May 26, 2021Print | PDF
As the world grappled with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, Magnus Mfoafo-M’Carthy was grappling with another once-in-a-lifetime trauma: the loss of his mother. In subsequent months, Mfoafo-M’Carthy found his grief enmeshed with conflicting feelings about racial tension, the disparities of the pandemic between the Global North and South, and the challenges of practicing social work in a virtual world.
Mfoafo-M’Carthy, an associate professor in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Faculty of Social Work, explored those themes in an article published in Qualitative Social Work, “Mama! I hear your silence: Grief and COVID-19 on the Global North and South disparity.” The article was written as a conversation between Mfoafo-M’Carthy and his mother.
“In this conversation, I use my mother’s voice as a reflexive mirror to explore the social work silences that the COVID-19 pandemic expresses so eloquently in my own life and work,” says Mfoafo-M’Carthy.
Born and raised in Ghana, Mfoafo-M’Carthy has cultivated research partnerships in his home country to address issues of inclusive education and disability, and stigma surrounding mental illness. Here are Mfoafo-M’Carthy’s reflections on turning his grief into a uniquely personal journal article.
Tell us about your mother.
MMM: “I consider my mom to be the matriarch of our family. She was brilliant, and she sacrificed quite a lot. Based on the mindset in Ghanaian culture that women do not need much education, she was made to quit school at the age of 15 to take care of her siblings. When she married, she took on the role of a homemaker. Periodically, we would come home from boarding school with friends who felt very comfortable in our home and were taken care of by my mother. She took care of 15 children in addition to her own.
“She instilled in us qualities such as hard work, loyalty and ensured that we took care of the less privileged. My mother was always available to us no matter how busy she was. She listened without judgement or criticism. She taught us to love everyone, be nonjudgmental and live with integrity.”
In the article, you write that your mother inspired your choice of profession and was always your “purest social work conscience.” What did you mean by that?
MMM: “My mom was a person who cared more about others than herself. There were times I would send her money and she would give the money to people she felt needed it more. That was her nature. My mother’s compassion for others encouraged me to pursue a profession that focused on helping people realize their full potential.”
Why did you decide to write this article while grieving the death of your mother?
MMM: “I initially found myself in a daze on hearing of the passing of my mother, not knowing what to do or how to deal with the pain. I realized writing about the grief could be cathartic. Writing has helped a lot in dealing with the loss of this ‘great pillar’ who has impacted so many lives.”
"Amid these challenges, I believe I can use my experience to be there for others through the written word."
You draw connections between your own grief and the grief being experienced globally during this pandemic. How did that inform your writing?
MMM: “Social work as a profession challenges us to be reflexive and conscious of what is going on around us. It is important for us to be aware of the impact of the global pandemic and social injustices on our clients. I happened to be grieving during a time when the pandemic seemed to be gaining momentum. I have lots of friends in the U.S. who lost parents, siblings and children because of this pandemic. Amid these challenges, I believe I can use my experience to be there for others through the written word.”
The article is not simply a documentation of your grieving process. You explore other powerful themes, such as the racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
MMM: “As a racialized person in the diaspora, there are issues I am confronted with daily. Though I may be educated, hold a faculty position at a university and am respected based on my scholarship, I don’t feel safe. Any time I step out of my house or office into the community, I feel like any other racialized person who stands the risk of being accosted by the police. I felt the need to comment on the racial tension because even though the incident with George Floyd occurred in the United States, it could transpire in Canada.”
You write that in some ways the COVID-19 pandemic is an equalizer and yet it “lays bare” the disparity between the Global North and South. How so?
MMM: “In the early days of the pandemic, particularly in this part of the world, we talked about personal protective equipment (PPE) and protecting ourselves by staying at home. The Canadian government provided resources to those who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. However, when I look at it from the perspective of those in the Global South, I realise most people do not have the luxury of their governments providing aid or keeping them at home. Most people in these countries would be unable to put food on the table without stepping out to work. Others do not even have access to PPE. These were the thoughts going through my mind when I made that comparison.”
You were unable to travel home to Ghana for your mother’s funeral because of closed international borders. Your mother taught you that “it’s the human pandemic that erects walls and borders” and you draw a parallel to social work, calling its increasing professionalism “another border and disconnector.” Please explain.
MMM: “There is the belief that the expression of emotion is a sign of weakness, and others see it as unprofessional. However, I was trying to articulate the thought that as humans, expressing grief or emotion does not take away one’s professionalism. The ability to express grief can be cathartic. I draw strength from my mother’s assurance that what is important in life is being human and letting your humanity speak for you, even amid challenges of this nature.”
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