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How to grieve properly in times of Covid

November 11, 2021 | 04:57 pm PT
Vo Nhat Vinh Researcher
Just a few hours after he FaceTimed with his family, my father returned home in an urn.

It was September 14. The number of daily deaths due to coronavirus in HCMC, for the first time in a while, dropped to below 150.

It was a sign that things were getting better. Or at least that was how it looked.

My father drew his last breath in a hospital in Thu Duc. He died alone. There was no ceremony, no one by his side, and no time to grieve.

I remember the night he and my brother had to be hospitalized. The entire family, except my mother, was infected. I struggled to hold my phone, gripping it hard, trying not to let it land on my heaving chest. My family had waited for what seemed like hours for a charity ambulance to arrive.

We tried to secure as much medicine and food as possible to keep my mother safe, but they never were enough.

I was in Europe and exhausted all my personal contacts in begging for help for my family. I had never felt so desperate or powerless before, having to rely completely on kind souls for favors I may never be able to repay in this lifetime.

My phone was in my hands the whole three weeks my father spent in the hospital. I let the network roam 24/7, and every call from Vietnam made my heart jump. I never had a proper night's sleep.

That anxiety did not leave me even two weeks after my father died. I would jump up from bed in the middle of the night to check non-existent notifications on my phone.

It has been over two months, but my life still has not gone back to the way it used to be.

My brother is still haunted by the beeps of the machines at the hospital. He says he can still hear them every night when he goes to sleep. He also tells me about the diapers, the claustrophobic feeling of being confined to a bed and the fact that only he got to go home in one piece and not our father. He sweats at the slightest mention of that time.

That was about my family's trauma. But over 900,000 Covid patients out there and the loved ones of around 22,700 dead patients are also living the same realities.

A survey at the Thu Duc Covid-19 Resuscitation Hospital found 53 percent of patients suffered from anxiety disorders, with 20 percent having clinical depression.

Covid may go away, but its mental scars will remain in those afflicted. And scars do not fade so easily.

When National Assembly delegate Nguyen Anh Tri, also a doctor, proposed a national memorial service for Covid victims, I felt I had been heard. Not only because it would honor those who had left, but also help those who remain make peace with their loss. This way, my family and many others may get the collective closure we so desperately need. It is only human to do so, and would serve as a reminder of the shipwrecks we survived so that no one will let their guard down ever again.

We can call it People’s Day, a testament to our community’s unity in the face of adversity.

The battle against Covid has not ended, but life must go on.

It is not simply about getting rid of the coronavirus, but about helping people live their lives as normally as they can. It means getting them mental help to recover.

I am still seeing a therapist to deal with my father's death. I hope more mental health hotlines will open in Vietnam for thousands like me to process their grief.

I believe most experts will agree and join such networks if the chance arises.

*Vo Nhat Vinh is an R&D expert based in France. The opinions expressed are his own.

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