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Bereavement is now one lonely, numbing affair

Covid-19 deaths carry a lot of stigma. [Courtesy]

Grief is personal. But even for those who have lost their loved ones during the pandemic, personal grief has been different. And with lockdowns and curfews, bereavement is one lonely, numbing affair. 

Take Pauline Osoro. She lost her husband, Moses Osoro, last August. He suffered shortness of breath and was diagnosed with a blood infection and later tested positive for Covid-19. 

“While I was nursing him at the hospital,” recalls Pauline, “I told him to let me massage him and he said, it’s okay, massage me for the last time.”

Pauline left for the supermarket where a sale was going on before heading home to freshen up and return to keep her hubby company for the night.   

Her break did not last long. She was restless. She decided to pray when she got home, but before she could do so a call came in. “The doctor called and I told him ‘just don’t say what you want to say because I know it is bad news’,” she says

At the hospital, Pauline could not view her husband’s body. Covid case. Burial had to be within 72 hours.

Pauline asked whether she could buy the PPE so that Osoro could be buried in a suit and not naked “but they told me once a person is dead we spray the body and wrap him in a body bag. This still hurts me to date.”

Before burial in Migori, family members tested for Covid-19 that turned negative. But the burial was hurried and under police supervision. There was no chance to say a proper goodbye.

Then came the stigma. Pauline’s neighbours in Nairobi wondered whether the estate would be fumigated. “My young son could not play with other children because his father had died of Covid,” she recalls

The stigma also extended to the church. Her fellow adherents gave her a wide berth. No worshippers condoled with her or came to pray with her. Pauline lost many friends.

To atone for everything, Pauline honoured her husband with a second burial this February besides renovating his final resting place. She is still pained her husband was buried naked in a body bag.  

Some relatives also kept off. “I stay strong because of my children. I hide at night and cry but before them, I act strong,” says Pauline, adding that overcoming grief is not easy but she finds solace in singing and keeping busy with work.

According to Faith Nafula, a psychologist, Covid-19 deaths carry a lot of stigma but families should accept the outcomes of succumbing to the virus.

She advises families to do memorials after the hurried burials as it can bring closure.  She also recommends visiting gravesites of loved ones after the lockdowns are lifted. 

Nafula also encourages formation of open digital forums on social media where families can share and express their feelings. But for those who mourn in solitude, she says people should employ tactics that work for them as “there are no quick fixes to any kind of grief.”  

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