Real Life

On Grief

She wears her pain like a chip on her shoulder.

I don’t understand why but that sentence wouldn’t leave me alone until I wrote it down so there you have it.

Over the course of the past few days, two famous men have died and so have countless other people whose lives may not have been lived in the spotlight but who were, nonetheless, heroes of their own stories.

I am no stranger to death. One of my earliest memories is of a funeral I attended with my mother. I, for reasons I will never know, laughed a lot at that funeral and was spanked when we got home. I was maybe 6 or so. Another memory is the funeral of a newborn baby, and then someone’s 13 year old son. One year was particularly terrible as my paternal grandfather died and then two months later my khala, my mom’s sister died and then not even a month later, a naani, my grandmother’s cousin sister died. More recently my daadi, my paternal grandma died and before her, my fufa, my dad’s sister’s husband.

With my fufa and daadi death came closer. We stood by their hospital beds and watched their heartbeats recede, their pulses slow, their lives ebb. We saw people becoming bodies and lives becoming memories.

We gathered together after funerals with composure thin like onion skins and held up our hands in prayer. We cooked and fed the people who came to our house to offer their condolences; we stuck close together and lost our pain in the sound of our voices as we talked about the person who had died. We made the dead live through shared memories accompanied by laughter that sounded like sobs. We gave comfort and received comfort. Death became natural, an inevitable conclusion to lives no matter how they are lived.

Grief though never feels natural.

Right now a relative lies on a hospital bed dying. His wife clutches his hand tightly in hers as though she can will death away. I could talk to you about his kindness, the warmth he evoked in the people he interacted with, his gentle smile, and above all, the love he showed his wife. He cherished her as though she is the most precious being imaginable.

This grief I feel is about my loss but more than that it’s about the loss his wife will feel. I grieve for her grief, for all the days she will open her eyes in the morning and realize his absence anew. I grieve for what she is going through right now.

I don’t quite understand what to do with this grief–I no longer have the adaptability I did when I was younger when I could shoulder the grief and live on. I try to do the same now but the grief is more insistent; it demands to be felt fully and exclusively. It demands to shade my daily life some colour of bleakness. It demands a song a dance and tears. I feel emotionally turgid as though one word, smile or action will send the waterworks spinning and I will drown in my own tears.

There is no way to end this piece except abruptly.