Says artist and sculptor Zaida Jacob whose daughter was only a year and half when she lost her husband.
Moving beyond labels
The labels I see on myself keep changing. In early days I used to feel people pasted a ‘fragile’ label on me. Then I felt ‘bold.’ I mean they think I am bold. But I am not. I just cope because one has to.
I find myself feeling tentative. Like the ground under my feet is still moving. It has been 19 years since we lost Mihir. That assured feeling of ‘belonging’ has never come back.
Having said that, the flip side is the world has opened up. The feeling that everybody has a universal spread. A kind of package of life – like a buffet or pantry of sorts – sometimes with a cold storage section too.
What is in your plate or dish at any given moment may vary. But life’s kitchen has similar ingredients for all. It completely depends on how creatively you cook your dish. I may laugh at what I have just said a few moments later but for now will let it go.
What grief feels like
Well, the way I see it, ‘grief’ is when you are in the midst of it, it does not feel. You just do what needs to be done.
When you have had an accident or a limb has been cut… you are so busy coping with the hurt or the absence of it, that there is no time to think of feeling. (You need to adjust to the new life without a limb…. or with a big wound.)
In my case I was fortunate. He was popular (liked by lots of people) and so the absence was shared. I found myself comforting other people sometimes when they came to condole. Plus, I have a huge support mattress in my friends. It’s like falling on the bed wherever you fall. I was looked after… all along. And so was our daughter. I am not sure whether I can take credit for this but in losing my husband I allowed lots of other friends to share the role of parent for my daughter. And so, our daughter became like a child brought up in a huge joint family. To live by their ways and terms while she was with them was followed. She had six families where she had a sense of ‘home.’
Talking of grief and pain getting smoother with time, I can say that when you look back and see the marks of the dried-up wounds suddenly it hurts sometimes. I can feel pain physically somewhere in the middle of my stomach or someplace within. When I think of our daughter and how both of them missed getting to know each other, I feel a lump in my throat and a horrible feeling of loss and of how unfair it is.
However, it does get bearable with time if you allow it. Plus, you have to keep being real and asking real questions to yourself.
“Am I really so unfortunate?” “What did I come here to do?” “Is there something larger than the things I do that I am meant to do?”
Look for the things that engage your love. In my case I had my daughter so the demands of being in the ‘now’ doesn’t leave much space for grieving.
How people helped, how I helped myself
I lost my mother-in-law in 2000, just after that earthquake in Kutch took place. And when I missed her and thought of how the centre of our family had suddenly just gone away, I was reminded of those many, many children who lost their parents, their homes. Some lost spouses, some lost their children and yet others their everything. How big was my loss?
Somehow, we humans have a strange way of comforting ourselves in finding other people who are worse off. And so, I lost my husband in 2002 and in a few months, I kept seeing images of innocent people who lost loved ones because of the riots in Gujarat. So much loss, so much grief and so universal was this feeling of loss. What was I being asked to learn? What was I being told to do? I had a child of one and a half and she had me. The immediate task in hand was to give her security, to hold her close. To do all that I needed to keep the feeling of family intact. So, I took up a job in Mumbai since I needed to be close to my parents but resolved to come back and give our daughter the rest of the ground beneath her feet.
My neighbours for example adopted her out of love as their granddaughter, our close friends became immediate family. She had a nani in my friend whom we called bhabhi so she called her ‘bhabhi nani‘ and her children were like elder cousins to her. Till she was seven or eight she didn’t know the difference between blood relatives and friends. She believed all these were hers and she belonged to them.
She even wrote essays in school enlisting a huge family of members and dogs as her own family – who actually didn’t exist in her blood relations or in her home.
I let her do it. Sometimes I informed the teacher to be kind and not question her. She had an amazing principal and teachers at her school. They too gave her love and created a feeling a co-parenting for me.
To date these angels, stand close to me in my heart. I wish I can always be there for them as they have been for us.
Therapy is good too
I did see a therapist, because I was unable to get back to my artwork or to get back my confidence in my life. They were helpful and I do believe one should see one even if it feels like they tell you what you think you already know. Sometimes they are smarter, and it helps to surrender to them.
Helping a person who is grieving
Give the person the assurance that life is unfair, but he/she can cope and will eventually come to terms with it. Tell them they can do it.
Life is unfair but quitting is not a choice. Not to be a victim and lamenting is not a choice. But the thrill of staying afloat, of keeping your head above water till the rescue team arrives is wonderful. If a rescue boat doesn’t arrive you will have learnt to swim by then. Just hold on and let it pass.
Take each day as it comes. Break the day’s tasks into smaller pieces and focus on the priority of tasks to be done. Keep yourself busy in doing something for yourself and others at all times. Engage yourself open-mindedly into occupying yourself till you can tide through.
The person you lost had just that much in his share of life and it is utterly painful that you got to know him/her just at the time he was leaving but be glad you got that time. How horrible it would have been if you would never have met?
You too have a set of days with you to live through. Make the most of those. Turn back and feel proud for having coped.
On a poster, I once read, ‘It all turns out ok in the end. If it doesn’t it’s not the end.’
Remembering Mihir and his memories
I remember him so fondly. The memories flash in front of my eyes like movie slides sometimes. Sometimes they are blurred. I feel sorry for him having lost out on his life. I feel sorry for him missing to be the father of a daughter and a lovely one at that. And I miss him for the many lives he touched. He could be there for so many people. I feel inadequate to reach out. I didn’t have him all to myself ever. He was always somebody’s Mihir.
He came and left in intense moments even in his living life. And that is how I was with him. So most often I feel it’s those moments when he has gone for something larger than me and is needed more than I need him and someday he will come home to me. But now over time, I know he isn’t ever coming back and the most real parts of him are in my memory if I refresh and preserve them. Some of them evaporate. Some return.
How do I describe Mihir to someone who has never met him?
He was a personified version of life. Intense moments, phases, one different from the other, courageous, could take risks, impulsive apparently, but real and practical, full of zest till he had fuel in his body…rested only when he slept. Reached out to anyone who looked for him – always. Could never say no. Selfless. No attachments. Yet full of passion. Sensitive. Compassionate. Very hard working and perseverant. A year was more than 365 days, and a day and night were more than 24 hours. He went miles before he slept but yet had promises he may have wanted to keep.
Loss shapes us in many ways
I think I saw life differently after he left. He was a people’s person and he made me see the universality of humankind. How similar we all are and yet how different. How small in the bigger picture. And how if the compassionate being in us remains at the front it cannot only be my pain, it’s pain that everybody feels or has felt or will feel someday. So, I am not unique.
I really don’t know how I would have been had he been around. But most of the time I am glad for the world has become a larger place for us.
Irrevocable is part of the passage of time too. I’ve grown and also lost myself in time. The girl I was. So, I don’t know how time can bring back anything?
I’d like to meet a new me instead. As long as she knows how to laugh at stupid jokes and gets up and does things that need to get done, I’d like her to not change. She’s built with a lot of minute details – like a fabric.
Zaida Jacob’s account is a part of our series on ‘Stories of Loss and Healing.’ Read Pooja Ganju Adlakha’s story here, in which she talks about losing her mother to Covid-19.
(Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the account above belong solely to the author, in this case, it being Zaida Jacob’s and not that of The Good Story Project or its co-founders.)