She was regular companion of my daily walk. A neighbor and a friend. We walked and talked and one hour just flew by. She moved here with her husband few years back and we became fast friends. We had very different backgrounds, very different life trajectories. She was a housewife, she married young and already became a mother in her early twenties, while I was always focused on my career, in my early twenties I never even thought of marriage. She was deeply religious and I am an atheist. She strongly believed in destiny and actually our friendship started because of that. She had noticed me, observed me and sensed that we are meant to be good friends! One day she approached me, introduced herself and told me she would like to join me for walk, if it is okay. I remember her telling me in a matter-of-fact way “I stay at home, anytime is good for me, whenever you want to walk, I can join.” This is how we got started. After a while, whenever either of us was walking alone, “what happened to your friend?” would be a common question we would face.

Last week she went to visit her hometown along with her husband to celebrate Diwali, which is a very big festival here. Before leaving she told me it is going to be a longish break and there will be lot of eating and no walking and she will surely put on few extra pounds. I remember teasing her “Don’t worry. To make you feel better, as soon as you are back, I promise to tell you that you look thinner, no matter what”. This week I got the shocking news that her husband got killed in a road accident in their hometown. It felt unreal, it made no sense, I could not process what I was hearing. I felt so restless I could not stay at home. I went out and started walking down the street. I don’t know why, but whenever I am in shock, I always start noticing small details around me. May be it is my mind’s way of keeping itself occupied, not having to deal with the momentous thing that just happened? I am not sure but I have seen this happening to me many times before. I remember vividly all small details about my surroundings when sitting inside a Doctor’s chamber, I heard for the first time that my very dear uncle who was just 58, has stage 4 pancreatic cancer. I remember how the room was furnished, how the doctor’s desk was arranged, how that desk-top felt against the skin of my hand, how the chair felt against my back, how the temperature inside that room was slightly chilly, what noises were coming from the hospital corridor and from the street….everything. For me these memories do not go away and every time I find myself in a similar place, I think of that day.

This time it happened again. It was evening, the same time I used to walk with my friend. There were lot of people on the street. Some walking slowly, in a relaxed pace. Some walking fast in a hurried way. Some are coming back from work, a tired gait. Some are going out, all decked up. Two teenaged girls passed me by, busy in their excited chatters. One lady was walking her dog, a fierce looking german shepherd, who almost ran off with the leash and the lady struggled to gain control. These people had no clue how the world of my friend has fallen apart. Her husband was her whole world. Her son was already grown-up and lived in a different city. Her daily life revolved around her husband. I could not imagine what she was going through. I felt not ready to call her, to talk to her. I myself needed to be steady first. Also, I heard she was not taking calls from anyone. I simply could not imagine what she was going through. I knew that she had many friends and family in her hometown….she told me about them. I knew that these people were taking good care of her. She was not alone. But I missed her terribly and I felt so helpless. When we walked together, we used to talk about many small things…..I would tell her about my day at work, she would tell me about something that happened in her Yoga class. And now something so big has happened to her and we are not even talking about it. Every time I think of her smiling face, her positive, sincere nature, it breaks my heart to think how much pain she is in now. I know she will eventually be okay. She has a deeply spiritual nature and she will find her strength from it.

Will I ever see her again? I don’t know. She has no reason to live in this city anymore. They moved here for her husband’s job. She may not even come here again. May be her son, or somebody else will come here to vacate the rented apartment they were staying in, and that’s it. I know for sure I will never walk with her again. We will still keep in touch with each other, but the day-to-day exchanges will not be there anymore.

Many people are posting condolence messages in social media but I could not do that. I was getting distracted in a sea of RIPs and did not know what to write. Finally I managed to write to her after two days and told her I know she is strong enough to face this. She wrote back that she will call me, and there are many things she wanted to say to me and wanted to cry with me. I will wait for that call.

When grief comes…and then comes again

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.