Stay 6 feet apart…… THE LAST GOODBYE WILL MAKE US ALL CRY Funerals and the New Normal



The buzz making the rounds these days refers to a “new normal” to which societies must conform, one which suggests that prepar­ing to live under these new con­ditions will be critical for our survival.

There is no doubt that the “new normal” is upon us and how we do things will change. It is not the first time that we will be forced to shift our operational paradigm and we will surely adapt as we did af­ter 9/11 that radically changed air travel.
What will make the transition difficult is our inability to capture all the major requisites including mental, to effect the change? Fail­ure to do so can result in traumatic experiences and present society with problems that may not have been anticipated.
Activities which we took for granted will change. For example, the expected closure that takes place on the passing of a loved one will no longer be the same. World­wide, traditions may be forced to be abandoned. Amid the Covid-19, close friends and relatives, even passing acquaintances cannot ren­der unto the deceased the usual re­gard that such occasions demand. The closure is all but impossible if the loved ones of a deceased person are not living in the same country at the time of death because of the inability to attend the funeral and personally bid farewell.
In Trinidad and Tobago proto­col now demands that no more than five persons are to assemble. While there is wisdom in such a dictum when it hits one personally, the hurt felt is unimaginable. The sadness when having to witness a funeral on-line can be unbearable and not easily forgotten.

Many may not possess the emotional currency to deal with it

This pandemic is creating a class of citizens who will experi­ence varying degrees of trauma and many may not possess the emotional currency to deal with it. Whether the Prime Minister choos­es to admit it or not, it was clear that the grief he felt at the loss of his favourite brother was further com­pounded by being forced to grieve almost alone at the funeral. We ex­press our deepest sympathies, not only to him but also to the many who are unable to say goodbye as is culturally accustomed.
People manage grief in different ways but in these times effective intervention programmes to deal with bereavement will be required where many do not have the luxury of attending wakes, spending time in the company of close friends and relatives who could offer com­fort and a warm hug.
It is therefore important that we embark upon a programme that will help those most vulnerable to live within the confines of this new normal lest it is manifested in unhealthy behaviours which affect physical and mental health.
One mental health practitioner confessed that she did not even consider the social impact of the inability to grieve during the peri­od of the “new normal” but admit­ted that in her years of experience the failure to deal with trauma will have a deleterious effect on persons and the society at large. She spoke of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and noted that while some display these symptoms which may last for just a short pe­riod, others could suffer prolonged grief disorder. She added that the dynamics of such illnesses could become a burden upon the State and agreed that counselling should be a part of the preparation of the “new normal.”
Grief is manifested by several psychological disorders
Expressions of grief are not limited to presence at the funeral. It has been observed that within communities possessed by the current gang war culture, grief is manifested by several psychoso­cial disorders, including callous behaviours, coldness, lack of hu­manness. In planning for the new normal, perhaps including how to deal with associated mental issues could very well be the solution to even the existing behaviours dem­onstrated by our youth.
When the Government spoke of its plans for the St. Ann’s Medical Hospital and a new approach to mental illness, many scoffed be­cause no details were provided that will allow for analysis and under­standing. Verna St. Rose-Greaves’ contributions in Parliament spoke to the need for mental health units within health offices to treat with the dysfunctions among our youth in our communities. Many did not take much stock in her recommen­dations.
We must, however, address these mental issues because they are go­ing to hurt society.
One could only imagine the con­sequences for children if a teacher who was not allowed to grieve appropriately return to the class­room not having full closure after a death. One can imagine the way such a teacher may project on stu­dents and the scar which may be formed might never heal thus cre­ating cyclical dysfunctions across society.
While the government is not expected to do everything, we do expect that it will provide the framework for strengthening Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other agencies that will go a long way in preparing citizens to grieve from a distance in the “new normal.”
The “new normal” will not be easy but we hope that the Govern­ment raises the social conscious­ness regarding this dilemma and assist people to cope with this new anomaly.
Failure to do so may give life to the old maxim that there are more mad people outside than inside.