It has been twelve weeks since my father’s passing and four weeks since my mother’s. Grief has been my new world for days and as I navigate this unfamiliar territory, grief has become my companion. I understand it in ways I could not have imagined before this loss. I have come to accept it and I have leaned into it so that I may bravely face what I must.
With my father, it was quick – cardiac arrest. Life support was disconnected the following day and within days I was writing his eulogy for the Zoom funeral. Our rock, our protector, our north star was gone. We had only just begun our grieving process when my mother was hospitalized. With my mother, it was six agonizing weeks in a hospital during which she suffered excruciating pain, and that too, all alone in a hospital room where no family members and visitors were permitted. COVID restrictions, quarantine rules, new virus strains, impending border closures, all made it impossible to see her. My heart knew within three weeks that she would not be coming home. She would not be getting on a plane again. She would not be coming to live with me as we had planned. In the not so distant future, I would be flying home only to return to an empty house – a home without our parents.
During those last few weeks, our only means of communication was the phone. Poor reception made it very difficult to hear her and often when I called the hospital to speak to her, the portable phone was in use by someone else. The windows to speak were few and far between as the painkillers made her extremely drowsy. I vividly remember one conversation when she told me was “going home” and that she loved me very much. She spent a few minutes telling me where certain items were at home and what I needed to do once she had passed. Another week went by and then she stopped calling and texting. It was simply too physically demanding for her. My mother had begun the process of detaching. As I began my grieving process, which I was very much aware of, I started to read about the last stages of life. I realized that as her final days were approaching, she was less interested in the outside world. The days rolled into one another and she no longer cared to know what time of day it was. She turned inward and soon stopped communicating with relatives and friends on WhatsApp, the social media app she always loved to use. When she was well, she would spend hours communicating with friends around the world. I could tell from our exchanges, that despite her pain and sadness, she had a conscious awareness. While she often uttered phrases that I sometimes misread as confusion, she expressed what she now wanted – and that was for her soul to be set free.
As the days progressed, she shared more about her hospital experiences. One evening she told me how she would often put one palm firmly on top of her mouth to prevent herself from crying out loud from the pain because another patient in the room would shout at her. I called the hospital everyday for updates and most of the time the nurse on duty would simply say that she was not eating much. I dreaded the days she would go for bandage changes and wound cleaning because I knew it was unbearably painful for her. The doctors themselves soon came to see how inhumane it was to put her through that.
I also learned that as one approaches death, one eats and drinks less due to general weakness and slowing metabolism. This was very difficult to see and I always felt that she went through her days feeling hungry. Sometimes she would have small amounts of fluid and then eventually she just stopped. She went fourteen days without food and was seventy-five pounds when she took her last breath.
Each day knowing that I could not be there was a test of my inner strength. I somehow began to compartmentalize and between work meetings would break down. The cries were of pain, loss, sadness, and fear. But most of all, I cried knowing she was suffering immensely. My mother was a beautiful person who cared deeply for her family, always placing our needs before hers. She knew our secrets, our challenges, our everyday routines – everything about our lives. She did not deserve to go that way. No-one deserves to go that way.
I soon knew that her time was coming and it was just a matter of 48 hours. I read all that I could about what she might be experiencing. I watched videos and wanted to know everything I could about what she was feeling. I knew that in her semi-coma state she could still hear me as hearing is the last sense to go. I spoke to her in the afternoon on March 8th and from her movements and sounds, I knew she was hearing me. On March 9th at 8:30pm, I got the call. I never knew that my body could cry from underneath my feet to above my head. I had never felt such a raw and devastating pain. I felt completely torn apart. My best friend had died. My phone would not ring three times a day anymore. I would not get multiple texts from her in a day. I would never again hear “Love you, beta.”
The morning of the funeral, I picked out a black dress and waited for my girlfriend to come over. We watched online together. I had shed most of my tears in the weeks preceding the funeral and had let Grief into my world fully by now. Grief pays me a visit at any time of day. There is no advance notice. I now know I will have visits that cannot be predicted. I have days where I cannot function for hours. I have days when I am fine and simply remember fond memories. I have days where I am deeply sad because something I have seen or heard becomes a trigger. The loss of both my father and mother is still too fresh. I am reminded each day that I am no longer a child, and in many ways, I am unanchored now until I find my bearings again.
I am grateful for those close to me and for many others who have reached out during this time. This time has also shown me how necessary it is to be with one’s grief fully. We all grieve differently but we must embrace what we are feeling at any time throughout this process. I have gone through many of the stages of grief, and at the same time, I am learning not to judge myself anymore for my emotions and my sensitivities. For those of us who are grieving, please allow us to cry, retreat, or isolate. Please don’t take it personally if we don’t feel like going out or meeting. Love and care make others want to “fix” our pain or make it disappear or even offer reasons as to why this loss occurred and why it’s better that it happened in the way that it did. We know this already. We have spent countless hours thinking about it. What we need; however, is just for you to be near. Presence, validation, listening without attaching any meaning to what we feel or are going through is needed most. By doing otherwise, you risk being unheard, ignored or eroding our emotional trust. The greatest gift one can give someone who is grieving is empathy, so I say, just love me in my hurt. Your empathy is a gift.