I don’t know her so well….just greet her when I pass her on the street. She stays in our apartment complex. She had a husband and two young children. She seemed like a really competent mom, taking good care of all needs of her children, and she seemed like a very good wife also. She was a housewife and was fulfilling each role with sincerity, authenticity, efficiency, hard work. Then suddenly she lost her husband. In a heart attack, while he was working at office. Her life turned upside down. The life she had built on love, trust, hard work, the life that she was so happily living, suddenly seemed so hard.
People visited the family, offering condolence, offering help. Everybody told her to be strong, everybody told her she has to raise two children all by herself now and she has to be strong for them. The children look confused, both are still at school. One is as young as 7…does he even understand death? Why does he have to understand that at this young age? This child who just learnt to ride a bicycle few days back, now stares at all these visitors with wide, scared eyes. He had never seen so many visitors at their house and he had also never seen the house so quiet and silent. The elder child, who is about 13 or 14, seems stressed, zipped up.
The woman has to be strong. She has to be strong for her kids. She has to now fulfil the role of both parents, and she has to be up for the challenge. She perhaps has to find a job now. A career she had already sacrificed for her family once, now she has to build a career again for her family. People begin to notice her getting out of the house for buying grocery, for dropping the kids at school, for waiting for the kids at the school bus stop. She seems to be getting stronger, she seems to be taking charge of her life again.
But did she grieve? Did she get enough time to process her pain, her loss? Right now she is being strong, everybody is also encouraging her to be that way. She has to work hard to make things as normal for the kids as possible. It seems she already has been making some progress in that direction. Weeks have already gone by, months will go by, years will start going by. The kids will adjust, their life will be going on again. The younger one will perhaps not even remember much of these days, few years down the line.
But does she know, when she least expects it, after few years may be, she will suddenly be paralysed with grief all over again? It can come in the form of a dream, or some small incident, or some seemingly insignificant association, and it will simply take her down in its sudden and raw attack. And after all those years, she will be completely alone with this flood of grief. Right now she is moving on, trying her best to move on, trying to find her new normal and this uphill task is just keeping her busy. She is holding the position of strength for the kids now. They need her, no time to be weak now. She is helping everyone to tide over their grief. But her own pain, she has to handle completely by herself, when the world around her has truely moved on.
I know this because I was that woman once. After losing a very close family member, I became the most able person to take care of everybody around me. I was a source of strength for them, they counted on me, they could not go on without my constant assurance. While everybody was processing the grief in their own way, my level-headed behavior, my objective thinking helped them to anchor their lives again. I did not allow myself to be broken down and I was actually appreciated, praised for that.
After many years, the dreams started coming. They were based on something small but unmistakably connected to that person. These dreams jolted me and raised emotions in me which were shockingly intense. I was not aware that I had so strong emotions stored inside me, I thought I had moved on, I thought I had overcome the pain, only to realise that my wound was still so raw. But the hardest part was dealing with it alone. All others have (seemingly) moved on, managed to come to terms with the loss, except me, who was peering into the raw open wound for the first time and realising nothing has healed. My surroundings had also changed a lot by this time, I had moved away from my hometown, and was not staying with my family any more. My new surroundings were not connected at all to this family member I lost. This also made me think that the whole world has moved on without that person and I became even more lonely and isolated in my grief.
It took me a very long time to understand this pain, to admit that it is not perhaps going to go away completely ever, and finally I was able to release part of this pain through those dreams, those moments of vivid and paralysing sorrow. I came to realise I was at last grieving, and allowed myself to do that. I was able to accept those nights when I would wake up from a dream in a flood of tears. Slowly I learnt to get through those moments, when out of the blue something would remind me of some small details from my past along with the thought that since this person left my life, this is the First Time I am thinking of that particular detail. One would expect that when enough time has passed, there won’t be such “first times” anymore….but apparently there is a non-ending sequence of such “first times” and each stabs you sharply in your heart. But I finally learnt to take these moments, these thoughts head on and while they remained painful, I became okay with that pain.
I don’t know this woman in my neighborhood so well……I certainly can’t share these deeply personal things with her. But I silently wish her all the strength she needs to tide over this delayed grief that she may have to experience many years from now.