difficult because they cannot carry out the usual rituals: funerals must comply with the healthy distance, and, with all the measures we are taking to control the pandemic, people are left with the feeling ‘I couldn’t do what he/she wanted’, the hug, the physical cuddling to which we are accustomed.”
This specialist from the National Cancer Institute, who has dedicated herself to the area of palliative care and the care of terminally ill patients and their families, stresses the importance of performing certain rituals, even during the contingency.
“You must be flexible enough so that they can say goodbye to their loved one, in some other way, but one equally valid for both the person who passed away and the one who stays here. Each person, together with his/her closest circle, will have to reach an agreement on how to say goodbye to their deceased loved one,” also recommends the thanatologist.
Another of the effects that Tarditi has noticed during the current health emergency is a great anxiety in the elderly, or in those who have comorbidities, because, although they are taking care of themselves, they feel a hint of sadness because they were not able to be with their loved ones and they don’t know when normality will return. All this causes them fear and uncertainty.
Which was your intention in writing Mourning in the Middle of the Pandemic?
To bring help to people who are experiencing different types of losses and life changes. This pandemic has really shocked us all. It has even generated uncertainty, and not because it didn’t exist before, but because we are more aware that, although we want to have as much control as possible over what life holds for us, we now know that we human beings are vulnerable and this forces us to f cope with the fear of not knowing what is in store for us tomorrow.
I would like to think that this book will promote healthy mourning practices; allow people to take ideas, serve as a guide. It is a theoretical- practical book. It explain briefly what mourning is: that it is a natural adaptation process that occurs when people’s lives undergo an important change. Each person experiences it differently.
Then I propose three dynamics that I usually carry out at the National Cancer Institute. A perhaps daring attempt to bring these dynamics to the individual level or, for those who so wish it, with their family or close friends.
On the one hand, to work on emotions, identify them, recognizing what we are experiencing at every moment. It is the only way to know what we can do with what we are feeling, with emotions that have been stigmatized. And what we all must learn is to control them so we can use them to our benefit. I propose an exercise on how to work them.
On the other hand, I propose that everyone can identify what tools, what talents, gifts and strengths he/she has, such as hope, solidarity, empathy, trust, faith, tolerance or tenderness. All these are all tools to be used, to be strengthen when necessary, and I also propose the way to do it.
And, finally, once we have recognized what we are feeling and what tools we have to better manage it, that each of us set off on his/her own reconstruction path.
Our whole little world is altered, but we can rebuild ourselves: it will depend on each person’s circumstances.
Human beings are deeply resilient and through adversity we tend to grow. Reconstruction means that I recognize what I have lost and, from there on, I decide what to do to walk confidently in this world that, although it does not offer absolute certainties, it does invite us to live fully.
Is it possible to speak of a healthy mourning and of another that exceeds the natural process, either in intensity or extent, and how can the latter be identified?
Most people experience a normal grief, but there is a small percentage—between 10 and 15 percent—that falls into what we call a ‘complicated grief’. It has more to do with certain factors, such as age; children and the elderly are considered to have greater problems accepting grief in certain circumstances; the very circumstances of death, for example, with the Covid, when some people die alone, isolated. The personality has a lot to do; for example, people who are very dependent can go through a worse time, as well as people who have severe depression or some psychiatric disorder.
It can be identified when months pass and we don’t notice that people are solving what they are feeling; their emotions are too intense and that lingers. We cannot say that mourning has an end. Most of what we lose is not recovered; for example, in the case of a loved one, nobody will get him/her back, but he/she leaves a mark, and that mark means that that person continues to live forward, with new projects, new illusions, with courage, with enthusiasm.
In people with a complicated grief we can see that time passes and there is neither an improvement nor a reconstruction path. In these cases, another type of assessment would have to be made.
Besides the death of a close person, can we mourn the loss of a job, the end of a relationship?
Yes. The process is quite similar. The emotion, the intensity corresponds to what has been lost and to the meaning of that loss for each person. For one person, a divorce may be the worst loss, for another it may be a painful but necessary process.
The way we interpret what we have just lived is also important.
I don’t usually talk of stages, because we all experience it differently. Sometimes there are tasks to do.
In the case of the loss of a job, we usually think about the economic income loss, but it can also entail the loss of social status, the role that it represented for the family as the breadwinner, the self-esteem that performing a certain job gave him.
There is a legacy that remains and that could accompany us forward without letting us get caught in the past, acknowledging all the good things that we had.
Who is your book for?
For the general population; for those who have gone through the loss of a loved one, but also for all the health professionals who are facing a situation of enormous stress and great anxiety, often of not being able to be with their families, of not having time even to grieve for what they are living; and finally for all those who work in what are considered essential jobs or who must earn their daily bread and go out on the street carrying on their back the weight of their fear.
Tarditi warns of the dilemma we are experiencing right now: we can either live in fear, recognizing that black swans (a surprising event of great impact) do exist and can reappear, or walk into the future without caring about what might happen tomorrow because today we can decide to live with intention and passion.
One of the great myths of mourning is that we must stop talking about what we lost, says Gina Tarditi. People approach the mourners and tell them: “Stop talking about it; it’s over.” And, if someone has died: “You already have an angel in heaven,” “Things happen for a reason.”
“These clichés that are due to the anguish of seeing a loved one suffering do not help. The truth is that the human being needs to explain what is happening in reality. Especially in the beginning, people need to talk about what happened and why it happened,” says the psychologist.
Another great myth is, “Stop crying,” or, on the contrary, “You haven’t cried: you’ll harm yourself.”
“This will depend on the personality of each person: who needs to cry must feel free to do so, and whoever does not need to cry does not have to,” she adds. “Each of us grieves in a unique way.”
“We also say that time heals, but the truth is that time does not heal anything. Grief is not a disease, it is an adaptation process, complicated in some cases, but it is a process that happens whenever we face any significant loss.
“What is going to cause a person to feel better and assimilate his/her loss is what he/she will do in time, that is, the only thing that he/she must not do during the mourning is to sit back and do nothing, expecting for time to solved it.”
Another cliché that must be banished is, “Exert yourself.”
“No one likes to suffer. This only mortifies the sufferer. The best thing is to be as close to the person as one feels it, to have kind gestures and be willing to accompany and listen him/her. No advices are needed at that time. We can come close to the person and simply say, ‘Here I am,’ ‘How can I help you?’, ‘I love you.’ Accepting silences, for example, helps a lot.
One more myth: There’s a time limit, a date or a finish line to stop mourning.
“But no,” says Tarditi, “mourning is an open wound that hurts a lot initially, and whose scar doesn’t disappear. Yet one can learn to give the loss another meaning, a sense, to continue forward in life, recognizing that human beings do not yield the field in the face of adversity.