It was in the staff takeaway shop that I saw a tray of red velvet cake slices and felt a deep sadness that I couldn’t even understand until much later, when I remembered that my mother had asked me to get her a piece some days before she died.
That is how the grief appears in the midst of my life, surprising me all of a sudden with a deep sadness that I can’t even explain because I have pushed its source so deep inside me; I’ve pushed it so that I can function, so that I can get through the day, the many days that are up ahead of me like a hill I can’t stop climbing. A grief so painful that when it surfaces it feels like I’ve been hit in the chest, for a second I am struggling again to breathe.
I did not let myself grieve after the death for more than a few days, a few days of indulgence which were mostly filled with work anyway, the work of trying to sweep together the pieces of my shattered life. A few days where I tried very hard not to let the blackness take me away. I cannot count the number of times in those few days I had been sinking into ideas of oblivion when a phone call or text from a friend or family would jerk me back. I buried the pain before I was forced to bury myself.
I did not give myself time because I have a lifetime left to grieve, because there was no way I could encapsule my loss into a few neat days of mourning. Though on the surface I did that – the trappings – I kept my profile black, I kept the makeup away, I let the tears flow freely, I wore only shalwar kameez. But there was no “I grieved, and I am done now.” I will never be done.
While the pain is buried so deep that I can’t seem to find myself thinking all the time “She would have loved this, she would have missed this, she would be proud of that.” there is probably not a second of my life that I wouldn’t wish to share with her if she was still around. She had an opinion on everything. She might not have approved of everything I did, but she cared.
The pain is buried so deep that it can still surprise me – I still catch myself thinking – has the worst really happened? Because honestly I cannot believe that it has at times, and that I am still alive and functioning (god, how I hate that word) afterwards. Wasn’t I supposed to die too? How many times have I thought that?
People tell me it will never really go away, and I believe them. I believe I’ll be carrying it to my dying day. And yet, things have gone on. I process things. I function. I try my best not to be ungrateful, to coat myself with the relentless positivity I’ve learnt from therapy and boosted by synthetically increased serotonin levels. My best friend tells me, in a conversation recently, that I’m allowed to whine. My mother just died. It’s really okay.
But is it? I don’t know. If I allow myself to whine, I might allow myself to be engulfed by the great overwhelming despair that is waiting, all the time, just around the corner. If I whine, I might allow the grief to wash me away. So much better to keep it dammed deep inside me, deep somewhere I can pretend it doesn’t exist. Much better to keep it dammed, while it leaks out in tiny, acidic spurts now and then.
Such as when I see red velvet cake slices.