Unfulfilled wishes, unasked questions, untold secrets forever to remain unfulfilled, unasked and untold. The wishes burned on the pyre, the questions waded away with the river, and the secrets buried themselves deep in the earth.
A baby whose name never made it to the certificate; a pet whose fur still sticks to the furniture; a father who couldn’t see his daughter graduate; a mother who couldn’t welcome her daughter-in-law home; a friend whose rebukes still echo off the walls–nothing can prepare us for it. Nobody can truly make another understand the pain of loss.
I lost my grandfather two years ago. His health had been deteriorating for long. So, it wasn’t really a shock when he passed away. I didn’t feel any anger or the need for bargaining. Old age took him and I simply had to accept it. I recall the void I felt like the silence that follows an explosion.
We get so used to having our loved ones in our lives that we can’t contemplate life without them. It’s no surprise that dealing with such pain is the hardest thing to do. Little do we realise in the moment that grieving the loss allows us to let go of the pain. Few are fortunate to get closure. Most others tend to brush the pain aside.
Grief is not a negative emotion in itself. It’s an outlet to release the heavy emotions we feel. “Grief is a process. It can take a few weeks or a few months. For some, it may even take a few years,” explains psychologist Tishya Mahindru Shahani. “It neither comes with a specific timeline, nor does it manifest in the same way for every person. Some do not go through the typical process of grieving, perhaps because of their personality make-up or as a consequence of their particular situations.”
Arunima Maji, an IT professional, relates one such experience of emotional clogging. “Losing my father during my teenage was too much for me to take. I thought I couldn’t deal with it, so I didn’t,” she confesses. What followed was detrimental for her. “I channelled all my energy into studying, later into work and achieving success, only to feel nothing about any of it. I wasn’t happy no matter what I did. I’d closed up, emotionally. I began to have severe anxiety issues, and worrying medical conditions started surfacing. My lesson from this was never to bury any feelings, let alone grief.”
Repressing grief and numbing pain might feel like effective coping mechanisms, albeit entirely unhealthy. Finding positive means to get through grief is imperative. Shahani has some advice for those grieving:
Feel it deeply
The healthiest way to overcome grief is to feel and express it to the fullest. Dulling the pain, especially with alcohol or medication, or trying to lift the mood artificially, is unhealthy. It’s normal to bawl angrily or curse the heavens for the tragedy.
If you’ve lost a loved one, struggling to heal, or consumed whole by grief, take heart. It can get easier. Being aware of the pain, gradually releasing it, can reduce the grief to a part of your whole.
Grieve the way you want
Sympathetic advice from well-wishers may not work for everyone. There is no ‘right’ way to grieve. It’s normal to feel deeply about a bereavement for six to twelve months. However, if there is little emotional outburst initially, but bouts of depression or anxiety years after the incident, it’s prudent to seek therapy.
Watch out for triggers
Social occasions like anniversaries, births and weddings are particularly hard because such milestones reawaken memories and feelings we thought we’d long buried. Trying to create an activity in the memory of a loved one can help bring everyone together.
Find a creative outlet
Often, an extra step might be required to get past the grief and start over. Working out–it could be cycling or running marathons–can heal emotional wounds. There could be peace in volunteering for a cause. Creating art, poetry or craft could help channel the pain.
If you’ve lost a loved one, struggling to heal, or consumed whole by grief, take heart. It can get easier. Being aware of the pain, gradually releasing it, can reduce the grief to a part of your whole. With time, your loved one will become a memory rather than a lament; essence rather than absence; and a flame rather than the fire.