It's okay to talk
August 30 is recognised as Grief Awareness Day in the US. We speak to four people from different walks of life who share their stories of dealing with the elephant in the room
When we think of our day on Thursday this week, we don't recall it being any different from the monotony that cripples our existence. Or perhaps, time doesn't allow one to process the thoughts that quietly linger, eagerly waiting for the one moment where it suddenly becomes too much. Grief has always been an experience to run away from in our society. You lose someone or something, are comforted for a while, and then you're told to get over it. And like most Thursdays, even though this one was Grief Awareness Day, we did what everyone told us to.
Authors Suhita Chopra Chatterjee and Jaydeep Sengupta in Death and Dying in India: Aging and End-of-life Care of the Elderly reveal that India lacks bereavement-counselling services that are popular in the West. In the US, The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organisation provides a range of bereavement services. The book states, "In 2014, for each patient death, an average of two family members received bereavement support from their hospice —including follow-up phone calls, visits and mailings throughout the post-death year". The formal definition of grief isn't restricted to losing a person, but is the realisation of loss one feels for someone or something. We meet four individuals for whom grief manifested itself in different ways.
Alzira Barretto with her sister, Alvira
The sound of silence
"I always smile whenever I have a problem because I know that people cannot help me. Only God can." Alzira Barretto, 33, lost her hearing when she was only a year old. Born in Kuwait, she still remembers the sound of the plane after the family settled in Mumbai due to the Gulf War in 1990. Being a slow learner, she juggled between different schools in Mumbai, finding it difficult to study with able-bodied students.
Bouts of sadness still haunt her, but Barretto, a B.Sc graduate in Information Technology, now works as a computer assistant at St Xavier's Institute of Communications, putting everything behind her. "When I was in standard six, my good friend left me for no reason at all. I was alone and always felt lonely for a long time. My sister knew that I need company and she was always there for me. Whenever she goes with other friends, I always have sadness inside me and wish I had a good life like hers but I can't. The time I spend struggling makes me strong."
Natasha Trivedi with Mishty, her current pet
An inherent paranoia
On May 24, 2010, Natasha Trivedi, 23 lost her adopted cat, a Turkish Angora named Joy. Five months later, the family got another cat, and named it Joy, again. It was May 24, 2011, when Trivedi returned to Mumbai from her Ladakh trip. It was her grandfather who informed her that the cat had passed away. Both cats had a tendency to wander out of home, with the cause of death for the second being food from the garbage bin. Although it was the second time for Trivedi, the date brings a constant paranoia. She explains, "You think of stupid things like the time your pet was lazing around, but we don't talk about it because there's always the fear of being perceived as weak. Grief also becomes a declaration, and you want to appear normal. Although over the past few years I've become more aware of it, I've still not allowed myself to process it."
Radhika Jayakumar with cousin Gayatri Shivram
Gayatri Shivram was born in Delhi on April 1, 2004. Radhika Jayakumar, 22, her cousin remembers visiting Delhi often, babysitting, bathing, and playing with her — like an elder sibling. On February 16, 2015, Gayatri was detected with blood cancer. "I was in denial and disbelief, not in a way where I was crying and sad, but because it came without any sign of warning," she says. After a two-year battle with cancer, Gayatri passed away in 2017. "I remember driving to the airport and she said, 'Let's drive slowly, so you miss your flight. That way you can stay with me.' That's going to be etched in my mind for the rest of my life." Although there is strong support from family, Radhika maintains that on a personal level, recognising grief is important. "As a family, you can talk about what you could've done to save someone, but not everyone copes the same way. So you might as well talk about it," says Radhika.
Dr Sagar Kavathkar and Prashant Kavathkar
A moral duty
Sagar and Prashant Kavathkar were born a year apart but ended up as classmates, and were soon separated by their educational pursuits. Sagar, the younger brother, became a doctor while Prashant took to management; things weren't the same anymore. Bad company soon set the older brother on a rocky path of alcoholism. "Prashant was admitted in a de-addiction centre and was in recovery for a year and a half. He was really happy there, but we didn't know that he had been starving himself. We then lost him in May this year," Kavathkar, 53, says. As the younger one, he felt a sudden responsibility and had to defend his brother's actions, "People wouldn't see the good in him. I also felt a great burden because in school, I could always say, 'Bada bhai hai.' We still try to find ways to make my 91-year-old father forget this. As a family, it becomes our moral duty but it would be easier if there were services to help us out."
The signs of grief
- A sudden burst of emotions that you cannot control
- Experiencing anger towards the person who has passed away
- When the need to avoid missing a certain thing is replaced with a substance
- When grieving interferes with a person's ability to have a productive social, professional and personal life for more than three weeks
Inputs by Hemangi Vyawahare, a clinical psychologist
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