Deep in the lonely feeling of grief

Updated: Jul 19, 2019, 07:49 IST | Rosalyn D'mello

In her book of poems, Triage, Margaret writes a letter to a deceased lover. It's called Dear M... and reading it over and over offers insight into how she dealt with her grief over losing someone to cancer

Deep in the lonely feeling of grief
Margaret Mascarenhas, a self-portrait taken from my camera as part of my performance at HH Arts Spaces, Goa, in 2017. Pic Courtesy/Rosalyn D'Mello

Rosalyn D'melloI am waiting for the day my friend Margaret comes to haunt me. She decided she would assume the form of a kingfisher. It's not been a week yet since she finally slipped away, succumbing to the cancer she fought so bravely to the best of her physical and mental capacity. Those of us who were privileged to be part of her community of writer friends knew this was coming. She had been preparing us. She had been nurturing us, inspiring us to make our peace with the fact that she would soon be no more. I kept wishing and hoping and praying that the state she was in when I visited her back in March was temporary, a transient rite of healing.

A month before, when I had spent some hours at a Homoeopathic clinic in Delhi getting her the medication she had been recommended by one of her doctors, I felt hopeful that it might deliver her from her unease. I couriered it to her and slipped in the invisible weight of my prayers. One thing I would soon come to learn was that she was not afraid of death. She told us she had had a big, ambitious bucket list, but she had done it all and she had lived joyously enough to nurse no regrets.

Even as she was dying she held us in awe. She was and remains one of my first feminist godmothers, and a role model for women who choose to live life on their own terms and not allow themselves to be dictated by the flimsy demands of others.

In her book of poems, Triage, Margaret writes a letter to a deceased lover. It's called Dear M... and reading it over and over offers insight into how she dealt with her grief over losing someone to cancer.

She ends her missive thus: "It has been over a year now, and I still miss you. /Sometimes I pick up the phone, dial, and listen to the phone ring. /It is nice to pretend for a while that you/have just stepped out for the afternoon." Margaret and I left nothing unsaid.

Even when she was fragile, we still spoke. Ours was a friendship of roughly a decade, which began with me simply writing to her and inviting myself over to her home in Aldona. I ended up staying the night. We talked and talked and set the tone for the future of our relationship. It became a kind of ritual for us to meet over drinks or dinner and catch up each time I was in Goa.

It's difficult to articulate the parameters of friendships among women writers. The world wants you to believe they must be tinged with envy and they must be competitive. I have to say if I have any faith in sisterhood, it has been because of my relationships with fellow female writers.

Margaret was one of the first women in my life with whom I forged such an intimate alliance. One day I hope to be able to write about her, about us, more profoundly. For the moment the grief is too raw, too unprocessed.

On Tuesday morning I turned 34. The world looked different, though, from this vantage point of mourning. All of Monday I spent grieving as I went about deep-cleaning my house as I want to do each year before my birthday as a kind of ritual. I chose to be alone. I sent my fiancé off with his friends who were visiting so I could howl at my will. It felt cathartic to cry.

Mona, who has also been grieving her own familial loss, told me recently that grief is somehow always a lonely experience. It's true given how we always relate to the people we love in ways that are extremely personal.

I am lucky to be part of a community of people who are also coming to terms with Maggie's death. We have each other. But that is also what deepens the loss, that somehow so many of us are connected through her. It's the regret for all that she could still have written; all the poems that were still nestled inside her soul that we may now never know.

I tell myself that besides the corpus she left behind, I want to claim my own past, present, and future trajectory as her legacy. It helps me sleep better at night and allows me to wake up with more purpose than before.

It's true given how we always relate to the people we love in ways that are extremely personal. I am lucky to be part of a community of people who are also coming to terms with Maggie's death. We have each other. But that is also what deepens the loss, that somehow so many of us are connected through her. It's the regret for all that she could still have written; all the poems that were still nestled inside her soul that we may now never know

Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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