For my friends who have lost a loved one. Grieve in peace, for as long as it takes, and never let anyone make you feel guilty about it.
We expect death but we are never really prepared for it. There are no words which truly offer comfort to someone who has lost a parent, a sibling, a friend – an irreplaceable part of their world. For those of us who have looked grief in the eye, we know that she is much like death, she takes us on a journey that is meant for a lone traveler.
A few years ago, I lost two of my mamoos (uncles who are my mother’s brothers) over a short period of time. My world was never the same. I was never the same. Death and grief change us. It is a long, lonely road that never really ends once it starts, and it isn’t the sort of thing you ever get better at the more you do it. Every loss is unique. Every loss hits us differently. We can never really be entirely prepared for the finality of death.
Bee-bee, my mom’s youngest brother, was my very first best friend. He indulged my curiosity about the natural world and had endless conversations with me about everything from alien life to the Mayans. Sometimes when I remember him, I see him in stained backdam clothes and long boots, standing in a small wooden boat weighed down by pounds and pounds of provision and fruits. In my inner world, I can see the soft afternoon light making the trench water shimmer bronze and reflecting off his thick beard and quick smile.
Mamoo Seepaul became a father to my younger brother and me. He stood by us after our biological father left. He also sacrificed having his own family to take care of Nani (grandmother) and us. I honour this sacrifice by being the best human I can and by taking care of Nani in his absence. I remember the morning I received “the call”. I rushed over to Nani’s house, as soon as I saw her slumped over in the hammock, I knew.
I ran to the stairs, climbed them like a child who was still learning to walk, and collapsed on my knees in front his bedroom door. There he lay, forever still, alone, gone. It is an image I will never forget for as long as I live. I screamed for the first time in my life as if it would open a gateway from my soul to the world, as if the old house, the trees, the very air could help to carry my pain. And then I was silent. His responsibility became mine.
In my culture, women do not carry the dead. I never bothered to ask why. At his funeral, I dressed like a man. I wore a kurta and pants. I carried my mamoo’s body, helped lay him on the pyre and watched him burn. As the orange flames engulfed the shell that once carried his soul, I screamed for my father one last time and suddenly there were two friends behind me who I had not noticed until that moment. I was not alone.
There was no pause, no moment to breathe before I resumed my routine in the outer world. Life, this world, stops for no one. I put on a brave face, I accepted the kind words, and I tried not to look too affected by my loss. People expect the brave face once a “respectable period” has passed. But what the hell is a respectable period to get over the loss of a person who was, still is, deeply loved? How do we put a value in time on our pain?