220 Days of Grief
Click here for Malay translation.
Not enough people openly talk about grief, which is why as a society we are grief-illiterate. We don't know how to grieve and worse yet, we're ashamed to, as if it's so wrong to express sorrow after losing someone significant in your life. I hope by sharing my journey through grief, I get to shed some light on an important issue that will inevitably affect us all.
This post is dedicated to the person who has lost someone they truly love and for those who have not experienced it just yet, but would like to know more on life after loss so that they can understand a grieving person better. May the bereaved person reading this feel reassured knowing that there are people out there who acknowledge their pain. There is no shame in the emotions that you currently feel; I hope this post will give you the courage to feel comfortable with your grief.
When my dear cousin Lil lost his life to cancer last December, it left me in such a hopeless state. I consider myself to be a strong-minded person; I do not falter easily nor do I stay in a state of defeat for long. However, grief has a way of making the strongest of people crumble into rubble. Mourning my cousin’s death has been the hardest thing I've ever had to do and the past 220 days have been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster.
My journey through grief
The journey of my grief began long before his death. Approximately six months leading up to his final breath, anxiety crippled me until I was numb. I was incapable of feeling any emotion whether it was sadness or joy; there were times I felt like ripping off my skin just to feel something again. It was torture not being able to cry when that was all I wanted to do. I acted differently, even the people around me noticed. I recently discovered that my change in behaviour were the symptoms of anticipatory grief.
By paralysing my feelings, my mind and body were preparing myself for the different intensities of grief that were about to be unleashed after his death. Every episode of numbness that I experienced was my brain preparing myself for an impending breakdown. Emotional numbness doesn’t only take place when your loved one is dying—I continued to experience it even after my cousin’s demise.
The peaks & dips of grief
Having mourned the death of my late grandmothers before, I thought the grieving process this time round would be less difficult. I was wrong. My late grandmothers’ deaths were expected; I had no problem accepting that their time has come but I grew UP expecting my cousin to go through the same life events as me. Never did it cross my mind that my dear cousin, who was only 2 years older than me when he died, would breathe his last breath before either of us could settle down.
Losing him happened all too fast, I didn't think that cancer would end his life so soon. One day he had flesh on his face and the other, he dissolved into skin and bones. Anyone who has witnessed their loved one dying from an illness would know this—being strong for someone else takes a toll on you. But love is selfless; you would bleed yourself dry just to keep the one you love alive.
In the weeks that followed Lil's demise, I not only mourned his death, I mourned over the person I no longer was. I knew from that day onwards, even my happiest moments would be experienced with a broken heart. And my God, did his death break my heart. Like glass, it shattered into a thousand jagged pieces. As I panic trying to piece them back together again, I find myself getting cut, feeling more hurt than before.
There are endless ways I can describe how grief looks like but grief has a difference face everyday. There are days when I can ignore my grief as if it was an itch, and then there are days when grief is more temperamental; forcing me to acknowledge her if not she won't leave.
The bereaved person is highly sensitive and goes through rapid mood swings; they jump back and forth from every emotional state you can think of: sadness, anger, confusion, the list goes on. The pain of loss is a maddening experience because oftentimes, you've no control of your emotions. I cannot count the number of times my emotions have spiraled in the first few months of Lil's death.
Grief is unimaginable
What terrified me the most was finding out that I was capable of carrying so much sorrow inside of me. If my body was a cup, grief filled me up to the brim until it spilled over. Once you're overcome with grief, it lingers on for hours, sometimes even days. During my conversations with God I often ask: How much longer will I have to feel this way? Please heal my broken heart. Take the pain away because I can't do it anymore.
What people need to understand is: people grieve because to lose someone you live is to lose a part of your world and for as long as you live on this earth, you cannot get that person back. It's so permanent and irreversible. Grieving is the process that one goes through as they adjust to the new void in their lives.
Emotional pain can be so physical. You can cry for hours on end, clenching your chest until every ounce of energy leaves your body. And when you're done; you feel lifeless and empty. This may sound excessive to those who have never lost someone significant, but crying is one of the ways a grieving person heals. Crying allows sorrow to escape the body and withholding it will only do more damage.
Grief follows no schedule; the process is neither timely nor linear. It is the messiest and most dreadful process ever. Everyday in grief is like walking through a minefield; you don’t know what will set off an explosion of emotions. Sudden emotional breakdowns called ‘grief attacks’ become a norm. I share a room with my sister; she’s now used to any sudden outburst of tears. Whenever she catches me crying, she knows I’ve had a grief attack and extends her arms to hug me.
Grief changes you... hopefully, for the better.
When Lil died; so did the fears I once had. Overnight, I became someone who worried less over things she can't control and thanked more for the blessings she once overlooked. I no longer fear what the future holds but instead, embrace everyday as it comes. Grief forced me to be kinder to myself and eliminate anything or anyone that's toxic in my life. I used to make a lot of excuses for others. Not anymore. I simply can't afford to now that most of my time and energy are channeled into healing myself.
In grief, you learn to accept happiness as fleeting moments. You truly appreciate every ounce of happiness you get before it disappears. I'm so overwhelmed with gratitude whenever I get to spend time with my family and friends. I'm grateful they're alive, healthy and breathing, right before me. I'll never get to enjoy Lil's physical presence again but I'm grateful that I still have the chance to saviour the presence of my loved ones while they're still alive.
3 major lessons that I've learnt while grieving:
1. You don't get to keep your loved ones forever. Cherish them.
إِنَّا للهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعون To Allah we belong; and to Him we return. There will come a time when you will no longer get to enjoy the company of someone you love may it be a friend or a family member. Do not take them for granted. Spend as much quality time with them as you can because old age isn't promised to everyone — when their lives are taken away, you'll be clinging onto all the memories you've with them.
2. Your time is precious.
People waste a lot of time doing things that are not fulfilling. Don't just exist: LIVE. Do things that mean something to you. Enrich your life. Put your energy into a great cause. Give your time to people that lift you higher. Do not waste your time in a place that makes you unhappy, whether it's a job, a course or a relationship. Don't compromise your mental and emotional wellbeing because YOU matter.
3. Love is rezeki (provision) from God.
Health and wealth aren't the only provision that God gives us. The love and kindness you receive from others, is also a Mercy from Allah. When you view your relationships this way, not only do you love your loved ones better, you love God better, too. The more you're grateful; the more your blessings are multiplied.
I received so much love and support during my time of grief. My family, friends, colleagues and even strangers, showed me kindness during a time that I really needed it. It was during this period that I learnt: material wealth has its limitations because no amount of money can mend a broken heart. It's the special bonds you forge with others that are going to relieve the pain of a heart that's torn and get you through your darkest times.
...To grieve is also to heal.
...In my next blog post, I talk about my road to healing.