Grief is Like a Pair of Slippers

Source: Project Grief

As a writer, I like to think I can rewrite what has been written

Cut off the hurt and edit the bad memories

Show (and not tell) the happiness

Rewrite the grief and revive the dead with just a few clacks of my keyboard

Unfortunately, all that ends on Microsoft Word and Word Press. I learned painfully that there are no rewrites in life.

No reset buttons, no backspaces, no do-overs

Or ways to pencil the ones you love back to life

Once they are gone, there’s no coming back.

Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

I remember the day my Dad died- or rather the day I learnt he was dead- like it was just yesterday. It seems like just yesterday. I remember getting that call from my elder brother. When he told me Dad was dead, I laughed.

“Guy, abeg dey serious. Better unsay what you just said now and I won’t tell Mummy you are playing with something as serious as death.”

He didn’t say anything. Seconds drummed by, and he still didn’t say anything. I called his name, and he said he was sorry for not telling me the day before. That he was sorry for breaking the rule we had to tell the other anything that happened at home as soon as it happened. That he couldn’t tell me because they were all worried I would do something extreme since I was the closest to Dad and far away from home.

The explanations tumbled out so quickly. I didn’t want to hear them. I cut the call and called Dad. The line didn’t go through. I tried a couple of times more, my heart pounding, hoping against hope that he would pick and tell me in that brusque voice that he would call back later.

He didn’t.

I called my Mom. I asked her about him, and she told me he was fine. That he just needed to rest. That the doctor strongly recommended it.

“Tochukwu told me. Tell me it’s a lie. Tell me he’s…”

Before I could finish that sentence, my Mom shouted, “Tochukwu, nwa a gbuo onwe ya, eeh m ga egbu gi…” (Tochukwu, if this girl kills herself, I swear I will kill you.)

Now I can find a bit of humor in that statement, but then, it was a confirmation of my worst fears. I cut the call. Mum called back to tell me to be strong, but it was no use. My life was splintering into a million tiny pieces. My Dad died on a Thursday. But the next day, Friday the 13th of January 2017, the day I found out, became synonymous to pain.

The same pain receptors that are active when you lose a loved one are the same that act when you lose a limb.

Kelley Lynn (TEDxAdelphiUniversity)

Photo by Karim MANJRA on Unsplash

It’s funny how the best day of your life could be the worst day of someone else’s life.

Your anniversary or that exciting moment when you have your first kiss could be the day someone loses their job.

Your birthday could be the same moment someone’s life falls apart at the seams.

That day, Friday the 13th of January, was the birthday of a friend of mine. His name is Benzy. Sometimes, I like to imagine how the day had played out for him. A year after my Dad’s death, we were talking about cumpleaños (birthdays) in my Spanish class when one of my classmates says her birthday was on the 12th of January.

It was tragically poetic.

The day my Dad breathed his last, she was blowing off candles on a cake.

The saddest thing about all this is that we pass our death day every day, never knowing that on this innocuous day sometime in the future, we will exhale and never inhale ever again. Our eyes will forever close, and the only thing left of us will be pictures, memories and personal effects that would lose our scent in the coming weeks.

Nobody ever told me grief felt so much like fear.

C.S. Lewis

That Friday night was the longest night of my life. I denounced God and prayed for the power to rewind time. I just wanted to go back to Wednesday.

Just two days.

To just get a chance to talk to him one last time, but time kept trudging forward.

Friday became Saturday, Saturday became Sunday. Before I knew it, it was already a week later- but the pain got worse.

I remember feeling very angry that period.

At life and at the constant calls from people I hadn’t spoken to in years.

I was annoyed at the requests to just-tell-me-if-you-need-anything and the Lion King-esque speeches of your-father-is-not-dead-he-lives-in-you-and-your-brothers. But most especially, I was angry at the fate that took my Dad too early. All our plans had fallen through the sieve of death. He never got to see me become anything. All I wanted was just 15–20 extra years with him. Maybe then it wouldn’t hurt so much, but the truth is death hurts the same whether it comes in the morning, afternoon or the evening of life.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

I became so fearful after Dad died. I always knew life was fleeting, but his death drove home its ephemerality.

Like my Dad was a force, man.

He had an incredible sense of humor and brilliance in spades.

He was the epitome of charisma, a skilled wordsmith and the very soul of eloquence…and now he was gone, and all those things were gone with him. Life didn’t stop on his account. It just trudged on.

I became scared of dying a statistic.

Of dying without achieving anything, without making any impact or positively affecting any lives.

Of not living up to expectations.

I became scared of dying alone…not in the way you think.

I know death is an intensely personal experience. An experience you have to go through alone, no matter how many people love you or how many people die at the same time as you do.

But I was scared of dying alone in every sense of the word.

“O buro na mmadu nwulu, o ka o si nwu…” (It’s not really the “why” of death that matters but the “how”)

I heard my Mum say this a lot of times right from when I was a child. I understood the full import of this statement when I got to know how Dad died.

Crumpled humanity slumped on the floor, bleeding from his nose, ears and mouth.

I really don’t like thinking about or imagining it. It twists something inside me. Thinking of the blood splattered on the car seats. My mom never entered that car again. It took her months before she was able to drive again and even now, it’s still not the same. These days when I think of how he died, I find comfort in the fact that his life was full of love.

Most of all, I became so fearful of losing my loved ones. It gave me nightmares. If a call wasn’t answered immediately, that thudding in my heart and inability to breathe when I learned Dad was dead came back.

If someone came back late, a crippling feeling of anxiety settled over me.

The statement, “I have something to tell you”, became a precursor to anxiety.

And when it turned out that everything was fine, I felt a rush of relief that was just too sad to contemplate.

“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”

Jerry Pratchet

Photo by Marek Studzinski on Unsplash

On one of those days when the flowery speeches and the cloying sympathies were just too much to deal with, I decided to talk to someone. Someone I felt would understand this painful feeling in my chest. She might not remember it, but the words I texted Nnenna that day on WhatsApp were, “How did you get over your father’s death?”

She replied. “You don’t. You just get used to living with that weight.”

As time aged, everyone felt I should have gotten over “it.”

It was what now?

Three months ago?

To them, the wounds weren’t that fresh anymore. The healing was complete.

The five stages of grief had been completed satisfactorily. Acceptance and healing had been achieved, hadn’t they?

I realized that grief is like a pair of slippers kicked at different angles of a room,

You remember what it feels like to have someone close.

To hear their voice, breathe in their smell and get lost in their smile.

But you can’t figure out how to get them back- and it hurts immensely.

With grief, you learn to take each day as it comes. Some days, your smiles stretch out more. Life is as beautiful as it ever was. Everything is just perfect. Other days, you look at their picture or remember their voice and feel hot tears sting your eyes. But the worst days for me are those days when you are happy, and you remember them in the middle of that happiness. A wave of guilt drowns you. You shouldn’t be that happy when they are no longer there. That guilt suffocates you when you realize their face is now a bit hazy in your mind’s eye.

Julianne Wilson on Pintrest

Grief, like death, is intensely personal. We experience it differently. The fact that we both went through the same trauma doesn’t really mean we process it alike. Processing it differently doesn’t make one expression of grief less valid than the other. I’ve often heard people criticizing someone for not grieving well, hard or long enough like they have a say in the matter.

I have heard people say things like “they should be grateful their (insert family member) lived long. They have spent a lot of time with them and formed lots of memories with them…”, as if losing a loved one is something that becomes less painful with age.

“We don’t move on from grief…we move forward with it…”

Nora McInerny (Writer and Podcaster)

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.

It’s ok to feel sad twenty years later or laugh at jokes the next day, even if you are hurting.

It is understandable to want to be alone for a while and very ok not to feel like yourself.

It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it and still fine if talking makes you feel better.

Because grief is like a bespoke piece, we all wear it differently.

Whew! That was exhausting to write but I promise I am not a Debbie Downer (most of the time). Don’t believe me? Check out Ilo Uwa and Reincarnation: Science Meets Igbo Philosophy and The Purrfect Approach to Life

Bibliophile, Storyteller and Poet. I write about mental health, books, writing, psychology, philosophy, film, love and life. Blog: www.thewritingchannel.com

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