I still can’t believe that I am writing about losing the man who was one of my biggest strengths and inspiration behind my writing.
While a large majority of Indian parents, from my generation, told their kids to become doctors, engineers, and lawyers…my father taught me the art of living.
He maintained that being a good human being, sharing part of our income with those less fortunate than us, and treating domestic help with utmost respect and generosity was more important than getting high grades or earning a big paycheck. He was big on education and so excited that I was getting a doctorate in Ayurveda. But he didn’t gauge a person’s goodness based on his or her background, education, or profession.
I knew my world changed in an instant when my father died. My dad was a good soul who was loved by many. There are times I say the word “Papa” out loud, hoping he’d respond. But how can my parents share a death anniversary that’s three days apart from each other, even if years apart?
My fingers refuse to type anything about my dad in the past tense. I met my father in April of this year. I didn’t know at the time that he had 5-6 weeks left. No one knew. He was fine and then he was not. He was an engineer by day, poet by night, and social activist in his free time. You could see him both at marches and being the life of any party.
I spent five days with my dad before he passed away. I would stay up nights and give him a Marma massage. I would ask him about his life reflections. My entire life, Dad and I talked about everything in the world. We argued and fought. But we also understood each other. My father and I had a lot in common, including our dislike of dishonest and overbearing people. He died surrounded by his loved ones, and I swore to protect his end and memories.
It didn’t help that my father-in-law also died inside of two days of us losing my dad. May 2023 hit us with grief—hopping between cities and ICUs and grieving while consoling. It will take our families months to recover. Grief makes us helpless, and we want to be damn sure we share our vulnerabilities with the right people. Every person grieves and copes differently.
But here’s my selection of strategies (kinds of people to avoid) you may find useful to navigate difficult times filled with grief and loss.
1. Fake tear-jerkers:
You have seen them. You have felt nauseous in their presence. Your gut tells you they can’t be trusted. They are the people who couldn’t make it in theatre, so they attend funerals to exhibit their poor acting skills. Okay, maybe a little harsh. But you know what I mean.
These are the kind of people who enter a room, start to squint their eyes, and weep on cue. They make odd faces and roll their eyes until it touches their forehead—as if diving into an ocean of bad memories—just so they can generate fake tears. They see the grieving family and something inside them says, “Action,” and they start to howl. “How could this happen? How will you manage? How could *name the deceased* leave us and go?” Then there is an annoying flow of snot mixed with their tears and more unnecessary words. Even if the family is trying to cope, these groups of people won’t allow them to grieve in peace. They believe in dramatic exhibition of emotions.
2. Drama whisperers:
Most of us are discerning about other people’s tone and energy. Most humans can convey if someone is angry, sad, or happy. I can tell in an instant people’s intentions behind reaching out. A large majority cares and wants to ease our pain during difficult times. But then there are people who get in touch only because they are hungry for gossip. They know you are dealing with agonizing times, but they will pretend to reach out casually, “Long time, no hear.” You tell them two words, “Not well,” and they turn it into a book-length story with details of hospitalizations, ICUs, ambulances, crisis, and spread the news like wildfire. They want first dibs on sharing your bad news.
I remember, a senior of mine in college ended her life by suicide. When a group of us visited her family to pay our respect, we overheard the neighborhood aunties create a story based on their dirty imagination and string of lies, about why this 19-year-old took such a drastic decision. If you can, build healthy boundaries around these energy vampires and don’t “allow” them into your space until you are ready.
3. Emotionally unstable:
The kind of people who make every loss about them. I refused to get on a phone call with people who try to convince me how my father’s death is all about them. I am also not ready to meet people who declare that they want to take away my pain and bring me relief. I am a strong person, and dialogues like these make me squirm.
A family friend’s daughter called me when my father was still in the hospital and started to weep. Granted my dad had played a big role in her life growing up, but she kept personalizing his agony and how that impacted only her life. “You won’t understand,” she said while wiping her tears.
Very firmly yet kindly, I said to her, “It’s amazing you feel so close to him, but you do know that it’s my father who is fighting for his life in the ICU. I am his daughter, and your grief possibly can’t be bigger than mine. Now is not the time for me to console you. While I don’t have any expectations from you to help me in this hour of need, I don’t think I have the bandwidth to navigate your grief while making space for my own.” She became quiet. “Just pray for him,” I hung up the phone.
If you are navigating losing a loved one, I am here and holding space for you. Take the time you need to process your loss. You don’t need to justify your choices: whether you want to turn inward or don’t want to hop on a phone call or don’t feel ready to see people. Honor your needs!
There were some people I avoided and built healthy boundaries around them. I communicated my decision with my trusted close ones, and they supported me. Do what you need to do to protect you and your loved ones.
“So it’s true, when all is said and done, grief is the price we pay for love.” ~ E.A. Bucchianeri