Dealing with the sting of death in COVID times

All Woman

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory.

— 1 Corinthians 15:55

DEATH always strikes a solemn note in our lives and mortal existence presents itself to us in serenity, sorrow and pain. I have experienced the death of so many of my loved ones that I have come to accept that it is inevitable. Even in the midst of pain and sorrow, we somehow get through, with the support of family, friends and community

Culturally, we are a very supportive community. Dead yards, nine nights, the wake and repast after the funeral are ways in which we support each other, making the grieving process more bearable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken away this opportunity from us and in as much as we still get the calls, the restrictions on gatherings for funerals have made the loss of loved ones harder.

The music world halted a week ago when the announcement of the death of reggae pioneer Toots Hibbert was made. The reaction of the Jamaican people, and especially those in the music industry, was overwhelming. Toots Hibbert was a national treasure, a king on stage, and a beautiful human spirit in life. The entire nation mourns his loss, people who didn't know him personally cried, and expressions of “Me can't bother” or “I am done with 2020” were common in social media circles.

The truth is that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced so many of us to face our own mortality as people around the world die from complications related to it, and at home in Jamaica our numbers of infected people continue to rise everyday.

Just two weeks ago, a good friend and a music colleague — Denver “Feluke” Smith lost his battle with colon cancer. I have never seen anyone fight for their life the way Denver did and while he was fighting loudly, he found time for people. He turned up to support events and others in similar situations and was the friend who was always available to listen and offer advice. Denver was a brilliant light, a talented musician, and a wonderful father. I tried to understand how I was feeling — I was hurt, sad and, to be honest, angry. I reflected on words unsaid, visits that I kept putting off, unresolved disagreements, and I started feeling guilty. I stumbled upon an interview he did in 2017 and noticed how he took time out to name individuals, including me, who were there for him, and just the way he expressed his gratitude struck a chord. I felt grateful that I knew him, that I had memories, and began reflecting on the good times we shared as friends.

At some point in our lives we all face loss — the loss of something/someone who meant something to us. We process grief differently and I understand that grieving is an individual experience and that healing takes time. As we deal with the inherent anxieties of these times and the loss of loved ones, let us be reminded that grieving is individual, can trigger different and unexpected emotions, and that we should acknowledge our pain and support ourselves emotionally and physically.

The COVID-19 pandemic is another curve ball in this circle of life. It has changed even the way we are accustomed to grieving; funerals are limited to a few members of the immediate family and gatherings in the form of nine nights/setups are disallowed. The support system we know that offers us comfort and sense of community has changed. In some instances, we have not been able to attend funerals of our loved ones except in cases of virtual attendances. We are forced to adjust to a “new normal”.

Death stings more in these times and we must be gentle with ourselves, allowing ourselves to grieve and celebrate the lives of those who are no longer with us.

Coleen Antoinette is an Arts Educator and lover of culture and people. She is currently the Director of Marketing & Communications at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. You may share your thoughts or own experiences with her at coleenantoinette@gmail.com.

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