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Updated: September 29, 2013 10:58 IST

Facing loss

Anuradha Shyam
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Illustration by Keshav
The Hindu
Illustration by Keshav

How do we deal with loss? Reach out to someone to share your grief.

In the garden, the red rose was in full bloom, her beauty unsurpassed in the glow of the morning sun.

When Nayantara entered the room, she was clearly in distress. Her eyes had dark circles and the light seemed to have disappeared from them. In class, she was always a student who would participate, question and debate, but of late, her teachers and fellow classmates had been noticing in her a sense of indifference to the proceedings.

Even with her close friends, she remained aloof; a contrast to her otherwise vibrant personality. Nayantara’s teacher shared her concerns with her family. It was then revealed that Nayantara’s grandfather had passed away a week earlier. Among the members of the extended family, Nayantara was apparently his favourite.

All of us, in our lives, have encountered or experienced the passing away of a loved one. It is a moment where one’s notion of the world, as experienced on a day-to-day basis, turns completely upside down. It is like the ground, has literally been swept away beneath our feet. The daily rituals of interacting with that person suddenly disappear and a deep void is left. It is a time when we will question everything that seemed permanent and central in our lives. The power of words seem futile and a gamut of emotions and feelings surface. We might feel fear, resentment, anger and even a sense of guilt to continue enjoying and living life afterwards. And yet, it is the most natural process in the circle of life. How do we find ways to deal with this and reconcile within ourselves the pain of loss?

For many of us, faith becomes an important instrument to help deal with loss. It could be faith in any particular religion or philosophy. It is at this time that people often seek the counsel of their priests or religious figures in their respective communities. For some, the solace comes in the form of extended family, whose presence helps to heal the loss. Many years ago, I attended the funeral of a former teacher. She was someone who had influenced and shaped her students’ lives just by her sheer joy of living and passion for her subject. After the funeral, a large community of her ex-students gathered to share memories and stories of their times with her. There was plenty of laughter alongside tears and silence. It was one of the most beautiful gatherings and everyone felt her presence and spirit. It was something that we would carry in our hearts forever.

Handling grief

Many cultures have their own unique ways of dealing with loss. In Singapore, a custom among certain Chinese communities involves a celebration of three days of feasting. In many communities, families hire mourners who officially “cry” for the loss. Some cultures perform dances and songs to mark loss. Even though we are living in an increasingly homogenised world, in your own neighbourhood, you might have observed how different sects deal with loss. These rituals, though varying from one region to another, work on the universal principle of helping us deal with grief. They help the community to engage in a shared experience and offer a catharsis, a way to release our pent-up emotions. In this way, we are able to grieve in totality and actively participate in our own healing.

Life around us

Perhaps it would help to see the beautiful lessons that loss teaches us. It builds in us appreciation for life around us. It helps you see the inherent good in someone, and appreciate them deeply, for you learn that the only constant thing about life is change. That the only thing permanent is impermanence. Recalling an incident in her life where a friend lost her sister in a tragic accident, she said she was surprised by the number of angels who turned up in the guise of neighbours and strangers all offering her some measure of comfort. Knowing that we could lose what we feel is ours, also makes us less judgemental about those we have to interact with. In a strange way, loss helps us to reconnect with the best parts of ourselves.

In Nayantara’s case, she spent every afternoon with her teacher, who comforted her by just allowing her to grieve. She said she felt relieved she could cry with someone outside her family as her own family had notions of not letting their emotions show. This was her first step towards healing.

Next, she shared memories of her times with her grandfather and talked about what he had taught her. Her teacher asked her to create a memory box of letters, poems and photographs about her grandfather’s life. This helped her channelise grief into creating something beautiful.

Over a few weeks, Nayantara had a breakthrough, when she started laughing and chatting with her friends. She realised that her grandfather would want her to live her best life and that she could live it without any guilt. While this was a slow process for her, it taught her valuable lessons. It is important to understand that there is no timeframe for dealing with loss. If however, despite seeking support from the community, you still feel you cannot cope, it is advisable to see a counsellor who will help you through the process of dealing with grief.

Life is not a linear equation — the mystery of life lies in it being unpredictable, temporary and thus an adventure to be lived. The universe is large enough to hold all the paradoxes within us. When facing loss, know that you are not alone. Reach out and acknowledge that you need a shoulder to cry on. The world will surprise you! In the evening, the glorious red rose had shed her last petal. If one looked carefully, you could see the beginnings of a new bud waiting to bloom

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