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.
The concert had just finished and the hall was semi-lit. A dance recital entitled ‘Hope’ had coaxed everyone’s feelings up from deep within to just under the surface, like fish in an aquarium hovering at the top for specks of food. The main supporter of the show was the Patel family who had recently lost one of its eminent members. He was survived by his young wife and three kids. The soft thuds of seats folding up, the hiss of people whispering in gentle tones and trudging in small steps towards the exit filled the warm air.
I approached the 17 years old Patel boy, one of the sons. He appeared shrunken. Contracted, like an empty plastic water bottle, after a flight.
“How’re you doing?”
‘Not bad. Thanks’ he stated, unconvinced, looking downwards and sideways.
“Did you enjoy that?”
‘Yes. T’was nice.’ Still expressionless.
“How’s mum doing?”
‘We went for a safari to Kenya. That was good’ he looked up a little.
“I am sorry for your loss. I hope you’re taking good care of yourself.”
‘Yes. Thanks’. Mortified.
“Can I give you a hug?”
2 days since we landed in Portugal and 2 days of feeling like I’ve been hit by a tonne of bricks. Great weather, lovely company, fabulous food and still this strange feeling of heaviness. Maybe it has something to do with the lunar cycle. May be it’s the accumulated tiredness of the past few months finding an outlet. Unsure of what to make of it, I speak to my friend about it and she tells me about ‘saudade’. It’s the Portuguese name for an emotion that lives in this land, its people, music and culture.
It is a wistful longing, drenched in sorrow, for something that can never be had again. It is nostalgia, but melancholic. It is longing, but knowing it cannot be. A type of self-delusion. So, “saudade” is a feeling of lost connection with the most important feeling or thing you ever had, a desire for something that you lost – a country, a grandmother, youth, a son, a lover.
In English, it means ‘to miss’. It is a verb.
In Portuguese, it is a thing. A noun. Saudade.
A blank page and me. A bit scary. Not sure what happens next. No distractions of a laptop, a dictionary, a thesaurus, e-mails or facebook messages. Just me and the unruled paper. Both blank.
The click and clap of the cat-flap sounds like a bold red brushstroke on a bleak soundscape. The whirring of the fridge makes for a somber background of magnolia. The crunchy munching of cat food forms clusters of bright yellow daffodils scattered about. The distant low-pitched monotone of an aircraft marks the horizon, half land, half sky. Wonder what the pilot sees and hears at this moment. I look for the word count at the bottom of the page but all there is, is a corner.
The sweet sound of a smile drips into my ears from the eyes of a black and white picture on the shelf. It’s twinkling and naughty. It’s the life of the canvas. Like a patch of elegant and shy blood red tulips, gently dancing in the wind. Thus I navigate the map of my silence.
“Out of such abysses, from such severe sickness one returns newborn, having shed one’s skin, more ticklish and malicious, with a more delicate taste for joy, with a more tender tongue for all good things, with merrier senses, with a second dangerous innocence in joy, more childhood and yet a hundred times subtler than one has ever seen before.” — Friedrich Nietzsche
It travelled everywhere with me.
I spent countless hours with it. It was always there for me when I needed it.
It helped me do my research. It helped me reach out to friends and strangers. It kept me connected with the world when I thought I wanted to be alone. It gently encouraged my creativity and provided me with the required inspiration. It allowed me to express myself and soaked up a lot of my sorrow and angst.
It lovingly kept all Saagar’s pictures, documents and memories.It entertained me with music and films when I needed a break. It made me laugh and it made me cry. It patiently stored all my pending projects till I came back to them after long gaps. Over time I came to rely heavily on it. The thought that it was destructible crossed my mind a few times but I shoved it aside very very quickly.
Today’s date has been in my mind for the last 3 months as it is the deadline for a 5000 word article I have been working on. I woke up this morning, really excited about sending it in, got myself a cup of tea and started putting some finishing touches on it. The phone went and something had me completely distracted. I found myself trying to open a door, carrying the laptop in one hand a cup of tea in another and before I knew it, the laptop was lying open on the floor with droplets of black tea all over the key board. I did my best to get it dried out asap but first the cursor disappeared and then the screen went dead.
It’s gone. For now anyway, it’s gone.
I’ve missed it all day. The deadline has been extended by 1 week but without my laptop I am truly unsure of how I will get anything done. It was more a friend to me than I thought.