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'I am still in shock at losing both my parents within 20 days', says Indian-Australian woman

Representative image of an elderly person receiving treatment for breathing difficulties Source: Getty Images/India Pix

As Australia’s borders remain closed news of coronavirus-related fatalities flowing in from India has heightened concern amongst Australia’s Indian community. For many like Sonia, fear has been replaced by grief, as the pandemic has claimed the lives of parents or other loved ones.

Finance professional Sonia* is still trying to come to terms with losing both her parents in India within less than a month.

Her mother was ailing and bedridden for the last three years with a full-time nurse employed to care for her health. She passed away in early April. Sonia’s brother managed to fly in from Dubai for her cremation.


Highlights:

  • Australia’s border closure raises the Indian community’s anxiety due to COVID-19 spiral in India
  • Increased demand for medical supplies and services for loved ones adding to the financial stress 
  • Global Indian diaspora feels ‘powerless and guilty’ for living in safe countries, says Melbourne expert 

Shortly afterward, Sonia’s father contracted COVID-19 and succumbed to the virus within 20 days of losing his wife. By now, Sonia’s brother and sister-in-law in Dubai had also tested positive and were unable to perform his final rites. A cousin from a nearby state in India stepped in to do so.

'My brother was being wheeled into a hospital in Dubai at the same time as my dad was being cremated in India, both due to COVID,' Sonia told SBS Hindi.

The cousin who helped the family, also eventually contracted the virus but has since recovered. According to Sonia, her father, brother and sister-in-law had received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine prior to being infected.

Throughout this family ordeal, Sonia could not travel to India due to Australia’s border closures but she kept strong, arranging for hospitalisation and ventilator for her father through her contacts here and in India.

I knew my mother was suffering. However, my father was healthy and I was confident he would recover. I am still in shock at losing both my parents within 20 days: Sonia

Sonia is not alone in experiencing the loss of loved ones from afar.

Unable to travel to care for ailing relatives or attend funerals of those dying from COVID-19, Australia’s Indian community is grappling with multiple challenges as it remains geographically disconnected but emotionally more connected than ever before, with pandemic-stricken India.

Indian students seek economic aid to tide through the times of coronavirus.
As Australia’s borders remain closed news of coronavirus-related fatalities flowing in from India has heightened concern amongst Australia’s Indian community.
Pixabay

As India battles a raging second wave of the coronavirus, some elderly residents without a support system are struggling to fend for themselves. The ongoing lockdowns and restrictions meant to curb the spread of the contagion are only making matters worse for them.

Increased demand for medical supplies and services is also causing financial strain. 

Speaking to SBS Hindi, IT Consultant Priyam* narrated how she spent sleepless nights recently when both her parents tested positive for COVID-19 in Gurugram, in India’s northern state of Haryana.

Even though their symptoms were considered mild by their doctor, both felt weak and unable to look after themselves. Their extended family and friends could not assist as they were in isolation.

Priyam, their only child, lives in Melbourne. She couldn’t fly to India to care for them due to Australia’s travel restrictions. She remained very concerned about their recovery as both had age-related underlying health issues.

After spending hours over the phone and internet, Priyam was finally able to arrange a full-time nurse and attendant to look after her parents in their home at "exorbitant rates due to increased demand". They spent a few weeks in-residence assisting her parents to isolate from each other till they recovered.

Priyam spent most of her time arranging medicines, groceries, oximeters and even contingency oxygen cylinders as a backup for her parents with the help of her friends, relatives, and a “very helpful neighbour” in India.

She considers herself fortunate for being able to find “reliable and trustworthy” nursing staff to look after her parents.

"Not everyone has that experience, as every day, we hear shocking stories of neglect, greed or sheer inhumanity that is rife during the pandemic in India,' she explained.

Speaking to SBS Hindi, Professor Jayashri Kulkarni, Head of Psychiatry at Monash University, expressed her concern over COVID’s widespread impact on the Indian-Australian community.

Prof Kulkarni highlights how many people of Indian origin living overseas are currently experiencing a sense of helplessness and powerlessness mixed with anxiety and concern for their loved ones living in India.

On a deeper level, some could even feel a ‘survivor guilt’ for living in comfortable, easy Australia, knowing that their families and friends are suffering in India. It can get overwhelming, particularly when there is no capacity to visit or assist loved ones: Prof Kulkarni 

Unable to perform the traditional rites and customs that help the grieving process, people like Sonia are relying on support from friends and relatives to tide over this difficult time.

* Names changed upon request

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