A dignified farewell: Relatives of missing people reach out to the families of COVID-19 victims

Every year on 30 August, the International Day of the Disappeared draws attention to the plight of families searching for missing loved ones. For example, in Peru, 21,793 people disappeared during the period of armed violence that lasted from 1980 to 2000. To date, only 4,403 bodies have been recovered, of which 2,746 have been identified and returned to their families.

This year, the International Day of the Disappeared was different: it fell in the middle of a pandemic. The pain of losing someone to COVID-19 is very similar to the anguish caused by the disappearance of a loved one. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), working with the Peruvian Ministry of Health, has found that families facing both kinds of loss experienced similar feelings of uncertainty, frustration and pain, along with the dual trauma of bereavement and isolation.

[embedded content]

#UnAdiosDigno “Toronjil para no ahogarnos en el llanto” SPOT from La Plaza Media on Vimeo.

As Eva Estaban Finck, an ICRC psychologist explains, “without a body to bury or mourn, families cannot hold a vigil or perform the final rites in accordance with their traditions; this is known as ambiguous loss, namely the sudden loss of a loved one without knowing what happened to them or being able to say goodbye properly”.

Doris Caqui Calixto, president of Favidefo, an association that brings together families of victims of forced disappearance, understands only too well the pain and uncertainty that thousands of her fellow Peruvians are currently feeling. She has been searching for her partner and the father of her four children, Teófilo Rímac Capcha, for more than 30 years.

Doris’ personal experience, and the comfort she found in a simple ritual – sharing a cup of lemon balm tea – have inspired a campaign jointly organized by the ICRC and Favidefo, with support from the Teatro de la Plaza in Lima.

The campaign, entitled “Toronjil, para no ahogarnos en el llanto” (Lemon balm for grieving hearts), highlights the common ground shared by families of people who disappeared as a result of armed violence and those unable to bid a dignified farewell (#UnAdiosDigno) to loved ones who died during the pandemic.

“During this difficult time”, Doris explains, “the most heart-warming and comforting thing you can do for someone is to give them a hug; unfortunately, that kind of physical contact is impossible at the moment. As an alternative, I remembered something that soothed me during those long, lonely nights of grief: drinking lemon balm tea with my children”.

For the campaign, Doris wrote a poem with Peruvian playwright Luis Alberto León Bacigalupo about the relaxing properties of lemon balm, in which a cup of the herbal tea provides a means for grieving families to comfort each other. The poem has been brought to life in a video that shows families of some of the people who disappeared during two decades of armed violence in Peru reaching out to relatives of COVID-19 victims. Their shared suffering creates a sense of solidarity between families experiencing ambiguous loss.

All families, whatever the cause of their loss, need to be able to bid a dignified farewell to their loved ones. Even during a pandemic that has had a devastating impact on thousands of families, it is vital not to neglect efforts to search for missing people. In line with our mandate, the ICRC will also continue to help the families of missing persons in their search. Because the families of the missing will not rest until they find out what happened to their loved ones.

For further information, please contact:
Dafne Martos, ICRC Lima: +51 997 560 240
Email: amartoscastaeda@icrc.org

Source : Icrc