Two-years-ago, around this time, India went into a lockdown, the first of the many to come in the numerous waves of the COVID-19 pandemic that was to follow. Conservative estimates peg the deaths in India at 500,000, other studies estimate a significantly higher rate. Half a million people who used to be around in this country two-years-ago are not around anymore. And, having declared a victory on the pandemic and the steps taken to (barely) contain it, there is no memorial for the people who have died, there is scant acknowledgement of the loss. We all have just moved on.
There is no debate or discussion about our lessons learned in the last two years. Half-a-million people died, some for a lack of oxygen, and nobody is responsible. We don’t speak about what steps we should take for the next time something like this happens. When we come from a place where everything was done right, there is no need to find out what can be improved. We are at our best, what we will do next will be better. What that was and what it will be does not warrant any discussion.
Grief, unfortunately, does not work like that. You can keep it hidden away, but it will eventually show up; either in your daily life in small things or in outsized reactions over the longer term. The grief of the 500,000 people, or more, who were close to the ones that died is a silent chaos that will grow over time. Its roots will grow into the everyday without our conscious knowledge and at a later time we will wonder about the odd behaviour exhibited by people.
Two-years-ago I stood at my window, looking at an eerily quiet neighbourhood on a weekday, not knowing what lay ahead. We went through months of not stepping out of the house every couple of days for anything other than grocery that we needed. The routine of checking in on parents who lived far away, twice-a-day, continues to this date as that generation is barely hanging on. The trauma of the perpetual wail of the ambulance’s siren, the chaos of finding oxygen, hospital beds. The devastation of the loss a loved one. It still exists, fresh and raw.
The grief is made worse by survivor’s guilt. Maybe it is the fact that things are the most normal it has been since March 2020 and I can allow myself to think beyond just surviving that provides this luxury of grief and all its friends. I keep wondering what is this upside-down where everything is vaguely familiar, but everything is irreversibly different? Life goes on, but what does it mean when it can go on so effortlessly after the deaths of half-a-million people?
I am able to, once again, do things that I used to enjoy doing in the pre-pandemic world. A sense of normalcy exists, but it falls apart when I realize that some of the people that I used to share this normal with are not there anymore. Am I, by living this normal, honouring their memories and acknowledging my good luck in having made it this far that? Is the right way to get past this tragedy to dive deep into the normal and pretend it never happened?