When tragedy gives you hope
“It was not meant to happen. It was shocking, not a day passes by that I do not remember my father. I still imagine the last moments of torment he must have experienced when those two drunken bike riders crashed into him. They say he bled on the road, while people made a crowd around him and watched him die silently, some also clicked selfies. It took around 30 minutes to take him to the hospital, it was already too late...it always is. “
For some, losing a beloved family member may be the circle of life and death, it is a natural process. An inevitable truth that we always agree on. Even at times when we do not want to. However losing my father to a sudden road accident, due to reckless drunk driving of minors, made me question everything I believed in. My father’s regular evening stroll turned into an everlasting grief, my whole rational being revolted against the harsh reality, which I knew I could never accept.
I was wrecked from the inside, thinking I have failed in more ways than one. I failed to keep my promise to my father, that I would take him on a flight to Delhi to meet his granddaughter, I failed to care for him, I failed to bring him peace or even get a chance to heal him. My husband, my daughter, they supported me but I could never look into my mother’s eyes and tell, her better half of 53 years won’t be returning home that evening, he won’t be in time for his ritualistic cup of tea. He won’t be beside her any more.
However, my mother’s response surprised me, her quiet acceptance of his death, or even the nature, she took it in calmly. All the time I feared maybe this is the lull before the storm hits, but I kept waiting for her to break, her cool acceptance made me more angry and confused. I thought maybe she is numb to the pain, or may be she is in denial, but my mother was aware, more aware than all of us together, she handled calling our relatives around, informing them of the “terrible news”, she did cry, but she never let her grief overpower her.
I admired her emotional resilience but I resented it even more, the pain, the guilt or the sorrow never left my side.
I just could not understand, how she could not feel what I felt, was his death not shocking enough? Wasn’t his sudden demise tragic enough?
Slowly I retreated into my own hell of self blame, grief and self pity. It went on for days...Days turned to months; I stopped talking or even communicating with my loved ones. All I felt was a growing listlessness, helplessness and simmering resentment at anyone or everyone who laughed, or returned back to work.
It had been 2 months since his demise, one day I was at home alone, and as I was wondering why everything went wrong this year...my mother called me she said, “I know how hard this is for you, I am here with you”. I asked her “Isn’t it hard for you?” She said “It is hard...talk to someone...I am here...”
Speaking To a Counsellor
That is the advice my daughter gave me...she said “Ma, you need to work through the pain”. “Work through?? “
I was incredulous. How can someone or any one work through pain?
This made no sense to me, but my family was adamant in getting me the help they thought I needed.
Well, there I was speaking to a person, a complete stranger, still wondering how could anyone “Work through pain”!
After speaking to my Counsellor for 3 weeks, I started understanding what my daughter meant by “Working through Pain”.
The First Visit
The hardest thing I had to do was to speak about my father, I am a reserved person and I don’t like sharing, so the first visit was difficult. But my Counselor was patient with me.
She was there never forcing me to say anything, by and by I opened up. That constricting feeling in my heart was there, but she listened. She listened when I didn’t say anything, was just stubborn not to talk about anything personal in my life. She still listened when I told her about how futile living is, how weak we really are...and in a very long time, I felt relieved, because someone was genuinely listening, and not trying to console me by saying “It was not under control”..”Everything happens for a reason”. She just listened.
My counsellor spoke on my third session, after intently listening to my anguish, the self blame and critical resentment she asked me to review three things:
1. Is your mother’s acceptance of the sorrow makes you feel she is not hurting?
2. Is your resentment directed to the living, or to the fact you are living and your father passed away?
3. What are 2 most important things you think you can let go? And 2 things you can keep?
Her questions made me think.
It was difficult to digest her questions and think, but I tried because I knew I wanted to find myself again. I needed to stop feeling so lost. I realized I was angry at myself for not being able to accept the loss of my father, like my mother could. She was wise, she knew acceptance did not lessen her grief but it gave her the strength to endure and cope with the pain, the loneliness, and the tragedy.
Secondly Life and Death are two sides of the same coin. After thinking in a structured manner, I realised I was directing my feelings to the unfairness of his death, because it was an accident, if it had been terminal illness, would I have considered it fair?
Is it the way a person dies that matters, or how he had lived his life that matters?
With my counsellors guidance I realized it was the latter. I forgot to honour the good memories I had of my father, all the achievements he made, and the goodness of his soul that still brightened a room full of grieving people into a flourish of smiles at the thought of him. I realized I was busy feeling the pain of his loss, rather than feeling the love he shared with me, the lesson he taught.
Thirdly there are 2 things I can let go,
- My bitterness about the unfairness
- The anger at myself
2 things I can treasure/ can keep
- His love, his goodness
- The memories
These realisations were not a cake walk; it took me more than 6 months to actually develop clear understanding, my perception about my Pain.
As Scott Peck says “Pain is real...only way to deal with it is to go through the pain, live the pain only then we hope through a tragedy.”
The Light at the End of the Tunnel
To proceed very far through the desert, you must be willing to meet existential suffering and work it through. In order to do this, the attitude toward pain has to change. This happens when we accept the fact that everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.” – M Scott Peck
My Counsellor told me grieving is a time taking process, it takes time to heal, but like all wounds we do heal each day little by little. We do not realize we are healing through that much pain. Nevertheless the experience of the pain heals us.
She explained to me the process of healing:
“Your feelings may happen in phases as you come to terms with your loss. You can’t control the process, but it’s helpful to know the reasons behind your feelings” says my Counsellor.
Doctors have identified five common stages of grief:
- Denial: When you first learn of a loss, it’s normal to think, “This isn’t happening.” You may feel shocked or numb. This is a temporary way to deal with the rush of overwhelming emotion. It’s a defence mechanism.
- Anger: As reality sets in, you’re faced with the pain of your loss. You may feel frustrated and helpless. These feelings later turn into anger. You might direct it toward other people, a higher power, or life in general. To be angry with a loved one who died and left you alone is natural, too.
- Bargaining: During this stage, you dwell on what you could’ve done to prevent the loss. Common thoughts are “If only…” and “What if…” You may also try to strike a deal with a higher power.
- Depression: Sadness sets in as you begin to understand the loss and its effect on your life. Signs of depression include crying, sleep issues, and a decreased appetite. You may feel overwhelmed, regretful, and lonely.
- Acceptance: In this final stage of grief, you accept the reality of your loss. It can’t be changed. Although you still feel sad, you’re able to start moving forward with your life.
Every person goes through these phases in his or her own way. You may go back and forth between them, or skip one or more stages altogether. Reminders of your loss, like the anniversary of a death or a familiar song, can trigger the return of grief.
Understanding the Fluidity of Pain
After numerous sessions with my counsellor, I came to the understanding how fluid pain can be.
My counsellor told me that “pain of the absence of our loved ones is always unacceptable to us the first time, in time we learn to live with that absence, but it is only through complete acceptance of the void left behind, do we recognise true acceptance. We take control of pain, not the other way round”
So pain is fluid, it is moving with us as we heal, and as we gain a deeper understanding of our loss. Because Loss is not tangible, it can only be felt.
So here, my Counsellor gave me few strategies that could help me to come to the stage of “True Acceptance”
True acceptance comes through the following:
- Acknowledgement of pain: Taking the walk through the pain is important. Equally important is to acknowledge the stages of grief. Makes one more prepared with sudden encounters with memories, triggers like holidays, or a song, or even a inside joke that you used to share with loved ones.
- Understanding ones emotions: Being mindful of what we are feeling and when we are feeling. Especially why we are feeling it. Are you angry? Annoyed? Defeated? Understand them through writing, let it out. Vent. Cry when you want to, feel joy when something makes you laugh. This part of life is as important as healing.
- Magic of Time: Time heals, it is not a dictum, but there is a hidden truth. Time gives us time to regulate our pain, become more settled with our absence, time makes us stronger to remember the person we love with joy, not with tears.
- Healing through acts of service: Nothing boosts acceptance than the gratitude you experience when we help others in need. A random act of kindness, a kind gesture, towards another fellow person helps, in coping with immediate feelings of loss in many ways.
- Improving communications: Do not be afraid to communicate with your support group
(family / friends), there is no strict rule, but speak when you wish to, take your time to address the challenges you are facing. Seek all the support you can. It does not make you needy, makes you stronger and more resilient, knowing “you are not alone”.
Finding the light
With assistance of my Counsellor, I started understanding the depth of grief and how to make the journey through this tragedy. After my sessions I actually found the reason behind why my mother was so strong in the beginning. I understood after I started opening up to her when I was not scared to talk about my feelings anymore.
My Mother’s Wisdom
“I knew you were hurting, and you were angry because you thought I did not feel the sorrow the same way, but I did, I knew you weren’t ready to talk about it, so I was waiting for you to be ready. You can talk about pain and deal with it, when you are ready, you cannot be rushed into it, neither forced. It happens differently for different people. So take your time, deal it your way, pain needs to be felt. Tragedy is never the beginning it reminds us that we are human; loss is as much as part of our life like gain and love is. Ours came as a sudden visitor, but we are dust, we return back to the universe as dust. I remember him for all he was worth, I honour his memory with smile because it was the energy he left behind that gives us the energy to carry forward. So now you are ready to accept his energy to heal.”
It took me a whole year to find the hope and the Energy, but the good thing is I did find, pain is necessary to find Hope again, embrace your journey. You heal through the journey not by avoiding it.