How does grief manifest itself for you?
Nine years ago this month my grandmother died. I was seven continents away, as far away as two countries can be from each other in literal miles. We were a couple minutes into my first Mathematical Methods in Physics class. My mother opened up a chat window with me on Skype and informed me my grandmother had left us forever.
Introductions were still happening in our four-people class. I hadn’t known she was sick—”we didn’t want to worry you, so far abroad”—a brain hemorrhage a month ago had stopped the blood flow to her brain. That brain that had been the only understanding of unconditional love I have ever known and felt. Time stopped, news and words and the squawking of people floated by; I received three emails from professors pretty immediately. “Sorry for your loss.” What was this? What the fuck was this? She couldn’t be gone. I hadn’t even said goodbye to her. The last time I had seen her, that past summer, the first time I had returned to India since being in America, we had been in a fight. Fights were common in my dramatic Indian household. She hadn’t spoken to me all month, and I had cut my summer-long visit short. We were in a fight. I left her in a fight. I didn’t even say I was sorry. I didn’t even say goodbye.
My grandmother was who made it possible for me to come to America. In a poor single-mom-fronted family, no way in hell was this loud, opinionated scholarship-kid-charity-case going to really get to go to one of the most expensive countries in the world. The day before I left Nani brought out a little coin purse of ziploc-bagged quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies she had saved from her trip to the States in the nineties. I still have all of them.
How does grief feel? The first thing I noticed was the silence. There was so much silence. Heavy and large. Thick. Deafening. Like I could scream and the nothingness of it would eat me, eat me alive; and oh wouldn’t it be better to disappear in that than to scream in the first place. I could not let this in. How? Where to go from there? If you saw a tsunami headed your way, heard the tsunami warning, how long would you stand and stare? Or would you run, run, run before it could find your foot, even your soul; before it could get into your brain and you have to surrender to the fact that you could never save yourself against its might?
Who knows. How do we say goodbye? Be with family, share stories? Trusting others who love to get it? I don’t know. I didn’t know. I decided to stay at school instead. Pursue the fear instead of the pain. Flight instead of fight. Public Safety came to check on me and brought me a little personal pizza from Pizza Hut after I had disappeared from campus for two weeks and hadn’t eaten a single meal. It tasted like ashes.
We need medication; we run from the present. We look to swipes and to drink and to self-harm because the pain is too frightening. It’s too scary to sit still and to let ourselves be in it. Nobody teaches us that, anyway. Nobody teaches us that it’s productive. And we want to be productive. We want to feel worthy.
For ten days now I have been grieving some losses I’m not sure I understand, or can point to, or know. All I know is that they’re very old. Bullet-holes left in a house from a different century where no one has yet bothered to cover up the plaster. When you graze them, you feel the broken wall. It is hollow and cracked. The pain feels thick and stable, deafening as that silence. It’s coming from nowhere and it’s coming from everywhere, from the very bottom of the ocean floor, which is what I feel, writhing and crashing and ready for that tsunami which will carry me away—where, I’m not sure. I don’t know what comes at the end of it; for too long I was too afraid to go check any of that out. Now I can’t run.
Loss is the price we pay for love. Of course it is. But love is too beautiful to pass up; the lessons it teaches us too precious to avoid risking. But what do we do with the causatum of grief? Where do we put it? Where does it take us, and who do we find there?