We have entered the third month of 2021 with hope in our hearts that this year will be better than the last, that the struggles and despair of last year will get over and our lives will go back to their ordinary patterns again. But even as we try to move on, there are some remembrances of last year which are impossible to forget, which we don’t want to forget. Memories of loved ones we lost last year, who now only in our hearts. So many of us have faced losses in the last year – I have lost some dear ones too and I deeply mourn their loss. I can get philosophical and say that this is the circle of life; that birth and death are two faces of the same coin. Yes, of course, they are, but that fact changes nothing, doesn’t make the loss any less painful, especially when you feel your entire life is collapsing around you.
I experienced loss when I was young when my identity and self had not even fully developed. You can say that grief had a significant role in shaping me, which is why I often see things a bit differently. The few things that I have learned about grief over the years have benefitted me greatly. I am sharing them today, hoping my thoughts will help someone else coping with their grief. Here’s what I have learnt –
Everybody has a unique experience of grief
There are times when you feel you are drowning in grief, when even waking up in the morning feels like a monumental struggle. But people around you, who you thought would would be equally affected by the loss, are going actually around leading their lives normally. You start to wonder whether there is something wrong with them or with you. You judge yourself for being weak and over-sensitive or you judge the other person for being uncaring and callous. But by thinking this way you are being unfair to both yourself and the other person. Each person experiences grief differently; how they behave when they lose a loved one is influenced by several factors like their age, gender, past experience, etc. Them not experiencing a loss the same way as you means nothing more than that they are different from you. It means their life, their thoughts, their emotions are different from yours, but no one is better or worse, or in the right or wrong.
For this reason, you must keep judgment aside when you condole with someone who has suffered a loss. You may react or have reacted differently in the past than the person in front of you, but it doesn’t make you right or them wrong. To understand what someone is going through, you have to stand in their shoes. But then can you ever truly stand in someone else’s shoes (I mean metaphorically)? Will you not always fall short? This is why it is said true empathy is never possible. The best you can do is to express judgement-free compassion because that’s all anyone really wants.
There are more than 5 stages of grief
Some psychologists have said there are five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance – and that everybody has to pass through these stages in that sequence. I disagree. I say that neither are there only five stages of grief nor do you pass through them in any specific sequence. The journey of grief is long and slow, but the only way to come out of it is to go through it. It is easy for me to say this in hindsight – I know it is tough to imagine right now that you would ever feel cheerful again especially when the pain is still acute. I recall that when I was mourning, I wanted to physically harm any person who told me, “Time will heal!” or “Life goes on!”. I’m not going to say that.
Getting over sorrow is tough; you will have all sorts of days – there will be days you will be melancholy, furious, indifferent, thankful, resigned and days when you will temporarily forget your pain and laugh. There is no precise order in which these days occur, no one can say how long any one emotion will last. We know only one thing that each emotion including sadness will one day get over. As long as you experience each emotion each day, as authentically as possible, with no shame or guilt, you will be just fine.
There is more than one way to honour the person you’ve lost
I prefer the concept of Memorial Services (prevalent in Western nations), much more than condolence/prayer meetings that we have in India. I like to remember the person I’ve lost by sharing my happy memories with them and what they meant to me instead of sitting around a picture and crying. BUT, that is what I prefer – you are free to do things differently. You may wish to remember the person you lost by laughing about all the fun times you had (I know I do), or by paying your respects solemnly in silence. The decision is yours, and no one can criticize you for what you decide. Even after the condolence period is over, how you choose to live your life or to remember the person you lost; whether you want to keep their things or give them away; whether you want to mark their death anniversary or remember them on other special days – it is all up to you. You choose what works for you – don’t bother about what people (aka society) will say. Your life, your choice!
The last thing I will say is don’t turn away from family and friends. When grief becomes overwhelming and you find you can’t deal with it alone, seek comfort from people who care about you. That is the biggest gift I gave myself when I went through my toughest phase – I never hesitated in asking for help. If you are not comfortable doing that, there are grief therapists and helplines that can help you. Just remember you are never alone in your sorrow. There will always be someone to extend a loving hand.