Grief: A Thousand Colors of Pain
“A thousand years of joy and gladness will not wash off the pain I feel with your loss,” I wrote in my journal, when I lost my lover. Little did I know that, a few years later, I would be stuck in the murky waters of grief all over again.
“A thousand colors…of pain is what I feel standing here,” I wrote.
“But out of it, I hope I’ll find myself and live in a cloudless world where you are only but a distant happy memory.”
A few years ago, when I lost my lover, I stayed in my bathtub and cried so hard that I believed a part of me would break. I have avoided speaking on grief for as long as I can remember. Still, while writing this, even as I see their faces, I am emboldened to write it as plain and simple as how I felt it.
I lost my mother three years ago, but before that, I lost my father seven before- both due to some unfortunate circumstances. Those periods were filled with a certain type of hopelessness, that even now, after so long, I can’t put it on paper.
With my mother’s demise, the chasm of my unshed grief for my father and hers- sputtered like a million tiny icicles on the walls of my heart. Most of my friends may have thought I was losing it. I wasn’t losing weight or anything, but I sure felt a certain level of emptiness, and I’m sure they felt it too.
Grief builds up like a wall, and most times, if not confronted, becomes much more painful to accept eventually.
“A thousand colors of pain are all I have left of you. But within those pieces, I see you, a light beam through. And somehow, I feel okay.”
Mayo Clinic defines grief as a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion for people, regardless of whether their sadness stems from the loss of a loved one or from a terminal diagnosis they or someone they love have received. It could be as a result of
- The end of a relationship
- A move to a new community
- A much-anticipated opportunity or life goal is suddenly closed to us
- The death of a pet
- Someone we love contracts a potentially life-threatening illness
Usually stemming from loss, grief will leave you empty and unable to function, and this is usually followed by a numbing pain.
Before I continue, it’ll be important to point out that grief is perfectly normal. While many of us may not always feel comfortable showing our feelings, expressing these feelings may actually be what you need to go through a period of loss of any kind.
Below are the different forms of grief and although these may not be the same for everyone, a lot of the time, most people will experience one or all of these stages.
The stages of grief are really not defined and may take as many forms as possible. For me, it followed this order;
Denial, which is usually the first stage for most people, was also the first for me as well. I doused the pain initially by watching a lot of television and immersing myself in comfort eating. In the beginning weeks after my mom died, I remember sending texts to her phone and pretending she was busy or asleep. I knew my mother wasn’t coming back, but I hadn’t come to terms with it yet; I just did not want to accept that. This was my way of coping with the shock of losing my mother.
Anger is the next, which usually comes when you can no longer deny the fact that you have lost a loved one.
During my own grief, I felt the first wave of anger when I walked into my mom’s house and found out her fish was dead. I was pissed off at her for not feeding the fish and would go home a few hours later to give her a good piece of my mind on her voicemail. This didn’t satiate the anger I was feeling. And this was because I was ignoring the one thing I shouldn’t have: that my mother was gone and she would not be coming back.
When her phone was disconnected a months days after, my anger had reached a boiling point. I began to take it out on those close to me. I lashed out at my friends and my family. My colleagues at work only cast me sympathetic glances when I did this. They understood. They looked at me with pity, and I hated it.
My boss the next day called me, told me to clear my desk and take a compulsory month off work. This, I initially rejected when it was first brought up. What did I need a vacation for? I was perfectly fine!
But that wasn’t the problem. My unshed grief was brewing in the background and waiting for the perfect moment to explode.
After a period of loss, there’s a certain emptiness that comes. And in these moments, when you feel out of control, it is usual to look for ways to take charge of your activities again.
Events of that time are blurry in my mind, but I remember asking God or any spirit being willing to listen, to bring my mother back to me. I made a couple of promises that unfortunately, I never followed through with.
That period, I went through a lot of spiritual exercises including yoga, acupuncture, and hours of meditation to ease the pain. I’ll be honest and say that while this didn’t work, in those moments, I felt such an incredible amount of peace and hope which was all I probably needed at the moment.
After my spiritual voyage, I entered into a state of palpable depression, unlike anything I had ever experienced before. It started by me abandoning my normal food routine to binging on ice cream and cheerios every other day. Only my work seemed unaffected. I had settled into a quiet brew in my workplace, but my private life was suffering like it had never done before. I felt like I was dying.
A lot of my friends and colleagues, while researching this article told me stories of friends and family members who checked themselves into medical institutions to seek professional help.
In my case, to cope, I buried myself in tons of work, and while this kept me busy, it also kept me numb to the outside world. While this isn’t the ideal way to deal with grief, it has become the ideal type of escape in our pro-technological world of smartphones and gadgets.
According to a recent research, there is a concern that people mourning alone will be more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and complicated grief, which is when people struggle to integrate their loss into their identity. The condition, which affects about 7 percent of mourners, can manifest in troubling thoughts and behaviors, like the belief that their loved one may come back or that their life is now meaningless.
Needless to say, my friends stopped inviting me for hangouts because I kept declining the invitations. It’s important to remember not to hide in such situations and more importantly, to find balance in your thinking. Darkness loses strength in the open.
“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall or a pair of shoes made or a garden planted. Something your hand touched someway so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or flower you planted, you’re there.”
– Ray Bradbury
The day I accepted my mother’s death was certainly unplanned for me. Several weeks before then, however, I had stopped referring to her in the present. This was a step in the right direction. I believed she was no longer present, just unavailable, but certainly not dead.
Life was good! I had been promoted at work, got a few renovations for my house and was planning on getting a new car. But things were far from normal in my personal life.
After the funeral, I kept some of my mom’s things in storage and moved it into my attic with some of my other old things. While searching for something one Saturday morning, I hit a box of her clothes. Neatly folded, they were packed in a manner my mom would have loved- according to days of the week.
And holding my mother’s clothes for the first time in four months did it. I broke down in tears that seemed to come from my soul.
Time that day went by in a blur as I wailed. I tore through everything- her whole clothing collection, including her jewelry box, her tennis kit and her books. I remember stumbling upon Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, a classic I had grown to love, one of her favorites and I opened those books and inhaled her scent, I began to weep all over again.
My years of sorrow and regret and anger washed through me that afternoon. I remember feeling a deep longing so strong, for her those few moments than I had in the years following my father’s death and her own.
Seeing her things, her handwriting, and remembering all the other quiet things, like the sound of her laughter and the color of her eyes gave me the courage I needed to let her go.
From that day, I hid these in my heart, and when I walked out of that attic, I walked out unburdened, finally free.
I recall gladly having a lot of people and family to talk to and while I know this didn’t completely help me, for various reasons, I know it helped the storm feel less frightful. Here are some of them:
- I didn’t feel anyone truly understood how I felt
- I was tired of being told, “You’ll be fine!”
- I felt like a third wheel in social gatherings
- The things that felt important to me before then became very unimportant
- I didn’t want to leave the house because I felt something will trigger my grief
A wrong concept that most people have picked through the years is that it is wrong to express grief. And while I know that it is difficult, keeping in tune with one’s feelings, is practically one of the best things one can do while grieving.
Most forms of loss, like the murder of my lover, came with a certain level of trauma. And with the passing of time, when internalized, trauma can become difficult to manage.
Accepting grief comes with an internal consciousness that we may not always know what we’re doing or feeling, and most times, it may make us resist exposing ourselves to activities that would make us feel like we don’t have it all together.
As most psychologists agree, almost everyone has different ways of dealing with grief, and while for instance an introvert may seek comfort in the quiet and scenic, an extrovert may take to partying and vacationing.
Thing is, I don’t believe anyone knows how to grieve or is there necessarily a right way to grieve.
In her memoir, “This Is How We Grow”, Christina G. Hibbert, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in grief and loss, shares how she overcame the four years following the passing of her closest sister and brother-in-law and inheriting her two nephews.
Here, she expressed what she called FEEL which means “freely experience emotion with love” and while this might be difficult because of the pain or trauma, it’s important to learn to sit with and confront pain-even when you don’t feel like it.
Your relationship with the deceased is unique and personal. It takes as long as it takes to grieve the loss,” Hibbert says. And this is important to remember specifically when we try to shove our grief in to-do list.
In addition to practicing deep breathing and seeking counseling, Christina Hibbert, mentions another activity which she calls TEARS which stands for Talking, Exercise, Artistic expression, recording experiences and emotions, and sobbing that might be helpful.
I believe that these exercises would truly help anyone going through a period of grief or loss as it categorizes the stages that I found myself in at different times during my own period of grieving:
- talking to friends or loved ones and a professional
- exercising and staying healthy
- finding expression through music and writing, and finally crying.
I feel this is the most important. Wail, cry a bucket if you have to, but don’t let the grief linger a day longer.
I’m always reminded of this lovely quote whenever I remember my loss or just having a bad day-
“Someday, soon, we’ll all be together if the fates allow, until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”
“Do you know that a man is not dead if his name is still spoken?”
Early this year, we had the Corona Virus outbreak, and I was once again reminded of the pain of my loss. Loss of any kind is capable of acting as a trigger especially to people just recovering from grief or loss of any kind.
As I was writing this article, the statistics of death worldwide due to the Corona Pandemic is about 1.17 million with 29.8 million recovered patients and 44 million confirmed cases with America, India, Brazil, and Russia recording the most deaths.
Needless to say, it has been a period of loss and which has affected everyone in one way or another. And with it is has come a certain type of feeling of dread and fear. The thing is, we cannot completely escape fearful situations as humans and so in these trying times instead of being afraid, forming a system of coping is more important than ever before.
Grief can be good thing if it is used as a means of understanding one’s feeling. Because it takes a certain kind of loss to appreciate the things you still have and in my experience, I’ve discovered that grief can bring you closer to a lot of people if you let it. It could be a spouse or colleague or child, and in the same manner, it can rip the fabric of cordiality among people you love if handled poorly.
So far, we’ve discussed the various forms grief can take as well as the different ways to handle it and finally and most importantly how to accept it.
A lot of my friends who have come to experience some form of grief always ask me: How did you get through?
To answer this question I’d say that believe coping with grieve comes with a certain degree of acceptance, but even this acceptance doesn’t completely remove the feeling of loss you’ll feel from time to time. This would happen when the person’s favorite song starts playing on the radio or a certain cherished memory comes to front, and in times like these, it would feel like the loss just happened freshly.
The good news is that this is completely normal! We carry pieces of one other in our hearts, and even if we wish to completely forget, it is usually nearly impossible to forget a loss.
The idea is not in forgetting but in remembering. Visit their tombstone. Organize a memorial and let your grief be validated through you actions of expression. Write a song. Inspire a novel after the loved one. By immortalizing memories of joy after the loss of a loved one, it is easier to bear the person’s memories with fondness instead of pain.
If you’re going through a period of loss, it might be important to turn to a professional or trusted friend and tell him how you feel. You could also read!
Below is a list of books compiled by the University of Washington Counseling Center to help people going through grief:
- How to go on living when someone you love dies. Rando, T.A. (1991).
- Understanding your grief: Ten essential touchstones for finding hope and healing your heart. Wolfelt, A.D. (2004).
- When there are no words: Finding your way to cope with loss and grief. Walton, C. (1996).
- How to mend your broken heart: Overcome emotional pain at the end of a relationship. McKenna, P. & Wilbourn, H. (2005).
- I wasn’t ready to say goodbye: Surviving, coping, and healing after the death of a loved one. Noel, B. & Blair, P.D. (2000).
- Men don’t cry. . .women do. Martin, T.L. & Doka, K.J. (1999).
- Ambiguous loss. Goss, P. (1998).
- No time to say goodbye: Surviving the suicide of a loved one. Fine, C. (1997).
- Recovering from the loss of a sibling. Donnelly, K.F. & Toomey, M. (2000).
- When parents die. Myers, E. (1997).
- Never too young to know: Death in children’s lives. Silverman, P.R. (2000).
Grief is not a bad thing, and if handled wisely, can lead us to lives of endless happiness and fulfillment.