The crippling silence

‘Knock knock. Who’s there?’ The conundrum ‘knock knock’ usually prepares us for what might be a session of good old laughter. But I’m afraid what is knocking on the door this time is far from a mere innocent joke. So bear me as  I tell my unfunny joke.

Who’s there?’

‘Grief’

‘Grief who?’

You know, the one who causes the deepest sorrow ever and leaves you crippled mentally, to a point  where you no longer recognise your own personality or actions’.

I’m happy to be back on my blog after a long crippling silence. I’ve contemplated a lot about sharing my experience but I’ve come to a decision that sharing is caring and if my revelations could help in any way then I’ve done a great job. We hold such a stigma when it comes to talking about misfortunes, so I refuse to be locked in that box. Underneath it all though, putting this in writing is a big step towards healing.

Like many troubles which strike us at some point in life, grief might also come knocking on the door. If you have been unfortunate enough to experience grief, you may have gone through the five stages renowned including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As the experts say, you may well go through all of these stages or perhaps only some of them, and not necessarily in that order. Everybody is different.

We grieve as a result of the loss of a loved one, a loving relationship etc. Following the loss, the pandora’s box of the grieving process opens up. Having lost both parents before the age of 24, I should have been able to recognise the fact that my recent emotions were all due to me grieving. But I didn’t.  I blamed myself profoundly for not being able to control my feelings. Why can’t I just snap out of it? I hated myself for the pain that I caused my loved ones. I felt so angry, guilty, useless and frankly, quite unworthy. It didn’t occur to me that this was a natural human way of coping with my loss. Coping with grief.

As mentioned, grieving should have been a normal process (although this never gets normal) for me. However, when my parents passed away in Tanzania, nobody ever talked about grief or what one might experience following the death of such important figures in one’s life. Where I come from in Africa, we are better prepared when it comes to dealing with physical health problems (it’s obvious when someone is bleeding due to a car accident) but quite backwards when faced with problems related to the state of the mind. Prayers and other traditional practices would be solicited instead of western medicine. Services such as ‘counselling’ or ‘seeing a shrink’ as our friends the Americans call them, are almost non-existent. Things might start to change now but it was certainly not the case in my era. It is not a big surprise that we are left to our own devices when it comes to coping with matters of the heart. After all, all the tears (buckets of it, there is no holding back at funerals in my country) have been cried and dried, so there shouldn’t be any ‘reserved feelings’, according to them, I suppose.

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You never really understand a problem until it IS your problem

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I remember consoling a colleague years ago when I worked in Biochemistry, who came into work in tears, unable to contain herself. She’d just been to the emergency department and was told that she’d suffered a miscarriage. Not knowing what to say, I found myself saying to her that, ‘perhaps the womb is just like our machines, they need calibrating before they could work properly. Perhaps the first pregnancy was only a means to pave the way for the next one, which will be a success’. My colleague went on to have a gorgeous healthy baby. I consoled myself with the same story when the same thing happened to me the first time. I was almost sure that the second time I fell pregnant, I would have a baby in nine months. It wasn’t the case then and nor was it for the subsequent pregnancy. The last miscarriage was somewhat complicated and warranted a medical intervention where I was placed in a unit where other moms were going to have their babies – not ideal to say the least. After the procedure, I played my usual strong self for a while. I busied myself with work and other projects. A typical denial stage I would come to recognise. Just like the way I thought they’d made a mistake years ago, when they told me that my father had died, ‘he could never die, there’d been a mix-up!’ I protested. Meanwhile, my grieving process continued. I was pretty angry with myself and even with my husband for not being able to stop the loss our baby, not that he could have done! I was fighting a non-winning battle within myself. ‘If only I hadn’t gone to yoga’ or ‘perhaps it was the green tea that caused it?’.  The blame-list was endless. The emptiness or rather the depression as I’ve come to learn it – was undeniable. You just couldn’t shake it off. I would not wish it on anybody.

My point is, nobody can take away any of the grieving stages. But what helps in a way is to actually recognise that, ‘I’m not going insane’ and that ‘the way I feel is quite normal’. Everybody is different though. I praise myself for being a tough cookie but I don’t think playing tough would fix it.  However, I found these simple things quite useful:

  • Talk about it – I find it quite difficult to express myself, especially verbally. But I must admit that talking out problems does create a sort of release.  Once I mentioned my problem, I found that others had experienced the same thing. Just knowing that this has happened to others and seeing them in a ‘well state’ made me feel that there is hope of getting back to normal.

  • Stop the blame game – Accepting that ‘it is not my fault’ can be difficult. But it’s worth accepting that nature plays a part and medical abnormalities do happen. In this case the weak/abnormal is naturally eliminated. So no, it’s not your fault. 

  • Support network – I’ve never tried a support group but I imagine it would be so helpful to be among others who have walked the same path. Although I did not join a physical group, I did read a lot of forums online. Some stories were pretty sad but in the end they did find solutions. 

  • Physical exercise – this is always my big help and there is some truth to it. When we exercise, we release some natural ‘feel good hormones’. But there is no need to force it, again everybody is different.

  • And finally, my biggest help through this process was my husband. It’s so important to go through it together. There were some moments where I couldn’t talk about it but my rock just gave me the space and waited patiently. One day I just felt like the cloud just vanished and I saw things as I did before. Thank you my love.

I’ve learned that we might not be able to keep the door closed when grief comes knocking but it is reassuring to know that all the unpleasant feelings that we go through are just a normal coping mechanism.

Feel free to share with me your stories or any of your coping tips. Thanks in advance.

Until soon – with a happy post, promise!

Marie x

4 comments

  1. You’re a strong person, Marie, for facing life with that kind of grief. The most painful experience I had was when my grandfather who raised me passed away. I couldn’t imagine losing both parents at the age you lost yours. Sheryl Sandberg’s moving Facebook post about the lost of her husband gave me an insight about dealing with grief. They say the more we’re open to the idea of allowing people and ourselves to talk about our pain, the more we will reach the healing process. I hope for more joy in you heart. You seem like a sweet and nice person!

    1. I’d say the same about you too after reading your book, you are such a brave young lady! I’m so sorry to learn about your grandfather. And thank you for the tip, I just looked at that story, so courageous. Each time I hear about other peoples stories it makes me feel a strong sense of solidarity and that life goes on. Thanks again for your kind words. Marie x

  2. My dear friend, I’m so touched by your story. I think you’re such a brave and beautiful soul and it’s good to know that we all face some dark moments in our lives – sometimes we think we’re alone…
    Thanks for sharing your story, I’m sure it will be the beggining for your process of turning into light again.
    I been there when my grandfather died. I felt completely lost and alone, I think I never felt so sad in my life…everyday I talk to him, it’s the way I found to feel better about my loss. He died almost 10 years ago and it’s still present the pain and the ” saudade”( portuguese word that you can’t translate but it means how much I miss him).
    But I do believe that he is always with me, I feel it so many times.
    What toke me out of that sadness was that I found out I was pregnant of my first son and it all made sense to me : life can be bad in somedays but in the end everything will be ok.
    Sorry for the long text, I just felt that it would help you feeling better: after the rain always come the sun:)
    Sending you a big hugand a big kiss,

    Isabel

    1. I’m so sorry about your grandfather. From a previous post,I had the impression that he was such an influential figure in your life. It must be difficult and I completely understand that you miss him a lot. I am happy for you that he instilled in you such profound values that have shaped you into the amazing person you are. It def helps to talk about it. I feel the presence more and more now as I’ve been writing a lot about my past. Some memories are so vivid, it’s unbelievable. But so so worth it. And no need to apologise for a long text, I appreciate that you even take the time to read, let alone comment – and on top of that you have your home and family to look after- and that colourful blog, in two languages! – and a catchy Insta! How do you do it? So thank you so much 🙂 Hugs and kisses back. Your friend Marie xoxoxo

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