(Trigger warning: Non-graphic mention of sexual abuse)
(If you or someone you know is in distress, please reach out to them with kindness and call these numbers of local emergency services, helplines, and mental health NGOs)
"Every day when you wake up, the entire day plays in front of you, and it is just very difficult to accept what you are experiencing," says Rui.
When a loved one dies, it's like they take a piece of you with them, and they leave a gaping hole behind that you carry forever. This is how Rui describes her father's passing.
With death comes sorrow, suffering, and grief. It can be short lived or prolonged, it can be manageable or soul-crushing. However, it's almost always a lonely journey riddled with stigma, taboo, and the pressure to grieve in a 'socially acceptable' manner - privately.
Life After Losing a Parent
"He had been hospitalised for a month and a half before that," says Rui.
"I met him in the morning and then I went home, and that is when I got the call from my mom," adds the 26-year-old, Pune-based teacher.
"The first initial thoughts was just blank. I was completely blank. I was just following through with the rituals that needed to happen in the next few days without processing or accepting it. It was just robotic actions."Rui, 26, Teacher
The ordeal of losing a parent can be just as hard on someone older.
57-year-old Gita says "My mother was 82 years old when she passed away. She had chronic heart issues...I just froze, and became numb."
"I still work, so that is a distraction. But there are times when I start crying. There are small things that remind me of her – like when I come back home from work, or when I think about what to make for dinner. I don't know how to deal with it, and I talk to my daughter but I don't know how and why I feel this way."Gita, 57
‘I Had to Cut Ties With My Closest Family'
"When you're grieving, youre not just grieving for that person, but you're also grieving for yourself – who you were with that person, who you're not going to be able to be," says Dr Ruksheda Syeda, Psychiatrist at Trellis Family Center, Mumbai.
"All of a sudden there is this hole, not only in your present, but also in your future. Questions of 'how do we go from here without this person?' arise."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
This type of grief can stem from a close one dying, or even a relationship not working out, says Mohana Baidya, a Narrative Therapist based in Bangalore.
"The closer the person is to you in terms of social, emotional, or financial bonds, the more complicated and layered the loss gets," adds Dr Ruksheda.
In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, 25-year-old Ambreen (name changed) decided to cut all ties with her closest family after experiencing years of emotional trauma.
"My parents have also been extremely controlling and have shown narcissistic patterns. I was struggling to be myself and had acute anxiety all my life."
When she revealed to her parents that her brother, who was 8 years older than her, sexually abused her when she was a child, she says they didn't believe her and took his side.
"The reactions broke my heart. It was horrible and it made me realise that only I can save myself and I had to distance myself from my problematic family, if I wanted to make any progress," she tells me.
"I always knew a day like this would come and to save myself. It was and still is heartbreaking."Ambreen (name changed)
Guilt, Frustration, Denial: The Many Faces of Grief
Although grief strikes us all at some point or the other, there are a few stubborn stigmas that are still associated with grief - you must reel it in, don't express too much of it, 'get over it' in an appropriate period of time.
"I really miss her, but I don't think these are conversations we can have as adults. It has been a year, so now people may feel that if I keep bringing it up, then it is abnormal. We should just move on with life."Gita, 57
"Grieving is a normal process, it is a healing process. And the best thing we can do to help ourselves is to allow ourselves to feel everything and not get in our own way," says Dr Ruksheda Syeda.
"There is no timeline for grief. Eveyrone has their own pace of healing," adds Mohana Baidya.
But giving yourself that allowance to grieve can be tough for some people.
"You also have these smaller experiences of feeling like people will judge you if you are too vulnerable," says Rui.
"I used to hide my emotions from a lot of people because I didn't know how they would take it. We have always been told that crying, being open, being vulnerable is a weekness."Rui, 26, Teacher
"Being okay with showing the emotions that you are told is a sign of weakness was an extremely difficult process," she adds.
Gita says she felt guilty for her mother's death, even though deep down she knows she couldn't have done anything to stop it.
"Everyone told me that it was a good way to go, she had a painless death. But that's not what you feel as a child. I feel guilty, like I should have noticed something was amiss when she took her nap. I know there was not much I could have done, but I still feel guilty and I am not able to make peace with it."Gita, 57
Guilt. Shame. Frustration – Negative feelings tend to latch on when you're grieving, because while the events play in your mind, you need someone to blame for your loss and suffering, and it often tends to be yourself.
"There can be alot of self-criticism and judgement that only slows down the healing process."Mohana Baidya, Narrative Therapist
"I do feel guilty. I feel responsible for breaking my family. I feel a gaping hole," says Ambreen.
"I feel anger, sadness, and frustration. I feel sad that my family was not meant to be. I feel alone, and scared. Sometimes I just want to run back to a safe haven, but then I realise I never had a safe haven but an illusion of it. So I suck it up and focus on enjoying the life I have built."Ambreen (name changed)
"The best thing to do is to allow yourself to be yourself, and feel whatever you're feeling. You will feel occassionally sad, and you may also feel bitter, or angry. Putting the burden of dictating how you should be feeling on yourself is one of the most debilitating thing that you could do to yourself," says Dr Ruksheda.
Overcoming Grief: Healing Begins with Self-Compassion
"People have their own ways of coping, and it also depends on where they are in their capacity to deal with emotions," says Mohana.
If we are talking about long-term grief, complicated grief that we are not able to get over, we might need to see a professional that can help you process the grief, she adds.
"I have been going to therapy for the past few months and that is a big step that I took. A lot of people were not okay with that. But I stuck with it."
Harleen also talks about how practicing gratitude, and having a strong support system has helped her.
"I have a therapist and psychiatrist. I have a strong support system in my sister, my best friend from college, my partner, flatmates. I have been lucky to have met some nice people in life. I still have a long way to go and I am so proud of myself," she says.
"What we also need to understand is that death or loss is trauma, and our response is trauma response, and everyone is going to have a different trauma response in the short term and the long term."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
Take a few days, or weeks, don't be in a hurry to get over it.
Do get back to normalcy as much as possible, but if you do get caught unawares with a flash of a memory or emotion, sit down and take a moment to process it. Allow yourself to feel it.
You will go through a gamut of emotions. But there is no formula. There is no set pattern, or statute of limitation on when you will or should stop grieving.
Allow yourself to let go doesn't mean you're giving up on the memory of the person you're grieving.
Find people you can speak to openly, and find the courage to be vulnerable.
If someone close to you is grieving and you want to help, find out what they need, not what you think they should do, say experts.
"Sometimes even if we are trying to be supportive and helpful, saying, 'oh, you must not wallow, let's get back to work, let's go out', it may come out sounding very callous and cold," says Dr Ruksheda.
"At the end of the day, what not to do is to not tell people what to do."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
"We need to let people be, but if I have a loved one that I know is grieving for a long time and doesn't seem to be functional, then the way to help them would be to be empathetic and encourage them to get professional help," says Dr Ruksheda.
"Once you've lost someone, you're a new you also. Now you have to decide who you want to be. A bit of reinvention would be needed. Which is okay and healthy to do," she adds.
"Don't talk about who you used to be, talk about who do you want to be today and tomorrow. Once you do that, grief will allow you to grow. If you let it."Dr Ruksheda Syeda