India is grappling with covid grief

“I haven’t seen anything on this scale of pandemic grief ever,” says Shah Alam Khan, an orthopedic oncologist and professor at Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences. “Previously, you saw numbers of people who died from covid. Now, there are names. Each and every one of us knows someone who has been taken away by covid. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone who’s died.”

In Khan’s hospital alone, he is seeing doctors so overwhelmed with grief that they are falling apart themselves. Just recently, after an eighth unsuccessful resuscitation attempt, a colleague killed himself in his office. It’s a death that Khan speaks of quietly: he admits he hasn’t wrapped his head around it yet.

“When death happens in our deeply religious society, grief becomes more a part of tradition than anything else,” he says. “I am atheist, but in this country, death and grieving are easier if you are a spiritual person.”

Seema Hari has been one of countless people using the Stories feature on Instagram to share resources such as Google Docs with information about where to find oxygen tanks, focusing on her native Mumbai. But as members of her own family have fallen ill with covid, she’s tumbled into grief, isolated save for her Instagram page. 

“I spent most of my days worrying and trying to share resources with people, and nights checking in via WhatsApp—not just with my family but with other friends all over India, asking them the dreaded question of whether everyone on their side is okay and if they need any help,” she said via email.

Hari said she hasn’t felt the ability to grieve properly and doesn’t see herself doing so: “There is so much collective and personal grief to process, but it is almost like we have not even been afforded the privilege to grieve, because loss is so relentless and so many things demand our action and attention.”