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When You Lose Yourself to Grief

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I ain’t afraid to die anymore. I’d done it already.” Hugh Glass, “The Revenant”

Grief is a multifaceted response to loss, particularly the loss of someone or something that has died, to which a bond or affection was formed. Although conventionally focused on the emotional response to loss, it also has physical, cognitive, behavioral, social and philosophical dimensions.

Two years ago, a day after today — my birthday — I lost a parent to death. Subsequently, I lost myself in strange ways too. I lost faith, hope and people soon after. Or let’s just say this one event made me evaluate loss more intently and acknowledge and introspect the dark corners of my being.

Maybe it was an on-going process that was triggered by that immediate tragedy, but I do not recognize the face I see in the mirror any more; I don’t recognize my words, my voice and my soul. I have become someone else, as notional as this may seem, I am not me anymore.

I know there is nothing that makes my experience more exceptional than any other person who has lost a loved one. But still, such is the nature of grief and loss — it dents each soul similarly and yet differently.

Being a parent myself to an emotionally and physically dependent young child, I did not have the luxury to pause on that loss for long or to even grieve as it came naturally to me.

Weeks after the last rites and legal formalities were over, in the middle of math homework, or cooking dinner, or just having a cup of tea, a sea swelled inside me. I wanted to howl, tear my hair out, shout at the world and at the sky to reduce the gigantic unseen burden on my chest, but I couldn’t because it would have scared my little one.

Instead I chose to write, read and internalize a lot of grief as soundless, tearless sobbing, or when the deluge just wouldn’t stop, retire to the washroom to silently let it out for five minutes and come out with a washed and wiped face. If she asked, I would lie, “I don’t look like this because I am not too well today.”

There were friend lists and phone books, but vast unending loneliness that resounded. I craved human voices, I wished someone would make me a cup of tea and comb my hair for me, I wished I could sleep and some magic could finish all the household work. In those moments I felt like all my physical energy had been drained by something inside me.

Grief, I have learned the hard way, is like an invisible tether; it won’t show its face for hours or days, until you start feeling like it’s no longer holding you back and it’s gone, and then all of a sudden when you least expect it, it will tug at your heart and soul at a hospital entrance looking at an elderly gentleman, at a park or in the middle of a haircut. There is often no warning, nothing you can do to prevent it. The wave can overwhelm and drown you, which can lead to a lot of public embarrassment. Trust me, it is not attention-seeking, because most of the time all you want in that moment is to be invisible to the world.

Grief is also a slippery path that can lead you down into the dark well of depression; you struggle with everyday things, you lose your ability to emote, to decide, to respond. All of this can be deadly as a parent and as someone who doesn’t have many friends with whom you have daily conversations, someone who doesn’t socialize much. Its hold on you grows stronger and more stifling by the day.

The challenges from other areas of life only add up to this huge hollow that grows like a malign tumor inside of me.

The most common advice comes from all sides: just snap out of it, look at the positives in life, be practical, all these “demons” you talk about are not real, do it for your child’s sake. But you know while you try to hang on to every bit of miraculous remedy suggested that there are moments when you keep falling faster than ever into the darkness, trying to grope for words, hands, hope — anything that will hold you together.

I have always believed that when Shakespeare wrote. “the lunatic, the lover and the poet … one sees more devils than vast hell can hold … ,” he was so right; but being at the brink of losing your composure is often not as romantic. So you might start strengthening the facade of strength around you, maintaining a strong exterior throughout as you crumble bit by bit inside.

Being strong emotionally for long periods of time — even outwardly or superficially or in the insensitive face of the world — can also hollow you from inside. The human need to be understood and loved is universal, especially when you are going down a mental health spiral.

Unfortunately, a lot of people close to me also went through a similar loss around the same time, but eventually I saw them overcome their grief and smile back at life faster and sooner. Strangely, their stories did not inspire; instead, I started feeling even more overwhelmed and inadequate to face what they had successfully overcome.

What is worse is that grief doesn’t show; there is no excruciating physical pain that twists and turns your body, no visible wounds or scars, no blood tests that can testify that there is a monster living inside you and the torture is real.

A silent clawing inside you that you hope doesn’t get denied as a mood swing or a tantrum or, worse still, a sympathy-gainer. This apathy you witness around you, even from the people you thought you were closest too, often just fastens the process; it can intensify the alienation and losing hope starts to become reality.

Then comes the worst low; you think the only way out is death because you might not be able to continue like this.

There is that thin line that holds you back — for me it was my child.

I lost a parent a year ago to death, a sort of milestone that flung me off the road completely. I lie battered, bruised and down-and-out to say the least; but as long as a little hand is in my palm, I know I will keep up the fight.

I am so grateful for whoever stood by me and sent me strength, and I more grateful to those who didn’t, because they granted this insight.

Follow this journey here.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

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Getty image via sjenner13

Originally published: April 2, 2018
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