Grief Etiquette 101
When I was twelve years old, my friend lost his father. I remember this so clearly because this was my first-time encounter with both loss and grief. After the teacher came for him in class, I didn’t know what to do or say so my child like mind created a safe space from the emotional turmoil by telling me “He will be ok in ten years. He is in considerable pain right now but he will be ok in ten years.” The irony. Twelve years after I lost my mum and I am living proof that ten years is most definitely not the magic number.
Last year I put up a couple of posts on my Instagram about my mother, I missed her terribly and I was also going through a ghetto phase of life. Here’s what I learnt from that, most people are terribly uncomfortable with grief. This I know because a couple of know-it-alls reached out to me and told me that one, I should not display my feelings so openly and two it has been a couple of years so I should be okay. The audacity. To the first atrocious thought I say, mind the business that pays you. They are called MY FEELINGS because they are exactly that and I will do with them as I please. I am an entity and I am not afraid to occupy my space in the universe. I express myself in whichever way I deem fit and if this offends you how about you swiftly move your behind along. To the second collection of nonsensical thoughts I say if you have never lost a parent, please take several seats in the section clearly labelled “God’s grace is sufficient” because it is that grace that has kept you from enduring the pains that I have endured for twelve years. Do not abuse that grace by judging an experience you have never lived through.
We are all encouraged to believe that life moves on after loss, indeed all the physical aspects of life do move on but the emotional and mental, now that’s a whole different ballgame. I am here to disabuse you of this notion so that you can be kinder to your friends who have experienced loss in whatever form but mostly in the form of loosing a parent because I am well versed with that type of loss.
Dear Friend, kindly take note;
- When I say I miss my mum, I am not depressed (we will get to that later).
I simply miss her. It is a yearning to see her, to tell her something or simply to talk to her on the phone.
At the back of my mind believe me you I am very aware that all the things I want when I say I miss my mum I cannot have. The thing is, when you lose someone, your feelings for them and your memories of them do not go down with the casket so can we stop acting like they should. As a friend, your default response when I tell you this should never be “Maybe you should talk to someone about that.” My mental health is not in shambles because I miss a dead person if anything I am functioning at optimum level because I am in touch with ALL my feelings especially the ones I don’t want to feel.
- I will be strong in the way I chose to be.
I am sure you have heard this impotent expression “Be strong” being thrown around at funerals. It doesn’t stop there. All your life after you lose a loved one you shall be told “Be strong”. Well guess what, sometimes I am strong when I am moody and broody and I look like I consumed a bag full of baking powder. Sometimes I am strong when wailing my heart out. Sometimes I am strong when I want to tell you about all the things I used to do with my mum. Strength is not binary. How you are strong can never be how another person is strong so please let’s leave the self-importance in 2019. Your way to be strong is not the way to be strong. If you get your kicks from punching walls let me get my kicks from whatever I chose to do.
- Grief stories are therapeutic.
So once or twice while trading stories with comrades in grief (Others who have lost their loved ones) a third party interrupted us and told us to stop wallowing. Well they were a bit more delicate than that to their credit. Grief is uncharted territory. When you hear people talking about it, they are not wallowing. More often than not, they are trying to find coping mechanisms and answers. Recently someone who lost their mother a year ago asked me if it gets better considering I am more than a decade in. My honesty is legendary so I pulled the band aid and told him that it really doesn’t. Sounds like a pity party huh? Not really. His takeaway was that if I have survived he will too. And that right there is the magic of GA, Grief Anonymous.
- I may not always be about Christmas cheer.
I used to be ashamed of this. How could I not be merry when it appeared that the whole country was snorting some sort of Santa white powder? Nowadays, I proudly serve at the pleasure of Ebenezer Scrooge. Listen, you cannot help but feel some type of way about the holidays. This is the time that families gather to celebrate the year that was. Now, as much as you are grateful for the family that you have, the reminder that one dear person is not with you is so glaring you can’t help but be a Debby Downer. Please excuse your friends if they are terrible company over the holidays. The emotional rollercoaster is always at rock bottom at this time of year.
The thoughts that you have to synthesize after the death of a loved one are legion and yes, it is okay if you need help to process them. Friend, if you have ever judged anyone for going for therapy, any kind of therapy, may your tea scald your tongue for the rest of your life and may your beer always be flat because you are bottom barrel trash. If I tell you that I need therapy, may your response never be “Kaa ngumu” or “Be strong”. It means that I cannot do it by myself anymore and I need someone to guide me along. And it doesn’t matter if this is a year down the line or twenty years down the line. Grief is indelible. In addition to this, don’t be the friend who shames someone for getting depressed. Again, I say, if you haven’t walked a mile in someone’s shoes, please either mind the business that pays you or be a good friend by supporting them and listening to them.
Navigating grief is like navigating a minefield for both the bereaved and those around them. The one things that will always make it easier is kindness and empathy. May these two virtues be your guide in the new year not just to the bereaved but to all around you.
As for my Mama, I love you more than I did yesterday and less than I will tomorrow. Keep resting Nyaugenya yadh chunya.