What do you do when as a child you are hit by grief for the very first time and it overwhelms you? When you find it hard to believe that your loss is permanent and that your loved one is never coming back? What do you do when the pain goes on and on and you don’t know any coping technics? What do you do when you don’t have any access to counselling?
One moment I was a child running my fingers along the spine of a handbook called When There Is No Doctor on my father’s bookshelf. The next moment, I was a teenager wondering how to navigate life without a mother and a manual. What does a thirteen-year-old do when there’s no mummy? You learn to ‘mother’ yourself.
You learn quickly how to count on yourself and how not to depend on others. When you are sad, you learn how to comfort yourself. You cry, hug a pillow, and hope it gets better in the morning. When you do not feel well, you learn how to care for yourself. You don’t lay sick in bed. You get up and find help. When you get menstrual cramps, you go find paracetamol. You search for it in your father’s drawers, or you ask a neighbour or a friend who has a mother who brings her painkillers in bed. When you fail, you do not give in or give up.
Every morning, when you look in the mirror, you psych yourself up with pep talks and pump yourself up with self-affirmations. You try again and again until you get it right. When you fall, you don’t lay on the floor. You pick yourself up and recite your mantra over, and over again until it is resonating inside your head. When people bully you, you learn how to stand up for yourself because you know you have no mummy to run home to and cry.
What do you do when life throws more challenges your way until you feel overtaken by the number of losses you have encountered? When former coping technics no longer work due to chronic use? What do you do when you try to move forward, but something beyond you keeps pulling you backwards? And how do you manage when you can feel grief cutting off inches of you little by little every day?
One moment, I learnt that I was pregnant after eight years of marriage. The next moment, I learnt that my baby was sick and that her condition was severe and fatal. What do you do when you return home from the maternity ward without your baby?
You wait for your hormones to settle and hope that the emotional pain will become easier. In the meantime, you learn to express just enough breast milk by hand to ease the physical pain. You clear your wardrobe of maternity clothes and sweep the house of baby things. You force yourself to get some rest every night so that you have just enough strength to get through your everyday struggles.
You rise in the morning from a restless sleep and cry in the shower. You get all made up and all dressed for work because you don’t know what else to do with your maternity leave. You cry your heart out at the parking lot before getting out of your car. You smile and thank everyone who tells you that you are looking stunning. You laugh the loudest when your colleagues say funny things. And when without warning, you feel overwhelmed by grief, you sneak to the toilet and weep silently into a tissue paper.
What do you do when you have been strong for a long time, and then one day, you realise that you can no longer keep it together? When you feel emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausted that you do not know if you can continue to push forward. When you have exhausted all coping technics and do not know how else to deal with the pain that is eating you up inside. What do you do when you finally hit rock bottom and cannot seem to find an escape route?
I have been a daughter for thirteen years and a mother for twenty-seven weeks. These losses have scarred me forever. As time passes and I collect more losses, I have come to accept that I cannot expect to be happy always. I cannot allow myself to be disappointed in life every time something bad happens to me. I cannot continue to ask ‘why me?’ because who else would I want it to happen to? Not to lovers. Haters neither.
When life feels overwhelming and the weight of it tries to bury you, sometimes all you need to do is to stop fighting and do nothing. Acknowledge the pain when a tide comes, and allow it to do its time. We cannot be strong all the time. It is ok to feel weak, to feel sad and to cry sometimes. All negative emotions, like positive emotions, are part of a normal life. It is ok to want a happier and more fulfilling life but to expect it to be pain-free is unrealistic. We have to learn to accept the joy as well as the pain.