Harrowing Covid-19 stories, Part III

By Catherine Murombedzi

Soldering on after the death of a loved one …grieving under the Covid-19 yoke

It’s a Saturday morning with a difference, November 26, 2022.

A church service is taking place at the Trinity Methodist Church in the city centre of Harare, Zimbabwe. The usual greetings are passed as congregants stream in to take seats.

Solemn hymns set the sombre atmosphere and the pain envelopes all.

“In loving memory of dear ones lost to Covid-19.”

Today, the Reverend is not in charge, the bereaved congregants are. It is the longest service I have ever attended. Running from 9 am to 3 pm.

As the service comes to an end, the atmosphere has changed. That heavy blanket that overwhelmed congregants at the beginning has disappeared. What has been the magic of that change, from pain to acceptance?

The power to listen when one talks spur the next person to talk because there is a listening ear. The service became a safe space, empathy engulfed listeners as they placed themselves in each speaker’s shoes.

Support groups born with congregants exchanging phone numbers. I wish more churches did this as a healing path after the devastating effects of the pandemic. Like a thief in the night, Covid-19 snatched loved ones, with the restrictions to mourn in the usual way remaining etched in the hearts of the bereaved.

With the pandemic storm settling down, unseen scars of Covid-19 live forever.

For some families, it was not one or two, it was the wiping out of siblings, parents, children and friends in the cruellest and unimaginable manner.

The first to speak was an elderly woman, who said she was Mai Sibanda.

If a pin dropped, the noise would be heard by all, everyone listened to the heart-wrenching testimonies of grief and pain.

An interlude of a hymn carried the day through.

“Today is the first time I have been able to speak. My husband worked in the food sector, he was in the essential service. He reported for duty when the majority stayed at home under lockdown. He braved the wave and went to work, we prayed with each going and coming.

“One day he failed to go to work. He had a fever, his body was furnace hot with a splitting headache.
We suspected Covid-19 but could not afford the US$60 for a test. We made home remedies, boiled zumbani, lemons, vicks and steamed.

“We made several concoctions to no avail. My husband died at home within four days. The health authorities came to disinfect our home and surprisingly, we were afforded the tests. Relatives couldn’t be with us during this difficult time.

“My husband was buried by a crew from the funeral parlour as we watched from a distance. We did not put him to rest, (hatina kuviga baba, takanoona vachiraswa).

Like an infectious beast, he was discarded under the watchful eyes of health monitors. Up to now, that vision of staff in white protective clothing gives me shivers. I have not accepted that he is gone, I dream that he is at work and will walk through the door one day,” said Mrs Sibanda.

Next was Gogo Zulu who lost a daughter. A part of Gogo was literally buried with her daughter.

“I am 82 years, why did God take away a young life that still had a purpose? Why did he allow me to be ‘orphaned’ again in my old age? Why was she the only one to get Covid-19, yet we all lived together?

“She came back at 2 pm, an unusual time, and said Mama, I have chest pains. I phoned my daughter abroad and she sent some money through and instructed a doctor to visit. She was treated from home in isolation.

“I sat and slept by her bedroom door and talked to her daily. During the day I sat by her open window and would peep through.

“On day three, the doctor said she was not improving and he moved her to a hospital. We couldn’t visit, we only phoned and were not even able to talk to her. A week went by, holding on, the busy phone was an eternity, as getting through took forever.

“I am not sure if the nurses who answered were familiar with the patients or it was protocol to say, ‘today she is stable’ and assured us they were doing their best.

“One day I had the courage to phone the doctor. He broke the news that my baby was on life support. I imagined the loneliness, the pain, the anguish. My world crushed. I stopped calling the hospital, I stopped calling the doctor.

“I called heaven and am weeping because I got no answer. Despite fasting, my calls were in vain. One evening the doctor called. I did not need to hear him break the sad news. I broke the news myself, ‘aendaka musikana?‘ (my girl has gone) all he did was to answer, ‘yes’.

I hung up and called heaven in anger, I cursed being a Christian all my life. I questioned why I wasn’t the one to go. I stopped living, there was no purpose, she looked after me in old age. We needed to swap places, death is a thief.

“My children abroad couldn’t travel to bury their young loving sister. Nichola never came back home, no funeral service for her, no flowers for her. Just the rushed, non-event to get rid of her is all that her burial was.

“No last respects, a part of me went with her. This is the first time I am able to speak among fellow grieving parents, relatives and friends. Let’s do this more often, please,” said Gogo Zulu.

Men don’t cry, men don’t weep, and men must be strong. Males are socialised to absorb pain, it’s macho.
In reality, men are human beings like everyone else, they must grieve, weep and talk.

“I did not lose my father during the Covid-19 era. I lost my father 23 years ago. This is the first time I weep for my father. I was 27 years old and gainfully employed. My father died from prostate cancer after a long costly battle.

“Being the eldest child, with siblings still in college and school, the challenges of life afforded me not a chance to grieve. I didn’t even get a chance to mourn.

“All I recall was order after order. ‘You need to come along, we are going to process the burial order, you are the eldest child, and we need you to drive us to inform and pick up vakarabwa, (in-laws). We need you outside for the family caucus, we need cash, and relish has run out.

“We have decided that your dad will be buried in Mutoko, please pay for the bus and hearse,’ it was an avalanche of orders and demands, do this, do that, don’t weep, you are a man,” said Chisi who broke down in front of congregants.

He was allowed time to weep, after some time he heaved and said thank you.

“Thank you for allowing me to weep for my father, I feel better, thank you.”

With others having lost more than one loved one, Mbuya Hambi walked up to the front lamenting.

Makandipa vana vashanu imi Jehovha, mupi weupenyu, makatora vairi, pamwe nababa, kunge Covid-19 yakauyira ini, rumbidzwai Jehova, munoziva kusasimba kwangu, ndotya kurasika, asi imi muri simba rangu, munondipa simba,” (you gave me five children dear Jehovah, you took two, together with my husband, as if Covid-19 was meant for me, you are my strength, carry me through).

She intoned before breaking into a solemn hymn, walking up to the front.

“Today, I want to accept that I was blessed to be a mother of five children and a loving husband. All that is in the past, I now accept that He is the Giver and Taker of Life. Help me pray for acceptance of what I can not change,” said Gogo Hambi before breaking into a joyous celebration song.

Mutendi usaneta” believer don’t tire.

As this was towards the end, following testimonies took the acceptance route, with testimony after testimony carrying grief and pain, the healing path had started.

Jane Mhundwa, a counsellor and therapist said grieving is different from person to person and requires to be addressed accordingly.

“A grieving person requires to get in touch with their emotions and express them in a safe space. Having a therapist can be particularly helpful if there is no one to talk to or the bereaved don’t feel comfortable expressing those feelings to friends or family.

“A therapist can listen without offering advice and this helps the bereaved to process their feelings,” said Mhundwa.

“Acceptance is a journey, attending many funerals, we hear the bereaved urged to accept the loss. This is not the right thing to do.
If one feels disconnected or numb, bereavement therapy can help towards accepting the reality of the loss of a loved one,” said Mhundwa.

“Coming together as bereaved people can help process the trauma. Talking is therapeutic, describing what people went through, and knowing that one is not alone can help process trauma as empathy and support are shared.

“What seemed daily routine and easy can become insurmountable, one requires to accept that their loved one is gone and require to rearrange, as hard as it may be. Allowing room to experience grief is important, but looking at Covid-19, it’s unprecedented grieving, where they were alone when they lost their loved ones.

“Depression can set in when one’s imagination calms down and slowly start to look at reality. The loss is now real as feelings and panic subside, as the emotional fog begins to clear, and the loss feels more present and unavoidable.

“Acceptance is a process, a journey, the pain is there, now living with it. The grieving no longer resists the reality of the loss and know that they have to carry on,” said Mhundwa.

As of 20 January, 2023, Zimbabwe lost 5 652 to Covid-19 with over 5 500 in the 2020 and 2021.
The low risk perception has seen the vaccination drive slowing down with a day in January 2023 recording zero vaccination.

There is a worrying decline as those initially vaccinated don’t care to complete the required doses. A total of 6 592 786 756 received their first dose, with 4 958 871 getting the second dose and only 1386 having cared to have the third booster jab.

In 2020, the nation decried the lack of vaccines, now that the vaccines are there and the interest has waned.

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