Essay : Heal thyself

~Byanjana Sharma~Byanjana Sharma

When you are grieving the death of someone you hold dear, people usually argue that time heals everything. But time by itself cannot do anything to heal the intense pain brought by such a loss. And there are many who not the only one agree that time alone is not enough to cure such a deep and, unfortunately, invisible wound. Catheryne Morgan, a Holocaust survivor, who lost her parents in the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz when she was merely 14, also expresses the same view in Allison Gilbert’s book, ‘Always too soon: Voices of Support for Those Who Have Lost Both Parents.’ She says, “Everything I am comes from living without my parents. Time does not heal. My pain is still strong, and it stings still. I live with it day in, day out; it will forever be a part of me.”

Catheryne’s case may sound extreme, considering the circumstances under which her parents passed away. But somehow I can relate to her. After losing both of my parents within a short time span of 15 months, I realised that time alone was never going to heal me. So I explored different techniques to cope with my shock and pain when I unexpectedly lost my mother in April, 2013. I used the same means when my father passed away in a very similar situation in August, 2014. Neither of them could survive a stroke.

Expressing yourself

When my parents passed away, I was all alone in Australia struggling with my loss, while my four siblings were home in Nepal. The first thing that I wanted to do was to meet and connect with people who had undergone a similar experience. So, I started reading articles and books about other people who had also lost their parents. This way I was able to relate my pain with others. It gave me some sort of consolation. Although this brought some mental peace, my pain was looking for a way to escape; I felt an urgent need to express them. Talking to people with whom you feel comfortable with and sharing your feelings with them is a great way to get things off your mind. But if you are an introvert, and do not want to share your personal feelings with others, it is better to maintain a journal. This worked very well for me.

Psychologists also agree that expression—whether oral or written—is essential in the grieving process. Sue Monk Kidd in her novel, ‘The Secret Life of Bees,’ has written that the Jewish people in Jerusalem have a very peculiar way to express their grief. They have a Wailing Wall where they go to mourn; they write their prayers on scraps of paper and tuck them into the wall. By expressing our grief in any way we find comfortable, we take a step closer towards liberation.

Hard to forget

It is true that a grieving person must take one’s time to recover. As clinical psychologist Sue Morris indicates in her book ‘Overcoming Grief,’ grieving is an entirely personal matter. So different people take different amounts of time to heal, ranging from a few weeks to many years. At the same time, it should also be noted that it is not just the passage of time that helps ease lessen one’s grief. What one does during those times also makes a lot of difference. So, it is unrealistic to think that you can simply sit back and get over the deaths of your parents or your loved ones within a certain period of time. In fact, the time you take allows you to use different coping strategies, helping you to get back to your normal life.

In my experience, healing implies adjusting to a life without my parents’ physical presence in my life. I like the analogy of ‘right hand versus left hand’ used by Sue Morris. According to her, losing our parents or loved ones is like losing our right hand which we had used in writing throughout our life. From now on, we have to learn to write from scratch using our left hand.Obviously it will take some time for this hand to achieve a similar level of skills. Yet, we never forget that we lost our right hand. Likewise, even though I have accepted life without my parents, as Catheryne Morgan says above, I feel my unprecedented loss day in, day out. When I need to share something about myself I always think of my parents first. They cross my mind over a hundred times a day. What else is there to say? I feel them in every breath I take. They will be a huge part of my life for as long as I live.

Sharma is a visiting faculty member at the Kathmandu University

Oct 18, 2015

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