COVID-19 lockdown: The virus of depression and desolation

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A PANDEMIC like the current COVID-19 is a medical problem, and the battle against it is first and foremost physical and is fought with scientific means. However, the inevitable “social isolation” which is crucial in this battle has very painful human and spiritual effects. Medical scientists and political leaders who jointly make the decisions over “lockdowns” may not always be aware of this.

People who are infected and their families may not always understand what the experts decree.

They think there are some very authoritarian and unfeeling people in charge. Elderly “positive” patients are suddenly cut off from their loved ones.

The physical isolation for them means spiritual loneliness and sadness. The little grandchildren who are strictly forbidden to visit gogo and sekuru understand even less. They all feel that this forced separation from family and friends is cruel. But who are they to argue? Face masks make them look as if they have been gagged and silenced.

They no longer have a voice, or the right to basic freedom of thought or human dignity. “Positive” patients must be, and are, controlled by the power of the health system in the hands of government.

Nobody cares whether patients can accept this isolation and cope with it. Anyone refusing co-operation is publicly denounced as being asocial and dangerous to public health.

Such patients feel that they have been abandoned by their families and communities. They no longer seem to have a rightful place in their village or neighbourhood.

They no longer enjoy the respect and love that they always thought they could expect.

Prayerful people ask: where is our God in all this?

She used to be addressed lovingly as “ambuya” or “gogo”, but now she is just a nobody, locked away in some hidden place. What is going to happen to her? What can she expect? Friends, grown-up children etc can no longer come to speak to her, give her a chance to express her sorrow, and to cry.

Love and respect for her as grandmother used to be the cornerstone of her culture and traditional living. Now her heart seems to be in the cold grip of loveless, cruel hands, fear and terror. Is this the end? Is she just being discarded?

Even their families still unaffected and staying “locked down” at home, despite the physical distance, need to stay in touch and show their old parents and grandparents their love. Smart phones normally regarded as mere useless toys the young ones play with, can now prove to be very useful, as the only means of communication still acceptable and usable.

With them we can still send consoling messages which say: “We have not forgotten you. We are thinking of you all day. Nor is our Lord and God writing you off. We are still a family, you are still our granny, our gogo, our ambuya.”

Many of us are not “online” or on the internet. That does not excuse us from doing our duty to the old and sick ones. We used to travel to far away places to see our sick family members.
Pastors and priests and fellow church members used to come and share a word of spiritual comfort with us. But now they are barred from seeing us.

But now the victims of this epidemic who need this attention now more than ever before, are deprived of all comfort, for valid reasons, sure, but painfully so, anyhow.

The battle against this vicious, wicked virus is in full swing. And what do we do in the battle against the spiritual virus of depression and desolation? The warmth of our hearts and compassion are wanted. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

 Father Oskar Wermter is a social commentator. He writes in his person capacity