I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like to lose your spouse, so I won’t bother pretending to be knowledgeable on the matter. Those who have experienced that type of pain say it is inexplicable. I initially didn’t want to make this piece about me while I was still in the process of deciding what I’d write about next; I wanted to refrain from using as many “I’s” as possible. Not everything can be about me. This is about my loved ones who’ve had to go through this ordeal; who were forced to forge ahead without those whom they made the “till death do us part” vow to.
This is an acknowledgement of my mother, who had to go about the business of raising two children as a single parent, the youngest of whom was three when her husband passed on – and most recently, my grandfather, who had to bid my grandmother farewell after her lengthy illness finally took its toll on her tenacious spirit. This piece is about what these two admirably strong individuals have to go through on a day-to month-to year basis, and the memories they are compelled to preserve, even when those same memories occasionally haunt them. It is about their mutual experience, something that is only familiar to them. And despite the prominent presence of family and friends who try their hardest to offer them emotional support; try as they may, they cannot help fill the void left by their soul mates.
Visualise yourself having to lie in the same bed you used to share with this person who is now no more, waking from a dream you had of them the previous night, and yearning for what has now become an unbearable reality to be a nightmare instead. Imagine having to force a smile on your face and pretend that you’re doing just fine and that you have everything under control because you don’t want to bother your loved ones when you’re actually falling apart. Visualise yourself having no other alternative but to survive, despite your grief suggesting otherwise. Imagine having to feel like insanity is taunting you because of this. Having to endure a most excruciating pain that no doctor can alleviate, having to bear heartache – a heartbreak that no surgeon can mend. It’s enough to instil a grave fear in someone who is a marriage enthusiast; enough to make one reconsider sharing themselves with someone who can be taken away from them in an instant. What’s the point of telling someone that they’re a huge part of you if that part is going to be savagely ripped from you without any warning? Imagine having to live, constantly, with the gaping wound left by the relentless memory of the deceased. A wound which you can either allow to fester and consume you, or allow yourself the patience to let it heal on its own, gradually learning to embrace its remnants, or rather, the permanent scar it leaves.
My mother chose the latter, not only for her children’s sake, but because subconsciously, she knew that she owed herself that much. But what my grandfather decides to do remains to be seen.
A few weeks after the burial of my grandmother, during the cleansing ceremony, we accidentally neglected him for a short period, and I suppose that brief moment of loneliness allowed for reality to set in because he broke down. That was the first time we ever saw him in that state (this being the man who has had to bury his parents, his siblings, four of his sons – two of them in one year, his grandchildren, and his son-in-law). My mother was the only person who could offer him a genuine and sincere sense of comfort because she could relate to the pain he was going through; not only because she had lost a mother as much as he had lost a wife, but because she knew the struggle that lay ahead of him.
As she recalled holding her aged father in her arms, she struggled to contain her emotion. “He is in so much agony. He was practically wailing, I could hear him from outside.” Nobody can truly comprehend what he’s going through; they were married for over fifty years, and it was only after my grandmother’s passing that we grasped how integral her presence was to his strength. It dawned on us that the main reason he was able to survive all that he went through was because she was at his side – through sickness and health, for better and for worse, for richer and for poorer. Truth of the matter is that she held the entire family together. And now that his pillar of strength was no more, he was genuinely scared. “I want to go home to my wife; I need to be with her. I want to go to where she is. Why does she get to leave me behind?” He said it felt like his heart had been ripped out his chest, and he didn’t want to go through it any longer. “I want to rest”.
How does one respond to that? What rational answer do you offer as solace to an elderly man who’s lived a full life and is desperate to move on from this life? There is no logical or profound response you can give other than to shut up and silently plead that God be merciful towards this man.
We miss her, every fucking day. But our feelings, our whining seem rather trivial in comparison to what my grandfather has to go through – not having her there to cook for him, to hum a hymn, to do his laundry, to pray with him, to watch the telly with him, to counsel him, to engage in petty bickering (much to our amusement at times), to defend him – not having her laying there when he goes to bed at night. And when you ask him how he’s holding up, a stupid but necessary question; the answer is always the same, “Ah, I’m well. What else is there to say?”
And I suppose it’s only just that I conclude this piece with his retort as an ode of some sort:
“All is well; all is as it should be
We still exist in the physical and their souls have transcended into a realm of eternity
What else is there to say,
But for us to soldier on and go another day”
Image courtesy of A Still Small Voice