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Dr Rajani Jagtap lost her husband to COVID-19 after both had tested positive. She now helps others grieving, through her support group ‘Staying Alive’.
Ever thought about how it feels to lose someone due to a disease that does not allow you to say your final goodbyes, not just at the end but also no way of having the final rites? It is also overwhelming figuring out how to take the next step, trying to come to terms with the death itself, and how it took place with no closure. It can take a serious toll on the individual, making them feel trapped within their own mind.
This is the reality of life – and death – during this COVID pandemic. Lives are being turned upside down every day. And in this, Dr Rajani Jagtap is trying to bring some succour to survivors, being a survivor of loss herself.
Dr. Rajani Jagtap has taken care of herself and her family single-handedly during such difficult times of loss and pain.
Sometime in the past few months, both she and her husband tested positive for COVID 19. Dr. Jagtap was quarantined at home while her husband was taken to the hospital. We may assume that being quarantined at home was a good thing, but Dr. Jagtap would be taking care of herself, making sure not to spread the virus, while also tending to her ailing mother.
Due to the many restrictions put in place, it was difficult to carry out certain chores and duties.
“My children were away and couldn’t come over, and my relatives couldn’t help as I was tested positive as well. I had to manage everything on my own.” With her children away and unable to return due to rapid spread of the virus, her husband’s deteriorating health at the hospital – keep in mind that she wasn’t able to visit him – everything was on her shoulders. As time passed, she received the devastating news of her husband passing away. She could never say her final goodbyes to the man she loved.
“About a month or so has passed since the passing of my husband,” she says, “it has been difficult to cope with it. I could never perform his last rites at home. I couldn’t get a sense of closure.” But with an already heavy load on her shoulders, she needed to grab the handle of her swirling emotions for the sake of her family and herself.
Although a month has passed, Dr. Jagtap in between all the emotions she is battling, there was a sense of judgment from society towards her husband testing positive. “Both I and my late husband are health care workers. Hence, the probability of contracting the virus, as well as spreading it was a lot higher. As healthcare workers, both of us were at high risk.”
Surrounded by these emotions and the absence of her husband, she feels lonely. “It is very difficult to move on when everything reminds me of him,” she says. She has tried to push every nagging thought and feeling away by engrossing herself in work and meditating.
During this time, one of her main support systems were the people around her. “My children and friends who have been through a similar experience have helped me, and supported me through this time.” While the grief and sadness remain, her support system has helped her build back her strength.
While detangling her web of emotions, she learnt that talking about her issues helped lighten the heaviness she felt, which made her realise something. She says, “Many people are going through a similar situation and are unable to cope with it. They would need a shoulder to cry on or a ear to listen to them, and people who have experienced and gone through the same thing would also understand their emotions.”
She believes that talking about the place you are in, whether it’s mentally, emotionally or even physically, helps. The thought of knowing that there is someone who knows what you’ve been through and you aren’t alone feels rather empowering, and helps to get a grip on toxic thoughts and emotions that are probably wearing one out.
With these ideas in place, Dr Jagtap spoke with her friend, Divya Andar, a clinical psychologist, in order to start a support group. This conversation between them led to the formation of ‘Staying Alive’, a support group for individuals who have lost someone close to them due to COVID 19.
“Andar took the initiative further by circulating posters in our Whatsapp group and then Facebook making it accessible to everyone,” Dr Rajani Jagtap says. “At first I was hesitant to put my number out there but then went for it.”
By making the poster public they are reaching out to a wider audience who has a need for a little light in their life.
Staying Alive conducts multiple group activities and provides counselling. It has turned out to be a place for individuals to heal and help come to terms with their grief. Every activity is carried out within the comfort of the individual’s home via zoom meetings. This helps keep everyone safe through the act of social distancing while simultaneously healing.
In very little time, Staying Alive has approximately 20 members and counting. Started by these two women, the support group has received a number of calls through which they have tried to help callers as much as possible.
“We have received various calls from people, some who have lost their loved ones during the lockdown and trying to process it, while some trying to deal with the death of a loved one not due to COVID 19,” says Dr Rajani Jagtap.
Each of these callers has their own experience, and with time and healing processes, Staying Alive does their best to help one another.
Dr. Rajani Jagtap can be seen as a symbol of strength; it takes a great amount of courage and faith to help heal yourself and others simultaneously. Having gone through the traumatic events as she has, she still tries to provide support to others and be the shoulder for many.
Through Dr. Jagtap’s efforts, we learn how during such troublesome times we need to give back to society, support them, and motivate them like no other. Use your grief as your strength, for yourself or the world. Find positive outcomes, and keep an eye out for the silver lining while respecting everything you’re going through.
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