One by one, the bangles come off, the sparkle from the nose stud disappears and the body which once was draped in rich colours is replaced with shades of white, grey and brown – signifying the submissive life she will live without the presence of her husband. The room is filled with a female choir of wails and howls – each competing to express their grief louder than the next. Grief.
Sat in the next room are the men – quiet and subdued. They don’t shed tears – they greet and acknowledge with a nod, all those faces who came to give condolences at the loss of a father, or a brother, or a son. Then they hold their head down in quiet remembrance. Grief.
As far as I could recall since childhood, this was how grief of a deceased loved one was frequently executed – almost systematic. Bound by traditional rituals, there was the allotted time to cry (mainly the women) – tears overrunning into the custom of feeding the plethora of faces could not be permitted – which in some extreme cases, only assigned family members would carry out. Food is served, songs are sung, prayers are chanted, customs complete, and so is the grieving process. Time is up. The end.
Only it isn’t the end – it’s the beginning of the invisible pain dressed as a demon hiding deep inside the gut. Silently screaming and tugging at each nerve to be set free – manifesting into a ball of darkness and depression. Void of knowledge of age, gender or race, the depth of grief of any trauma has no limits and no time-stamp, yet I am in my 39th year of witnessing a consistent lack of empathy or compassion that should override any society created tradition.
Women being banned from a loved one’s funeral because it was the “wrong” time of the month, deemed as not being “clean” lest they taint the occasion. So what if she is absent from the final farewell? Traditionalists dictating which female members of the deceased should have the authority when it comes to kitchen duties – it’s ok, let their tears flood amongst the cups of tea. Grief can wait, tea can’t! Only volume speaks sadness – the louder a woman cries, the more genuine her grief, whether she is 30, 50 or just a mere 11 years old. “Cry, cry for your mother!”, I watched in horror as my young cousin was thrusted in front of her late mother, taken by an illness that morphed her into an unrecognisable state – the trauma of this vision that this young girl could endure was dismissed. And if you are a man grieving – well, man up!
United we may appear in times of hardships, but words, and I mean words that REALLY matter are often but few in conservative households. Long-standing illnesses in older people are almost easier to digest, that final journey had already been etched. But it’s the unexpected demise or those that passed at an age when their life had only just begun, that throws loved ones into a turmoil of shock, sadly sometimes aided with verbal diarrhoea, “It was his/her karma from a life 100 years ago!” What the actual fuck?
Our society is often ever ready with opinions on the how, why, shoulda/coulda/woulda at the foot of someone’s deathbed waiting to enter paradise if they “earned” it in this life. But when the cause of death is suicide, out pops the table tennis of blame amongst those in close proximity. Or, alternatively, just sheer denial of the darkness that consumed an individual to believe his or her life was no longer of value. With any form of loss, the guilt that follows and remains, translating into self-loathe is not always foreseen – because no one ever talked about it! Any of it!
So let’s talk! Let’s talk about grief, about loss, about that gap we are feeling. Let’s stop conforming to societal ideals of behavioural patterns, stop the judgement of who is hurting more than who by decibels of cries. Cast aside criticisms of not adhering to customs for the sake of one’s sanity, and an individual’s right to express and not suppress. Break the cage of patriarchy, which consistently forces a woman to conceal her emotion as she juggles her “dutiful” multiple roles.
Let’s talk about our fears for a future we never had envisioned without that person, dig deep into the intuitive self and allow ourselves to emote right from the core of the gut. Cry all you need to cry, scream if you want to scream, but not in the confinements of four walls where the vocals are sealed.
Most importantly, let’s be that shoulder to cry on, let’s be that hand to hold and pull out of the darkness. Don’t knock on that front door with an exaggerated prepared look of defeat because it’s expected. Stand shoulder to shoulder and build a pillar of support, not that of pity and gossip, speculating or defining how grim the aftermath will be.
Be that guide that leads to the path of celebrating – yes I said it – celebrating a life no longer being lived. Cultures such as our own swim so deep in tradition that we prevent ourselves to find the joy the ones we loved once brought. The burden of customs sitting stubbornly on our chests often steals the ability to move forward with our grief in a positive light because we are fearful of judgement – judged because somehow it’s assumed we selfishly dismissed the person’s existence by expressing a form of comfort and joy.
Grief cannot be measured nor can it be categorized. It’s not any less applicable to a man than it is a woman, regardless of age. What makes your grief harder than mine? Because I chose to commemorate with colours, joy and fond memories and not resort to a tradition of submissive mannerisms? Because I chose to use grief to express my deepest fears to allow to myself to be a better version of who I could be? So what makes your grief harder than mine?
Whether it’s loss of a loved one in death or the unborn child barely developed, the demise of a relationship or a broken friendship – it’s every individual’s own loss to feel and embrace and release.