Earlier this year I volunteered to be there for a mother who had lost her adult child, in case she needed someone to talk to. The intention was only to reach out to someone I was almost sure I could help. It turned out that her need for positivity in hopelessness (and I have known that need) required a constant repeating of healing, hopeful and helpful ideas. And positive thoughts help everybody, even those like us who sometimes use them as crutches and painkillers, even when some of these thoughts would not be seen as positive by some others. For me, here was someone who felt the same way about life, death, pain, hope and helplessness and someone who understood what we were living with. So ‘helping’ here was an excuse, I was actually helping myself.
I have, in the past, said to others and to myself, that it would take a lot to make someone like me really unhappy – that I could take a lot in my stride. Later, for a while I blamed these thoughts (along with a million other things) and wondered if such thoughts provoked bad luck.
But this weekend the kids and I went to a neighbourhood mall, finished some much required but mundane shopping, I managed to get a slight headache and then sat down for a late lunch, tired and relieved it was done, while the kids ordered. And then as I was irritated with myself for not ordering something else and as I still continued to eat something I wasn’t enjoying, I happened to look up at the two young people at the table, equally tired but happy. And an unexpected thought crept into my mind – didn’t even realise I actually thought that thought. How could I? The thought was – “This is contentment.” But I did feel at peace at that moment and this is how I feel most of the time these days. How would Tejaswee feel if she could see us sitting there and if she could hear my thoughts? She would have been proud. We had achieved the unachievable … the inconceivable (to us).
So I have made peace… sort of. It’s difficult not to resent and feel angry with whatever/whoever had the power to have an almost 23 year old sitting with us in that crowded, stuffy mall on this weekend afternoon, but I am trying to learn to think that she is not really not-there ever, and that she was watching and feeling the same peace I felt. Maybe I felt the same peace she was feeling …because she was feeling it. Maybe I was at peace because she was at peace.
And I am continuing to understand that this peace (still won’t use ‘happy’ to describe how I feel) has been achieved by training the mind to keep twenty years of memories (capable of inflicting terrible pain) locked in a precious, partly cherished, partly dreaded corner.
Maybe this is what coping with grief or any trauma is all about (for some people atleast) – being able to control what we remember and what we choose not to think of. And it’s an ongoing, endless process, but not really a conscious effort. Also, it was not really in my control to do this – it just happened over a period of time.
I also noticed that without really thinking about it, I resisted situations that might bring forth painful memories. I did not attend any weddings or celebrations until early this month. And I wasn’t sure if it would be painful – and this is what I find strange. How can we not know how we would feel? Turned out we didn’t just attend this wedding, we actually enjoyed ourselves.
I had not been able to listen to happy, lively music for three years (without breaking down that is) and had been fine with never again dancing or listening to certain (or any) kind of music. I remember saying there were many who had not been through what we had, but who didn’t care for dancing or music anyway, and they lived fine, so my not being able to bear music wasn’t so bad. But then Brat Three joined us. I remember the first time I sang and generally clowned around with her on ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ and realised only afterwards, with shock, that I was perfectly fine doing that – no tears, no break down. How did that happen?
Then there was a Diwali Mela in our complex and we took Brat Three there, and she heard music and saw people dancing and with just a little encouragement she had joined them and started dancing with them. Soon some teenagers pulled her to join their group, I was amazed at how much she was enjoying, and although I was crying, it wasn’t too brightly lit and even if somebody noticed, I didn’t care. I was happy but I was also in pain, I wanted to scream. And yet, I was actually overjoyed. I am not able to understand why drum beats and music did this to me… Maybe because we were dancing even 19 days before Tejaswee was born, and we still have photographs with the hamper we won. We were dancing again when she was a baby, then a toddler and then we were on the floor with two toddlers, then two kids and then two teenagers…
Early this month I felt I could attend a wedding in the family, maybe borrow an odd sari from my mom because Brat Three would definitely enjoy everything an Indian wedding entails. That’s how little we know our own minds sometimes (though we know it better than anybody else does). I knew I could attend, I never dreamt I would be able to dance – which is what actually happened. And no tears, no break downs. It’s a mile stone in our grief journey. Did it help that it was a cousin, very dear to Tejaswee who was getting married and that there was Brat Three in a white lehenga hopping away to glory and that the husband was looking overjoyed – disbelieving almost. I think, I could see a reflection of what I was feeling on his face.
I shared all of this with the dear friend who needs to hear positive thoughts and who asks the same question every day, often more than once a day, in many different words, each time like she has never thought of asking it before.
Here’s what she asks:
“I have been meaning to ask you something… I didn’t even want to get up this morning… do you really feel better now after three years…?”
“I was thinking I must ask you something today, … I was wondering… does this pain become bearable after a while… you will know so I thought I must ask you.”
“You have dealt with it, so you will be able to tell me, does it hurt like this all your life? What’s the point of living if it is so painful to live every moment?”
“This is very wrong you know, what kind of creator created such a world where there is so much pain? We would not have had any children if we knew it was so painful to lose them… Do you really think… does it really become bearable with time?”
I can relate to each thought – have asked the same questions with the same disbelief, and almost always, each time I laugh, there is astonishment, and a quickly suppressed question, “How can I laugh? Tejaswee has died and I can laugh?” There is almost a rebellious desire to never laugh, to show the creator there is no forgiveness from this mother for creating so much pain. Denying these thoughts would be dishonest and does not help validate similar thoughts felt by other parents. But when I talk to this dear friend I make an effort to end these rants with a positive thought, “Maybe I can forgive fate/Creator/whatever, maybe it was predestined, maybe there was no way it could not have happened, maybe there is forgiveness being sought because there is so much hope in the love and the joy that we feel for Brat Three… and I am sure if we are determined to fight pain and find joy again, we can try to seek happiness and support in whichever ways we are comforted…”
This post is a thank you note to this mother for all the positivity she brings into my thoughts.