Grief—that sinister cloud that hovers over our lives, descending only on the unsuspecting. Unbeknownst to us, we prepare for grief the moment we start to love. This isn’t to say, “Do not love!” but merely acknowledging that we grieve because we have loved, and lost.
When my father died, I never thought I would grieve; this happened because I had assumed, like most members of my family, that his prolonged illness had steeled us for the inevitability of death. Yet that morning when my mother called, her voice pale, the background in ghostly stillness, something heavy plunged into my stomach.
When she hung up, the ground seemed to be shifting underfoot, so that I struggled to keep my balance. “Be a man! Be a man!” an inner, tentative voice said. I took deep breaths, psyched myself and called my mother back.
With the benefit of hindsight, I reckon that this need to call my mother again, asking her to repeat what she had said to me, came from a state of disbelief: this is the touchstone of grief—when it hits you, it leaves you dazed.
To date, the rest of that morning constantly replays in my head, how my small Lagos apartment appeared even smaller, how my insides felt empty, growing lighter by the minute, how I suddenly forgot all the things I had set out to do that day.
By noon, word had spread. Relatives called incessantly. Old friends sounded weepy on the phone. Sibling wailed into my ears. In the thick of all the activities, I began to slowly feel a fullness of being, my life propped up by the plethora of condolences. Online, my Facebook wouldn’t stop smarting with notifications. My Whatsapp was choked with messages. Groups where it had seemed I had been forgotten seethed with concern. An old lover wanted to reconnect with me. A friend-turned-enemy wanted to become friends again.
It took days for the attention to wear off, then came the piercing sadness, my life a void with no depth. There are many suggestions about managing grief, but the practicalities are quite different.
I dealt with my grief by allowing myself grieve. Sometimes, memories of the good times with my father stirred to life. Some days, I fought off the memory by trying to occupy myself with other things. Other days, I tried to remember the times when my father failed in his duties as a father, and these memories displaced the good one, so that I felt justified in not grieving, even if only briefly.
Then anger came, the raw and scalding type that filled up my guts, and this brought with it a barrage of thoughts: he should not have died; he had a hand in his death; he should have seen the signs that he was dying and sought medical help that morning; my mother should have stopped his death. When these feeling abated, I felt something akin to indifference, then this gave way to a feeling of melancholy.
All this time, I never actively thought of managing this grief, of getting over it. Then I realized it was insurmountable (at least it felt so at the time), and I needed to confront it head-on, and overcome it.
To manage grief, I first accepted that I had lost my father, and that he wasn’t returning. This is perhaps the most giant stride towards becoming whole. In accepting the finality of your loss, you begin to heal, or to manage it because one never completely heals from grief.
The memories of my father have continued to hound me, but over time, I have come to accept that grief is a special kind of fortune; we grieve because we love, and it is a privilege to have loved so much so that you grieve a loss. A lot of people do not have that.
All in all, grief is a maze that one combs through, looking for a way out. And as long as you continue to seek an escape route, you will continue to feel the attendant interminable pain. To deal with grief, one must resign themselves to this maze, and know that the only way to escape the maze is by making the maze your new home.
The loss of my father left me in pieces, blurred the future for me, thrust me into existential crisis, but accepting this loss has, over time, become a gift, because I sometimes deliberately conjure up images of my father, fun memories with him, and I smile. This has been the only source of propulsion I have to keep living, to keep loving, and to thrive.
Written by Chidera Duru, Editor-in-Chief, UncutXtra Magazines.