This is a continuation from my previous blog post Grief. (pt I). If you haven't read it, it would be help to provide some context. Because I like to keep my posts in a way that lifts others up instead of making them sad, please take note of the trigger warnings I have mentioned. This isn't a work of fiction.
I went to bed that night, finally smiling, even if it was a small smile.
I thought heading to bed with a smile meant not taking my worries and hurt to sleep. Yet I woke up with a stinging pain in my chest. The air felt colder than usual in my room the next morning. It was hard not to think about Felix and Sean. It was habitual for me to make my bed faithfully every morning no matter the time I woke up, and not be bothered at all if I left my apartment later than I would have liked. I do it each day because that symbolised that I was ready for the day. I wasn’t ready this time. I wasn’t set or mentally prepared to face anything.
The morning breeze that was supposed to calm me only increased my agitation and I closed the windows. I didn’t want to hear the birds sing while I was in pain. Then I fell. Somewhere between freezing and numbness, I asked myself as both my knees met the floor, ‘Do I really want to enter office today? On a dreaded Monday after a week of losing 3 people.’ I started counting seconds hoping to get a call or even a text from Sean. Nothing. Maybe it’s not only grief, it’s also depression. You know that feeling when you want to scream for help, but nothing ever comes out your mouth? Or, when you try to scream, you stop yourself because you don’t deserve it. When your daydreams transpire into nightmarish visions that mar you in sleep. When your thoughts become the thing that eats you every day.
I said that aloud in my head as I caught my reflection in the bathroom mirror. I like to think of our facial expressions as pages of our inner secret diary, for we are supposed to live in loving societies where such honest vulnerability is an advantage of all. That morning, the person who bore the same features as me was haggard, tired, and defeated. But since I had the privilege of living, I wanted to salvage whatever gratefulness I had within me to at least, make it through the day, as if nothing happened at all. I have a roof over my head. I have clothes to wear. I work in a creative & digital department. Why shouldn’t I be happy? I should be pretty happy these days, shouldn’t I? I’m already doing better than I think I am. For a fraction of a second, the corners of my mouth twitch upwards, until my conscious mind asserted control again. No, still a pathetic being.
People in the office looked at me differently when I stepped in. It was the first time they had to see their chirpy colleague looking unkempt. I wore the same hoodie the night before during Felix’s funeral, burial, and all. I hadn’t wash my face. I couldn’t understand why I was alive so many “better people” died. Looking presentable wasn’t part of the memo. The ones who knew what happened didn’t know how to approach me. Some tried to approach me but stopped in their tracks when I made eye contact with them. There was a photoshoot scheduled that day, I was supposed to direct it.
“What are your visions today?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
My videographer was hinting at me with his camera, “The photoshoot. You wanted us to take these pictures in a specific concept for social media.”
Strange. When he asked what were my visions, all I could picture was myself dead. Our conversation was cut short when my phone rang, it was from my brother. Into the meeting room I went after informing the videographer to sit me out on the photoshoot. It didn’t take more than 5 minutes to cry all over again. I didn’t understand that my mind was not “right” when my brother was trying to calm me down on the phone. Although it remained difficult to think a problem through, or to utter simple sentences in logical sequence, he assured me that people were looking out for me. Knowing that I could not cope with the demanding responsibilities that moment, I chose to inform my manager and got her approval of a day’s leave.
“A friend’s coming over to see you to pass you something.” That’s what my brother said. “I’m not sure who but, please see him. He’s worried about you.”
I wish people weren’t worried about me. The walk back to the apartment took five times longer to complete than it did the other days. It then became apparent that the reason it took me longer to reach home was the every few stops I took in the middle of the street to contemplate life and death. About 11.30am, I had laid down on the bedroom floor.
You don’t always get to say goodbye. And that is soul-crushing. You don’t say goodbye because you have expectations of seeing them again. Losing three people in one week gave me grief-induced anxiety. A different kind of worry and fear, like the thought of losing another person is much too unbearable. I was angry. I didn’t want the situation to be a reality. But this hellish nightmare of grieving was my reality. It was my reality to deal with THEN. And the reality is, I have lost friends. I never knew the reasons as to why, not fully at least, yet, I didn’t think there was going to be an explanation that would have made me feel any better.
They say time heals everything. I don’t think I fully believe that. Like even when finally meeting my friend who took me out on a spin on that very day, he had good intentions. He wanted to be there for me, and with his best efforts, he was there for me physically. We went to a park, but all the time he spent talking to cheer me up, and all the conversations that followed, nothing felt real. Yet it was also all too real. I was aware of myself sometimes. I was aware of some things that were said at the park. But it was also all a blur in my head. Things that were supposed to help me ‘get over’ everything just blended into the past where I still had those people in my life. Such a shame.
I was expected to move on. Move on? How? I guess at some point we are all supposed to move on. But when? And why? It was allowed at the hospital. It was allowed at funerals. It was allowed to last for a few days, but when would it be no longer accepted? It’s wild that even after a year, people think you are healed from grief. It hasn’t even been a month. But why does that matter? Grief doesn’t have a timeline. It only changes with time. It may not always look like the initial loss but it we still feel it. Maybe, in huge waves or torrential rain. We don’t end our grieving. We just learn to cope with the loss throughout our lives with acceptance. But first, we had to accept that they are gone.
I will say that since that week, my soul still feels conflicted because I am terribly alone. Have I been better, I have. I think I have been better. Sometimes I still feel as if I have missed my time to grieve. I sought out validation from friends that it was all right to feel the way I feel. The wounds still cut so deep but I had to put on this façade that I was strong in the office. So, you can imagine how emotionally exhausted I was after work hours. Because being busy was the “best way” to not think about losses. It almost worked as an escape. Almost. If only I didn’t open up myself to people. It’s hard to explain. I don’t understand grief at all.
Days passed by. Painfully slow. In retrospect, maybe things were improving. But when you get so used walking alone in a desert that the water you find along starts to feel unreal, made-up, like an oasis. We don’t want to trust it thinking it’s an illusion and therefore never walk towards it. But this is where it does get better. One could call this a lesson too.
“I’m glad you’re looking and feeling much better.” My colleague had said that to me. It’s true I looked better, but the grieving hadn’t end. And at that moment, that sparked a revelation to me. Maybe what I felt wasn’t the issue, right? It’s what I had to do about and with my feelings that actually can make or break me. Grief was never the problem. It’s what I had equated grief with that was the problem. I had acquainted grief with feelings of guilt, anger, shame, regret, and fear. And to invite all those feelings at once into my heart was and is overwhelming. I had made those acquaintances of grief as guests into my home. And that deep hurt was never given space to process. I never had the opportunity to communicate with those guests, to tell them why I was hurting. It never gave me a chance to see how much I had to live for after all the loss.
And as tragic as this sounds, but it’s also beautiful is that, the reason I felt all this pain was because it was love all along. Love for people that I cared for and wanted to see them be the best versions of themselves. All the reason that it hurt because it was reminding me that just because I’ve lost someone, whether it’s because they have gone to a better place or made their choice and conscious decision to live their life without me in it, I had never stopped loving them. All this grief was trying to whisper to my heart was, that all this loss is not the end of love. It was love all along. Love that had lost its home and didn’t know where to find shelter.
Behind closed doors, I cried again. I was also laughing, not in the maniacal way, but I was laughing because I was happy. I was happy to know that grief wasn’t wrong, and that I was privilege to love people without expecting anything in return. I cried because I was in awe to know I had the chance to know people that were so beautiful in just their existence, that their absence was significant. I was finally able to smile because I understood that my grief wasn’t emptiness or anger, it was just love that needed time to be translated. Outside the meeting room where a colleague was waiting for me, I took a long breath and wiped my tears. The relief was tremendous. I took a quick look at my pocket mirror. The person smiling this time was sincere. It was also break time. I reached out to open the door.
“Are you ready for lunch?”
“Yes, I am.” I replied. “I finally am.”
I think about how many of us deal with our grief so differently. We get fixated on the pain because that much is obvious. And because we pay so much attention to the pain of grieving, we never actually try to see the other side of it. We get stuck in cycles of anger, anxiety, repression and avoidance. We overwork ourselves because distraction helps. Binge-watch shows to divert attention on anything but our inner grief. Sometimes we find solace in substances to numb the pain. Or we seek refuge in the wrong person or crowd, never giving ourselves the time and space that their own soul is so loudly begging from them. And this continuous cycle breaks us. Grief isn't something you can just switch it on or off. It's a swim. And you learn how to swim with the waves, sometimes the waves are huge and scary, but you learn to flow through it. You also know when to breathe. That much I know is true. You continue to live for the ones that aren't anymore. It's okay for you to grief, because you have love.