Sunday, 4 October 2009

Guide to Grief

A friend suffered a loss recently. Her mom, the same lady who gifted me my Maharashtrian nath, passed away. And something I will always feel sorry about is that I couldn't go and meet her while she was in the hospital or see my friend after, as it involved a 15 hour journey and in my current condition, that is simply not possible. If you need at least two people to support you when you are offering someone support there is really no sense attempting that.

While this sorrow is certainly not material for a blog, something I've noticed in the past couple of months is.

It's one of the earliest lessons my mom and dad drilled into my head. It's okay if you don't attend someone's wedding but if someone is in pain, you should be there for them. And if it is a death, then you just have to.

But nowadays we've just forgotten what it is to be there for someone. I first noticed it when I told people about my chronic pain.

Friends from whom I expected understanding, support, and love that would lead them to say perky things to cheer me up, got back with - Oh! So you aren't coming for the party later then? I really thought it was the shock speaking. But no, that's all it was. Because the next day I got a - What! Still in pain? Again? Today also?

And then there's the - I feel really bad.
Now if they stop there, that's enough. I'll say, yea me too, but life's a bitch and we can all move on to discussing why Aishwarya Rai was acting so fake, giggly, and idiotic on Oprah and how the hell a witty, charming man like Abhishek B married that giggly twat even if she is really beautiful.

But it doesn't stop there. They say - I don't know what to say.
Now if you are a mere acquaintance then this too is perfectly acceptable. But if you are one of my closest friends, then it's clearly not. I also get that a lot from close friends, writers and communicators all, who read my recent, drenched in tragedy blog posts. I don't know what to say either.

Or this one - Why don't you try yoga?
I have sworn to hack anyone who will say that to me next into tiny pieces and feed them to crows. When I tell anyone that I have been working from home for the longest time now because the pain is a killer, this is what they say. Suddenly yoga is a panacea. Here I am struggling to do even the most basic of one's daily tasks like opening a bottle, carrying a bag, turning my head to the left or the right, and I am asked to try complicated contortions.

Then there are those who walk past you or stop keeping in touch in the fear that they will have to listen to your symptoms and the details of your pain. They are suddenly busy, work's hectic, life's screwed, urgent meetings, exams on the way... all sorts of meaningless excuses.
And just for the record - stop. It's unnecessary because I don't want you to nurse me to health and if I want to discuss the pain, I blog.

And unbelievably this one - I don't know how to deal with this situation. So I will just keep quiet. What you need is probably professional help.

Even in pain, it stunned me that I was now a situation. It's really not about give and take but I was reminded about the countless 'situations' in their lives I was a part of. And I was totally virginal too. But I distinctly remember not being quiet.

No one has a user manual on how to deal with a friend when said friend has a break-up, an illness in the family, family feuds, work trouble, inability to study/cope with some task, coming out to parents/friends, abortion, marital problems, in-laws trouble, divorces whatever. But you do the best you can. You say the things you know will offer your friend comfort. Sometimes, you just hold them. Sometimes, you cry with them.

What do I say?

So when my friend's mom passed on, I heard this so often that I decided may be it was time someone wrote that user manual to help people express condolences.

When someone's suffered a loss, there really is nothing you can say. It's the same as with gifting, the thought that counts. Call them up, meet them, hold them. And if you aren't secretly feeling gleeful that they got what was coming to them, you can certainly mouth an "I am sorry for your loss."

If they are the sort who like to talk and get it out of their system, they will. If they are the quiet types, they will just appreciate the fact that you braved the awkwardness of silence and sorrow and stood there with them, for them.

And when they are slightly better you just reassure them that it will all eventually be fine. But only when they can take that sort of reassurance. We all need some time to simply grieve. It is about respecting someone's right to grief.

And remind them of the good times. If you can praise them sincerely and whole-heartedly and show them what a wonderful being they are, you can really help a speedy recovery. When someone's hit below rock bottom, an ego boost can go a really long way. But not the sort my aunts gave my mom - "How well you used to cook! Now look at you, you can't even hold the spoon. So sad. This shouldn't have happened to you." Aim at something like this - "Remember how you used to cook. I still do. When you are better I'm hoping you can make that dish for me again..."

So I figured this is the way the world is.

Yes, all your friends will be there for you if you say you are down and want to get drunk at your favourite pub that also has the loudest music. No one has the strength of voice to compete with the noise and talk about sorrow then. So, thank the Lord, that's fun.

P.S. Those who've been there in the truest sense, thank you. And yes, it's October 'Orror.

5 comments:

Anuradha said...

What? You still haven't gotten off ur back and started yoga, aerobics and deep-sea diving? Really, Bhumika, what the hell are you doing hanging out with people doling out such crap?

To the ignorant idiots out there: if you have nothing nice to say, just zip it. If you must say something, use a muzzle, that way, we'll hear only garbled stuff. And for those who choose to write crap, get the invisible ink, quick.

Grief is so personal and so different for each one of us. The less we have of it, the better, but for the times that it does befall one amongst your circle, have some class.

Bhargavi said...

Bhumika,
off-the-topic: Violet/Purple is referred to as "oodha" in Tamizh. Hope it answers your question (or is it a mere statement?) in the "about me" column.

Bhargavi said...

And oh, did I mention that your frankness is compelling? :) Came here through some random blog-hopping. Cheerio lady!

Marvin Grey said...

Many people find me to be cold when it comes to consoling some one in grief. They may be right. I have my reasons. Say someone has lost something or someone, I am not the kind of person to give a complimentary "I am sorry".

Honestly, what credibility do you have. Did you do something to feel sorry about? How about saying something worse "I am sad for you" or "oh so sad". Really? How can you? Does pain of a pin prick on your hand feel less when looking at somebody else in serious pain?

May be I have a very low EQ. But I much rather say something or do something to help them or get their mind off the issue. Give them peace. You will find people to be really strong. Yeah, they will panic. Get them out of the situation - to stop them being constantly connected to the situation. They will find their own way out of it.

This moment will pass. When it does try something new to help through or to prevent the next time.

For a hater of poetry, I sent you something that made me listen twice.

Bhumika's Boudoir said...

Ouch, Anuradha. But yes, you are right. Double ouch, if I ever have cancer, I will have people telling the world it's AIDS. So like that.

Bhargavi, thank you. Really? But is it a stand alone word and not something masquerading as a colour while actually describing a berry, a vegetable or something else?

And thank you. :) Welcome to the boudoir, drop by anytime.

MG. I wish a few people I know could console me/anyone in pain as well as you did. Thank you. That was really beautiful. Really. Pity, you still dislike poetry (not that it matters much) but like everything else, there's some real nice stuff in poetry as you have already discovered for yourself. :)