My grandmother, or Granny, was an indispensable part of my life from the very day I learned how to make sense of the world until her health began to deteriorate.
The series of wretched episodes of her failing health came one after another. It started while I was in high school, with one accident which was followed by a stroke. It kept getting worse every day, shackling her to the bed and impairing her speech. It was like I was in a trance watching the lady who had ornamented my childhood with delightful stories, losing her words forever.
The worst part of it was the crippling feeling of holding her hand and sitting by her bedside and yet deep inside being well aware of the impending doom which was pulling her away from me.
About two years later when my father visited me at college, he broke the news of my grandmother’s demise because my parents weren’t sure how I’d handle the news had it been disclosed over a phone call. The sudden revelation emotionally heaved down on me and at first, I was in denial so much so that I couldn’t react to the situation.
I could not bring myself to cry. I behaved as if nothing happened.
I began to avoid conversations about her death. I avoided listening to what people were going through after her death. I even avoided entering her room when I went back home during my vacations.
All of this solely because I refused to accept the void in my life due to her absence and denial was the easiest way to deal with it at that point.
However, my actions and my reaction to Granny’s death were perceived differently.
I was no stranger to the speculations that went about in my family about my cold and ungrateful character and about how my family meant nothing to me. People made it a point to rub it in my face using various passive-aggressive measures to convey what they thought of me.
One day, a conversation about me at home began to heat up and the end of the discussion was marked by a sentence that had changed everything for me.
“We all know what kind of a selfish person you are. You did not shed a tear when your grandmother passed away. No one expects anything from you anyway.”
For years, I drove myself to believe that I was a terrible and ungrateful person.
Subconsciously, I was always caught up in an internal conflict. A part of me wanted to make sense of my emotions and device a way to deal with them. The other part was drowning in self-loathing and disgust.
What I failed to realize that my pain had a different way of expressing itself. About a year after Granny’s death, I started having the most erratic breakdowns which weren’t necessarily characterized by weeping or sobbing, but mostly a hollow feeling. Sometimes I was so overwhelmed by thoughts about her that I’d mentally be too exhausted to involve myself in daily activities even though I performed them physically.
I started having recurring dreams of her.
Some were of the pleasant summers we spent. Some were of the rubber dolls she bought me on a ride to the grocery store. Some were of the agonizing sight of her lying in the hospital bed. I had finally begun to come to terms with the facts that had been laid in front of me. I kept wishing I had talked to her more while she was there laying in what I didn’t realize was her deathbed. I kept replaying the image of her trying to express herself with gestures due to the lack of words.
I tried comprehending the pain she must’ve gone through. These weren’t novel thoughts but every time they ran through my head, I gained a new perspective.
Even today, three years after her death I wake up soaked in my sweat because I was dreaming about her again.
Grief and loss are inevitable parts of the human experience. While some of us bawl our eyes out in order to cope with loss, some of us have our own slow process of accepting things and reacting to them.
There is no specific rulebook for grieving.
There are a bunch of things that society compels us to abide by, but the process of grieving should not be one of them. We’re all people with unique and complex emotions which can be only be untangled by us.
Over the years, I realized that I had my own way of venting and grieving. I gradually learned to embrace the pain and deal with it in a way that suits me the best.
While an emotional outburst is a usual scenario at the time of loss, the lack of an immediate reaction isn’t uncommon. We live in a world where people have their own unique way of dealing with terrible situations and that’s okay as long as we learn to pull ourselves together.
We need to stop letting people decide how we deal with our emotions and succumbing to how we are expected to behave in a particular situation.
I grieve the way I grieve and that’s it.