There is no ideal timeline for processing grief. (Representational image: Mike Labrum via Unsplash)
The devastation and havoc wreaked by the second Covid wave and prior to that, a less deadly but equally scary first wave, is still fresh in the minds of many Indians – even as they dress up in ethnic wear and attend Diwali parties in 2022.
In mid-2021, when television and social media were flooded with horrifying images of the dead, many Indians – even those who didn’t lose a loved one were left traumatised.
Come 2022, all of us were expected to get back to work. However, this festive season, many Indians are still struggling to cope with the loss of a dear one. How should one navigate the festive season when one is still grieving? Should one be forced to dress up and step out if they don’t wish to? More importantly, how long is too long to process grief?
We reached out to psychologists to know from them how Indians – especially those who are still grieving, can find solace this festive season.
Loneliness And Seeking Emotional Support
Even though the stigma around mental health is reducing in urban centres, it can still be hard for many to reach out for help through the year. But during the festive season – the stigma is twofold – particularly because those who are grieving wouldn’t want to reach out to their friends who are celebrating and having a good time. This, in turn, leads to feelings of loneliness and isolation.
Puroitree Majumdar, senior clinical psychologist, YourDOST, says: “Much of the loneliness during festive season stems out of customs and family traditions which lose their meaning after a loved one passes away. That is when one must try and reevaluate these traditions and give them a new meaning.”
About dealing with feelings of loneliness and seeking support around Diwali, Puroitree says, “I agree that reaching out to someone for emotional support can be tough. But it is important to remember that the person you are reaching out to has their agency and can say ‘no’ if they don’t wish to help you out. One must not think that they are causing harm to others by reaching out to them for help. During the festive season, our happiness depends on other’s happiness – so it is okay to seek support from others.”
Grief Shaming During Festive Season
A popular but less talked about stigma in Indian and South Asian cultures is grief shaming – which is essentially passing unwarranted, unsolicited judgements on how one chooses to grieve.
Phrases like – ‘It is okay, you should move on now’, ‘I have rarely seen you cry so much’ or ‘you are thinking too much’ – are all harsh judgements towards how one chooses to mourn.
Psychologists say grieving is deeply personal and, therefore, no one should judge how long one takes to get over the loss of a loved one. Grieving is very subjective since everyone processes grief at their own pace.
Shamantha K., counselling psychologist, Fortis Hospitals, says: “I do not believe grief shaming is a healthy approach. Adults often shame kids and stop them from celebrating Diwali if someone in their extended family has passed away. Instead, they should try to educate their kids on what it means to lose someone, the customs and then allow kids to make an informed decision”.
Dr Sahir Jamati, consultant psychologist, Masina Hospital, says: “Most of the time, people who grief shame don’t even realize they are doing it. What seems like a harmless remark can cause someone who is grieving significant emotional distress.”
Another pertinent question that arises during the festive season is – how soon is too soon to celebrate? Is there a timeline that one should follow while processing grief?
“Everybody grieves at their own pace. There can be no single norm for this. No one should judge how long one takes to move on,” Shamantha says.
Do What Works For You
On the flipside, as opposed to those who are grief shamed, there are some who take longer than the customary mourning period to get into the festive spirit. In a family setting, such people might be forced to take part in the festivities, dress up and look happy (or at least try).
How does one navigate this scenario?
“In a family setting, this can be a difficult line to walk. One has to have some boundaries and conversations with their loved ones, sharing their honest feelings around the festive season and why they don’t feel like participating in the festivities”, says Puroitree.
Dr Jamati says, “There is no right or wrong when it comes to grief. There is no timeline one can follow either. The grief that I go through is mine and no one should get to decide how long I should take to process it”.
“At the end of the day, it is important to establish your boundaries,” Puroitree concludes.