Risk, mourning, politics: Toward a transnational critical conception of grief for COVID-19 deaths in Iran

Mourning with the world: The loneliness of grief in a pandemic

Zohreh, Bayatrizi, Hajar Ghorbani and Reza Taslimitehrani

[…] In the case of COVID-19 deaths, we see these dynamics at play again on local, national and transnational scales. The emerging evidence in Iran indicates that contagion both as a biological fact but also as a social fear and stigma might have led to the increasing loneliness and even stigmatization of the dying and the grieving relatives. In personal interviews, survivors identified separation from the dying and dead relatives as the worst aspect of grief during contagion. A woman who had managed to slip into the ICU room and seen her father for a last time before he died was deeply distraught by the memory of her father’s loneliness. Her distress was renewed with the loneliness of his funeral:

They didn’t let us get close. We were at a distance, struggling to contain ourselves. They didn’t show us his face one last time. We didn’t see it. And my sister says . . . she cannot believe that it was him that they put in the grave. This type of departure, this estrangement, adds to our sorrows. In his last days he was awaiting us in the hospital, alone. . . . I constantly wonder how he must have expected us to visit him. I hope he knows our regret. I always think only if they had shown me his face. My dad’s face. . . . (SZ, April 2020)

Another young woman who lost her grandfather during the pandemic talked about the lingering pain of the lonely funeral:

The cemetery was terrible. Our family is very attached to each other. But we had no one there. . . . Even now my father and uncle complain about the loneliness of it. . . . I’m certain that none of us has accepted it yet because the usual ceremonies were not held, we didn’t go to the mosque and no one was there for the burial, except for us (RK, April 2020)

The lack of physical contact compounded the loneliness for mourners, a fact that is not surprising especially given that grief is an embodied and relational experience (McCarthy and Prokhovnik, 2014):

The loneliness is one thing, the absence of a shoulder to cry on. The worst part of it is that you cannot hold your loved ones. The lack of physical interaction causes the most damage. (AJ, April 2020)

The fear of biological contagion clashed with the social norms of collective mourning in Iran, where families and friends gather around the bereaved for days and where it is deemed cruel to leave them alone. Where mourning ceremonies have traditionally been an occasion for coming together and setting difference aside, the fear of contagion drove some families apart. One interviewee who had lost his brother took offence to the fact that some of their close relatives had shunned them for fear of the virus: ‘My uncle’s family had a banner of condolence made and posted outside our door when we were asleep at home. They didn’t even bother to ring the bell and speak with us from a distance.’ Conversely, a young woman was cut off by her sister’s family after she refused to visit them at home and in-person out of concern for contracting the virus (for more on the family dynamics of disease, see Sobel and Cowan, 2003).

For reading the whole please article clik:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/00113921211007153