On Loss

A little stream of consciousness moment…

Sleep always evades me when I need it the most. It’s like when something that belongs to you keeps popping up everywhere in the house and you don’t give it a second thought, then suddenly you need it, start looking for it and it vanishes. People and things have a habit of doing that, especially when you take them for granted. You don’t realize the value of something, or someone, until you lose them. It’s a harsh way of learning a lesson, but most times it is the only way.

It really frustrates me when I look at this reality. Since I was very young I’ve been bombarded by instructions and advice from those older than me. Arab culture always glorifies those that are older.

Older people forever give advice on things that don’t seem to make sense to the young, things that I always thought did nothing but paralyze me. My only way out was to continue to do them without their knowledge. I felt that I needed to build my own experience and to be able to decide for myself on what is good and what is bad, but I never really managed to shake off the guilt feeling that was always associated with defying my parents’ rules.

I may be wrong, but I think that no matter how much a parent tries to protect their young they will never be able to with instructions or even advice. It’s a choice that they need to make, do they want their children to be under the safety of their wings but to not know much beyond the boundaries of those wings, or do they want them to protect themselves by making their own mistakes? Love makes it so hard to go for the second option. Most of the time they feel so helpless watching their loved ones make the same mistakes over and over again, as if nothing they say to them seems to make any difference.

So we all end up drawn toward the light like insects, one by one until we’re electrocuted. There’s no logic passed down. We all hit the wall first and then learn.

Loss terrifies us. It’s hard to imagine it no matter how much we try. It makes us feel vulnerable the minute we start thinking about it. We tend to think with the givens of the present, and loss just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. It is as if it would bring an end to everything, like an edge to the familiar beyond which lies only darkness and nothingness.

But when loss actually hits you suddenly feel blank. Sometimes at a moment like this you lose your ability to act. It’s like falling down an abyss at uncontrollable speed. You see nothing around you and you have no idea where you are headed. You just know you’re falling, and your entire world appears to be shutting down. Everything crashes into nothingness.

The worst question I think any person can ask themselves in a moment like this is what now? What next? You don’t even have the tools that can help you think properly of any future. The concept of a future becomes so alien and scary.

But when the days go by the dark slowly begins to lift and you see some faint light that helps you understand your surroundings. You start coping with the new reality of this empty hole you feel in your chest. Everything that reminds you of what you lost makes the hole even bigger, and there’s no healing here. You just learn to live with it.

I now understand why in Muslim belief a widow is urged to stay connected to the home she shared with her deceased husband for a certain period of time. It is morbid, but somehow it helps her face her new reality. Maybe if she were to leave the place or travel to another country before she has fully accepted the loss she may never be able to go back to her own place; it would be a forever open wound best left untouched. Staying makes her face it. Deal with it. Until she’s created new memories, new realities, new surroundings. Until it no longer hurts as much.

It’s like climbing the rock instead of trying to figure out a way around it.

It’s amazing how we’re all equipped with a natural ability to survive. When I climb a mountain my body adjusts itself to the loss of oxygen and figures out new strategies to cope. That doesn’t change the loss, but it gives you an ability to cope with it.

All the little things I live with, those belongings, pictures, cushions, and handwritten notes that remind me of my loss will be staying with me for a while. I’m just going to take them with me and keep walking toward the light. I wouldn’t know how to cope otherwise.

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  1. #1 by Reem on October 26, 2010 - 9:10 pm

    Dear Arwa, This was good.. It was great.. We should all deal with our loss to cope with it.. One of your best articles ever.. I had tears when i finished reading it.. We all have this pain in our chest that we need to let go..
    Allah help us to cope soon


  2. #3 by Dalia Salaheldin on October 26, 2010 - 11:39 pm

    The most prescious drops of ink you’ve ever scribed….


  3. #4 by aisha on October 26, 2010 - 11:43 pm

    Very expressive, made me get all teary eyed and now I have a lump in my chest.


  4. #5 by Amal Salah on October 27, 2010 - 8:43 am

    “But when the days go by the dark slowly begins to lift and you see some faint light that helps you understand your surroundings. You start coping with the new reality of this empty hole you feel in your chest. Everything that reminds you of what you lost makes the hole even bigger, and there’s no healing here. You just learn to live with it.”

    I am speechless and can’t stop my tears! This is definitely your best article so far. You can’t imagine how much I have enjoyed reading your words.


  5. #6 by Arwa Mahmoud on October 27, 2010 - 7:38 pm

    Dalia, Aisha, and Amal, I can’t thank you enough for your kind words… I feel encouraged to write more about my emotions.


  6. #7 by Marwa on October 28, 2010 - 4:55 am

    Arwa, no wonder this post got chosen as an Editor’s pick on She Writes!

    I love the way you compare loss to coming across a rock. If you decide to figure out a way to walk around it, that seems easier, but it will probably leave you thinking about it with a sense of defeat, and apprehensive about other rocks you might come across.

    But if you climb over it, which is more difficult, it will enable you to forget about it, or at least feel confident that should you find your way blocked by a rock in the future, you will be able to overcome it. And of course, you’ll emerge stronger, because of all the muscle mass you built up by climbing the rock.



    • #8 by Arwa Mahmoud on October 28, 2010 - 8:11 am

      Marwa, I feel so honored to receive this appraisal by a wonderful writer like you! You’re not only a brilliant writer but a meticulous reader too! I’m humbled.

      Thank you so much!


  7. #9 by Salma on October 28, 2010 - 10:10 pm

    I have no words. I do want to write something but you caught me off-guard at the worst possible moment. I have been mourning that same loss myself today, among other losses. Sometimes it feels as if life is just one loss after another, a sequence in which all we ever do is wait for the next loss, wondering how? when? where? and most important of all, who? I know in my mind that there are days when the clouds lift and I actually feel optimistic about the future, but right now I can’t see that silver lining. I’m sorry, but your article just hit home and I’m not even sure I can climb any rocks. Not right now, at least.


    • #10 by Arwa Mahmoud on October 28, 2010 - 10:26 pm

      I like the assertion with which you present your raw feelings, Salma. I believe that part of dealing with the loss is accepting it and acknowledging the pain, letting it take over. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, but it just has to take its full course before we can ever move on.


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