Just like old trinkets, losses sit about in our being for years, forming layers upon layers, rusting us on the inside. Most of the world walks around with a thin film of red rust of unresolved grief just under their skin. A long list of losses dressed up as something else hides behind this film.
When Russell was 6, he went for a basketball game with his dad one Saturday. He lost his little blue jacket there. His dad gave him a good hiding for that. For Russell, it meant loss of safety. Did anyone recognise this as a loss? Nope.
When Saagar moved from India to Northern Ireland, he didn’t know English very well. He was one of three coloured kids in his Primary school. Something as fundamental as his name was alien to all around him. One day he came home from school and asked, “Can we change my name to Alan or something?” For him, this move meant loss of a sense of place and a sense of self. Was it acknowledged as such? Nope.
When the Tsunami washed away thousands of villages on 2004, Saagar was stunned. Until then he had faith in God but after watching the devastation caused by it on TV, it was all over for him. He said, “If there was a God, He would not allow such a horrible thing to happen.” It meant a profound loss of faith for him. Did we know how to deal with it? Nope.
When I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I was 42. It mainly affected the small joints in both my hands. I worried about my ability to work in the future. With correct diagnosis and medication, I was back to normal in a short time, but for a while I lost my confidence, my sense of security. Was it expressed and addressed? Nope.
Yes. We accumulate losses without knowing it and our inventories continue to add on more items when we’re not looking.
I am learning to look at and validate all my losses. I am learning to be complete with them. As Christmas is approaching, I am aware that that empty chair at my dinner table will hurt. But I am grateful that Saagar once sat there. I am already grateful for all those who will be in their chairs that day. I am also determined to make them feel special and wonderful, loved and cherished, like I would Saagar, if he were here.
PS: In Jan/Feb 2019 I hope to start a series of 8 weekly Grief Recovery workshops, 2 hours each. Up to 9 participants can be accommodated. It will most likely be on Tuesday evenings in South London. If you think you would like to work with me and take small actions towards healing, please do let me know. Thank you.
John W James was a young man in America who had his heart broken by the death of his son in 1977. He found that there was no help available for his heart. He was mostly asked to process the pain through his brain. This did not work for him. His pain continued to worsen and invade other parts of his life, such as his marriage and his work. At one point his suffering and isolation was so great that he couldn’t bear to continue living. He was on the brink of ending his life when he asked himself, “How did I get here?”
He sat down and took a closer look at his life. He found many losses in his past that had been claiming parts of his soul like land-mines along the way. For example, friends lost in the Vietnam war. He had never addressed or resolved any of his previous painful experiences and they had been layering up, one on top of the other, on top of him, to the point he was being smothered by them. He unpicked each of these layers one by one. He dealt with every one of them in a particular way. He found a method by which he could reach his heart and reduce his pain. Slowly, he started to feel much better. He shared this method with other grieving families and it helped them too. He called it “Grief Recovery Method”.
This afternoon I completed my Grief Recovery Method workshops and I can see why they have helped thousands of people across the globe over the last 30 years.
In 1999, I was 9000 miles from home, building a new life, working 80-100 hours a week looking after the sick. Today I had driven my new, blue, second hand Renault 19 into town for the very first time. After much worry, I had thankfully managed to find the right place to park. It was a Saturday morning in November, cold and almost too bright for Belfast, famous for its ‘jeans and polo-necks’ season all year round. I had my black boots, black denims and a light blue high-necked jumper on. I was looking for the Thomas Cook office. Couldn’t wait to buy plane tickets to go home after slogging all alone in a foreign land for nearly 5 months. My ears were thirsting to hear my beloved Hindi language again and my tongue was dying to speak it with my loved ones. My heart ached for home.
I couldn’t find the wretched office. It was 11 am. I was on a street called ‘Donegall place’. People walked about happily shopping, talking, laughing and sipping their portable drinks. They smiled and chatted as they strolled about with their friends and family. A portly middle aged man walked alone on the pavement with a newspaper tucked under his left armpit. I gently approached him for directions. Even before I had spoken, he retracted, scowled and spat, “I have nothing to give you.”
In that moment, every cell in my body wished to disappear.
Six years ago, Remembrance Sunday fell on the 11th of November. Same as today. I was visiting Saagar in Durham that weekend and had the privilege of attending the special Sunday service at the ancient, opulent Durham Cathedral. The music and words were deeply moving. I felt lucky to have found a spot to stand at the back of the cathedral that day. I met up with Saagar afterwards and we went for a long walk, lunch and then we had a hot chocolate at the Railway station before my return.
I was surprised to find that over a million Indian soldiers fought in WW1 at Somme, France. At least 74,187 Indian soldiers died and 67,000 were wounded during the war. We rightly remember and honour those who lost their lives serving their country. But do we learn from history?
Northern Europeans have mass murdered indigenous people of entire continents, now Australia and USA, diminishing their numbers to tiny percentages. Then they funded scholars to write books to justify these acts of violence against innocents. Today, I remember and honour all those people who died defending their right to exist.
India was known as ‘the golden bird’ before the Empire established itself in that country. After years of exploitation and oppression they left behind a shattered subcontinent. A fractured country. 14 million people were displaced and several hundred thousand lost their lives as a result. I salute all those innocents who died for no fault of their own.
“What do you think of western civilisation?”, someone asked Mahatma Gandhi.
He replied, “That would be a good idea.”
We continue to make war in the name of peace. We spend millions on finding more deadly and cowardly ways of killing people. We never forget the 3000 people who died in America on 9/11 but we don’t remember the 500 that have been dying every week in Syria for the last 7 years and in Yemen for the last four. Before that, in Afghanistan and Iraq. All, for peace and liberty. Today, I remember all people, everywhere who have been traumatised and displaced by war and those who have died violent deaths as a result of war. May humankind learn to be kind.
You may call it cheesy. I can see Saagar roll his eyes and give me a crooked smile, shaking his head, as if to say, ”You’re hopeless.”
I never imagined I would ever meet anyone whose notions of romance are more hopeless than mine. I now poke my arm with the back of a pen to spring my attention to it as it happens. Connecting with Si without words or gestures in the most public of places, sharing the smallest, sweetest, bitterest, cringiest moments silently, merely by an exchange of looks comes most naturally. Having never experienced this before, millions of ‘red heart’ and ‘red rose’ emojis jump up and down in my eyes every time.
On a warm Saturday afternoon we went for a walk around Streatham Common. A toddler waddled his way towards us. Suddenly he got sucked into the beauty of white flowers on a bush on his right. He stopped and turned to face the bush. “Hello Flower!”, he greeted the bush with a smile as big as the sky. Both of us caught that moment and held it.
On long haul flights we watch films together – the same film precisely synchronised on our respective screens. We start, pause, restart and finish at the same time. I did promise ‘cheesy’. Water-bottles, travel pillows, chocolates, books, music shared.
Lives enriched. Memories created. Bonds strengthened.
He can tell from my body language, voice, sighs, shadows across my face when I am not in a good place. Even when it happens for half a second, mid-sentence in a restaurant in dim light, he catches it. I don’t expect him to. But he does.
Two bodies, one organism.
Time doesn’t heal. Love does.
PS: Happy first wedding anniversary my darling. Think of this as paper.
The train had only a few people in it. It was quietly making its way through the Irish countryside. Callum’s borrowed black suit stank of booze. He’d just finished with his mum’s funeral. He looked at my face and consoled, “When I go in d sun I turn d same colour too. Its awright. We’re all one. I’m tryin’ tell ya. Its awright.”
‘Did your mum have a hard life?’ I asked.
“She grew me up with my grand-moder. My dad died in a car-crash at 27. I never seen’im. I’z a very hard young boy ‘cause I won’t listen to nobody. So, I go from home to DC to prison.”
“Detention Center. My mummy gonna hurt for 20 year. The pain remain. I too weak. I go up and down d hospital for 2 week. Then, she die. Pain is love and love is pain. That’s all that remain. You and me is the same. See, I’m not stupid. It’s awright. I know she always want me be strong. When you feel weak, don’t fall and crumble, ‘cause she don’t want me to stumble. She never leave me. I promise. I never leave her. It’s awright.”
These worlds, like multi-coloured balls in a kid’s play pen in Ikea overlap, intersect, collide, clash and merge constantly. They clang as if at VT station, Mumbai at 8 am on a Monday morning.
At the core of these spheres is a mush of thoughts, words, impressions and feelings, ground into a thick viscous treacle. At their margins are bright green woods.
I live in the shifting woods that border these globes. These borderlands are safe. Nothing can be taken away from me here. If one world vanishes, I jump onto another. All of them are home. They tumble along and slosh about merrily in a pool of love, inside and outside of me.
Sanity & Insanity
Life & Death
Reality & Illusion
I have six homes.
A 4 minute conversation, Si and I : The Listening Project on BBC Radio 4 (19th Sept 2018)
I-Player (only available in the UK)https://www.bbc.co.uk/radio/play/b0bk1fc0
” A schoolgirl’s been murdered in our area. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to happen – never should have and is just another reminder of this shit world we live in. I’ve been trying not to follow the news on it but they released CCTV footage of her last known moments and it was actually somewhere my brother drives past on the school run four times a day so I did watch it all and check the timings to just make sure he wouldn’t have been there and possibly seen something. (Different time of day)
I’ve just been struck by how it’s pulled the community together. There’s been balloon releases, marches, leaflet drops – the mum is clearly being very much supported ….I couldn’t find one person willing to have a cup of tea with me; three years on I still can’t. And I know suicide is different. Murder is evil; what was done to this poor girl, there’s absolutely no doubt people should be outraged by it…and I know suicide is about making a decision – albeit a stupid and flawed one…. but there are things I don’t understand why they’re quite so different.
The Head teacher of the girl’s school implored students to come forward because answers were needed. We needed answers with Shauna and anyone at her school who knew anything got told it wasn’t an appropriate thing to discuss. We even had a girl go to her teacher with some information, get told off for it and then to choose to write independently to the Coroner’s Court (with info we found hugely relevant but was promptly disregarded.)
Today the girl’s school announced that they’ll be making a memorial garden for her with lots of nice words about there always being a place for her and her never being forgotten. Shauna’s name wasn’t even allowed to stay on the Year 11 hoodies. The gesture is nice but the words; it would have made such a difference to us if someone had said stuff like that to us.
There was just both girls of a similar age and it’s just really brought it home how differently people see these things. I’m glad this Mum has the support that she so desperately needs, I don’t begrudge her it – I just wish it wasn’t so glaringly different how people reacted – this Mum is a heroine because of what she’s had to endure, we’re just potentially neglectful parents who should be forgotten about/ignored 😦
I don’t know if I’m making any sense. Like I say I do understand it. It doesn’t stop it hurting though. 😦 “
Anoushka smoothens out the non-existent creases on her well-fitting maroon skirt with both hands. The slender brown hands, terribly unsure of where to rest, how to move, how much to move. Them randomly reaching up to her head for no reason and then hiding behind her back to hold and comfort each other.
As she hears footsteps approach, she jumps up to stand. Her sharp black eyebrows jump up in unison. The hands now form sweaty tight fists by her sides. In walks his mum, an elegant lady in a long blue linen dress and a light white cotton scarf casually wrapped around her neck. A soft smile adorns her face. Her eyes sparkle with kindness. She holds out her right hand, leaning into the young lady with her upper body. The room warms up. Anoushka’s muscles relax and a smile surreptitiously escapes, mirroring the one shining at her. Her twinkling, perfectly set teeth contrast magnificently with her silky chocolate skin. She radiates utter relief.
“How do you do? Matthew has spoken so much about you.”
“Anoushka. I am good. Thank you. I am happy to be called Anu. Thank you. How are you today?”
“I am very well but my husband is not too well. Matthew is with him now. He should be here soon.”
“I hope it’s nothing serious.”
“He has a weak heart. He has had for some time now. The doctor was in last night. He has advised rest and altered some of his medications. He is rather delicate today.”
“Ah! I am sorry to hear that. I hope he feels better soon.”
“I hope so too. It would have been nice for you to meet him today but now I think it might be better to wait till he’s better.”
“Sure. Whatever you think appropriate.”
“Well, just the colour of your skin would be enough to give him a heart attack.”
Once again, I found myself in Swansea. The meeting was planned weeks in advance and I had travelled 4 hours to be there. I, a practising doctor, once again, seeking light in the realm of the unexplained. Why was I there? Because I wanted to write a book and I wanted to know what Saagar thought. Does that make sense? Like hell it does. That’s why I had trudged all the way there and would be changing trains for the rest of the day to get back home.
One whole wall in the waiting room was teaming with thank-you cards, mostly from women who believed they had had babies as a result of Acupuncture or other therapies received at the centre. It was a modest space with a tired fawn carpet and upright wooden chairs with plastic, foam maroon coverings. Like all waiting-room-chairs all over the country.
Her big smile snatched my gaze away from the wall and welcomed me into her space. She guided me up the stairs into the same consultation room where we had met more than a year ago. The familiar potted palm, the large window and the same arrangement of the 2 comfy sofas by the fire-place, facing each other with a small wooden table placed in between. Déjà vu, all over again.
I sat facing her and the window. She sat facing me and the door. We started with a brief catch-up and then she connected with Saagar. She said he’s happy. He’s growing his hair and following the cricket. She thinks she can hear him speak French. Is he saying something about Guy’s hospital? He says he enjoyed his time and friendships at Dulwich. He mentioned a particularly close ‘black’ friend. I am sure he means the one coming home to lunch tomorrow. He says he loved the large window by his bed with the great view of the London cityscape.
He felt there was a place for him at the wedding. It was fun, especially the bit by the river in the early morning hours. He must have meant the photo-shoot of Si and I in our normal clothes. It shows us in our ‘natural habitat’. The camera loved the early morning sun. So, we complied. ‘Natural’ and ‘photos’ don’t belong in the same sentence. We tried our damnedest best, seeking inspiration from Hollywood and Bollywood combined, getting confused and dramatic and giving rise to some cracking moments. He was there.
He offers me a Green Tara through her. A Buddhist manifestation of active compassion, Tara is the saviouress, the one who reaches out and responds freely to all who suffer. She is fearless and boundless. He wants me to have a jade statue of Tara. He knows my heart and mind. We walk in the same light.
She says the book will happen. A book of beauty and joy that was him. Of his continued presence. Of hope.
( A 20 minute video of an awareness raising presentation for trainee anaesthetists at a national conference in Glasgow from earlier this month: Being Human)
[E-mail address for Moya O’Dwyer, the medium: firstname.lastname@example.org]