Despite what some government officials insist are non-negligible positive signs in managing the pandemic, the situation of children is often aggravated by the stigmatisation that comes along with losing one of their parents or a sibling, writes Kimeng Hilton NDUKONG.
Gone are those days when people hugged you – even for long seconds – as they condoled with you on the death of a close relation. Gone also are those days when people massively turned up for a funeral wake or the obsequies themselves. Beginning from the morgue to the church service (for Christians), and right to the graveside.
In those days – that date back as recently as 2019; and even the early weeks of 2020 – the bereaved were sure of warm company from friends, colleagues and neighbours. Literally, for days on end. Which, inevitably, lightened the weight and pain of the loss of their loved ones.
But since March 6, 2020 when Cameroon announced its first Coronavirus case, life has gradually turned into a daily nightmare for many people. Especially children from families who have lost a parent or both; or some other close relation. Notwithstanding government’s awareness campaign – which is being ably supported by countless groups and organisations – COVID-19 continues to leave its imprint of foreboding in the psyche of adults and children alike.
Despite assurances and reassurances from experts that the viral disease’s mortality rate is less than 5 per cent of the total number of people infected. And therefore not as deadly as other diseases we are quite familiar with.
A non-respecter of social standing, Coronavirus not only kills – and sometimes quite fast – but also foists on children of afflicted families a mishmash of disbelief, stigma, anguish, desolation, embittered unforgiveness, ignominy …This is more so because seriously sick relatives are secluded from their loved ones.
And their eventual death is almost immediately followed by a hastily-arranged burial in a lieu chosen by the authorities! The corpses are interred with such alacrity and sense of foreboding as if to say: “Good riddance to a wicked fellow!” All this, reportedly in a bid to avoid contamination of the living!
Wailing family members – including children and spouses – are kept at a safe distance. Also supposedly in their own interest! “As if the person who died of Coronavirus had suddenly become a bunch of Coronaviruses!” comments a Douala-based public health specialist. Because of this situation, understandably, Cameroonian-style obsequies now belong to a “distant” past.
For, no one “dares” to visit and condole with you when they hear your relation died of Coronavirus. This, in no small measure, only goes to aggravate the pain of the loss. Especially on children who find it hard to understand how their own society has changed – literally, overnight.
For these children abandoned to anguish, desolation, ignominy…. by the society that hitherto paid some attention to their cares, the death of a close sibling becomes an unending bombshell. Whether you like it or not, death from Coronavirus. Or supposedly from Coronavirus – these days in Cameroon – is equivalent to ostracization of the wailing, surviving family members and their children.
No more play with friends. As neighbours instruct their children NEVER to mingle with the “Coronavirus family!” And so these children and their families are immediately ostracized by the very society that hitherto associated with them. Because death from Coronavirus is almost synonymous with ignominy. shame, anguish and isolation. Complete isolation – from the rest of society.
As if, because a relative died of COVID-19, the rest of the family members are necessarily contaminated! If adults for the most part find it hard to bear the situation, what more of their children? Who cannot understand – just like the older family members – what has suddenly befallen them.
This is Coronavirus for you! A disease that has left devastation, not only in terms of physical death and near-eternal separation, but more so the stigmatization, anguish and ignominy that accompany such death. No doubt, in this growing grotesque trend, almost every death these days is attributed to COVID-19!
Thus, the many scenes of fisticuffs, disputes, burials and reburials… seen in a growing number of home-made videos of bewildered, bereaved Cameroonian children and their relatives. To some of these bereaved people, it is difficult to come to terms with the pronouncement by a medical doctor that their sibling actually died of COVID-19.
How could it be? Can someone who was “sick of something else” be declared to have died of Coronavirus! When they were never diagnosed of such while alive? And so the questioning continues endlessly. With the answers all hanging in the air.
While the bereaved – especially the little innocent children – mourn their loved ones in choked desolation. In total, hapless ignominy, from an unconcerned society. What a “new” world! Fashioned out by Coronavirus!