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The truth about grief

  • January 5, 2024
  • 6 min read
The truth about grief

Dropping like flies. In the last year, the number of friends that have lost a parent – Mums especially is heading into double figures – ok, one Dad too. I’m more than conscious that it’s not a competition, but it does feel like that is some very dark humour in doing a headcount of the people we know that have passed. Oh, and not forgetting the friends, acquaintances, ex colleagues, industry veterans in our chosen careers, did I miss anyone? Yes, a miserable distant relative (96), who was a right old c**t. Yes, I said that. Is the time of death hardly the right time to start telling the truth? Or is it that we are finally free to face and express the truth? So many layers of conversation and discussion right there.

I get invited to more funerals than births and weddings. When did that happen? Did everyone stop getting married, did everyone stop inviting me – these days it can take two or three attempts after all – oh wait, is this the ‘cycle of life’ coming into play in real time? Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t my first rodeo with death, obviously not my own but my grandparents and parents are now gone along with other loved ones. I’m just so much more present with all this loss these days. And isn’t loss a lousy word to describe it all? I didn’t lose a set of keys or some other thing, as the renowned grief counsellor, Julia Samuel, would say. These are people that matter yet knowing they are gone leaves me feeling numb and wondering if I am capable of much more deep feeling and empathy. Am I alone in this? I question whether all this death has left me void of feeling; like a bitterly cold winters’ day when you can no longer feel your fingers and toes. My therapist says it’s a coping mechanism.

I am the extreme opposite too. I’m sure a few years ago at a darling friend’s Mum’s funeral, I got some strange looks for my incessant sniffling. I couldn’t help it; I was so sad. How was everyone else holding it together? Why weren’t they showing their emotions the way I was? That stiff upper lip. I’m Indian, Bollywood can confirm we feel it all, the whole song and dance and range of emotions! 

Or is it the range of emotions death brings up?

Avoidance. Isn’t it the easiest thing to not get in touch, to not send your condolences, to not attend funerals, to not check in with people when they have lost a loved one? That lousy word rears its ugly head again. Why is the language so dry and useless, unsuitable even. There’s more finality in that you say and do your duty, tick the box then go back to your normal life. Isn’t that brutal?

Why did a so-called childhood friend feel the need to tell my sister to get on with her life now, on the day of Mum’s funeral? Is that really considered good advice in that of all moments? Did she think she was omniscient or empathetic not having lost a parent at that time but has since.

I went away for a long-needed weekend break and at the hotel, I sat outside enjoying staring out to sea, it was a lovely sunny day. A few minutes into her joining me at lunch, my sister looked at me strangely and I knew something was wrong. She seized her moment, summoning up the courage to get it over with. The Mum of two women we had been very close to in our teens and twenties had died. I should have been shocked, broken hearted, devastated but instead in that first moment of acknowledgement, I was enraged. A deep rage like no other. My weekend was ruined. Where did that come from and how had I made it about me? Our Aunt was dead. Yet all I could see was the red mist. I managed to contain it; I tried hard not to react until I could simmer down. I struggled to shake the anger that surfaced and I felt deep shame in that. It was a selfish reaction and if the truth be told; I wondered: can I not just have two days of everything being calm and chilled out? I took it so personally and it was hard to make that rage subside. I couldn’t even speak in those first few moments, and I had to mask the rage as shock. I don’t know now if I was even vaguely successful because resentment came into the mix too. I just wanted to have a few good days in a time of my life when there were very few.

With so many people we knew passing away, I got to a point when I could no longer react in the expected ways that societal norms put upon us. Almost like after the first five or seven, the capacity to grieve or feel sad became diluted. It starts to bounce off you, or me. I was shut down. I forget to feel sad; I even forget they died. How awful is that? Yet it is true, if I go into my shadow, that is what has happened. I remember the huge sense of relief I felt when a friend talked about when her father had died, and I suddenly panicked wondering if I had known; she told me I had reached out at the time. Thank f*ck for that because the memory of it was wiped from my mind, and I’m still not entirely convinced that I did. How awful, shameful, embarrassing and not exactly a topic that would make for good conversation in any given situation. Ever.

All the fakers come out to play, and God do they talk some absolute s**t. And the one who came dressed for a party. WTF. Indian funerals are only ever a sombre affair. We’re talking “Cry Me a River”, and then it floods.

You are alone after the funeral. There is a deathly silence, quite literally. I did not know there were so many potential puns around death. An emptiness. It gut punches you, yet there are moments when you can forget, you’re transported to a happier version of your life. Until bam! That punch to the gut returns. Again, and again. Relentless. You forget who you were before this sadness descended. 

No one knows what to say, there is no right thing to say, and we’ll all get it wrong at some point.

You will lose your people, or at least feel like you have. You will find out who your people are, in fact. And what about the expectations you may have placed on the unsuspecting friends that have not followed through. Is it fair? People behave strangely. 

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Rupi Sagoo

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