Posts Tagged grief
Empty Spaces and the Cloud Above Me
Posted by Arwa Salah Mahmoud in Thoughts & Vents on March 17, 2014
Do you wake up on certain mornings wondering what in the world you’re still doing here? I do. Certain days and nights go by slowly no matter how busy they are. There’s unseen weight pulling you down, almost literally, and it’s like a smile and a word or two to another person is so much work. I walk around on certain days with a cloud of gloom hovering above me. I call it the memory engine. All this cloud does is shoot down memories of a better past I once had. And the more familiar the places I walk in the more powerful the memories and the thicker the cloud.
With the illness and death of my father my growing up threw itself on me with a sigh of relief after a long wait at the door. I’d been holding it back and hiding in the protective island my father put me in. Only with him gone did I realize that I had to start doing my own worrying and to start my own thinking of tomorrow. In his last days I was feeling thankful that I had him. I was sorry that he wouldn’t be there for the rest of my days but that at least I had him for some generous time. I was prepared to the idea of losing him, but I wasn’t quite ready to lose him. I now realize that I could never have been and never will be.
But I was neither ready nor prepared for the idea of losing my mother. I wasn’t aware of this until her absence became an actual reality, not just a passing nightmare that wakes me up horrified in the middle of the night and then slips away smoothly in the morning when I hear her preparing her breakfast in the kitchen. With my mother’s sudden death adulthood slapped me in the face. You see, to me there’s a big difference between growing up and adulthood. Growing up is learning to deal with your own problems and facing them on your own, adulthood is practicing it–with all of its dirt–and dealing alone with the scars that never stop marking your eyes, your smile, your heart, and your very soul (That dark dot gets bigger each time you get a strong urge to grab certain people, force them to the ground, and stomp on them repeatedly) until you no longer recognize yourself, or you don’t see the person you expected to become when you were young.
When the two makers and shakers of my life disappeared they left behind a ripping silence. I’ve kept everything in the house just the way they left it as if deep inside me some sorry self thought they might surprise me with a come back and be proud to find everything just the way they liked it. Or maybe somehow, subconsciously, it felt like a betrayal to their memory to change anything. Or maybe it was just my way of staying in their protection, as close as I could get to their physical presence which I still crave. But now I realize how much I’ve suffocated myself with this empty house. The silence and the unchanging place have rendered the absence stark. The morning silence of the kitchen, the couches, the chairs, the arranged picture frames all scream at me day and night that their rightful owners are no longer there, that I’m alone in a house large enough to fit a family, a big happy family. It’s like I’ve created my own memory cage.
I thought that with time this would be over but I was so wrong. All that happened with time is that the pain left my body and mind and hovered above me like a cloud, ready to shoot down memories and sorrow with the slightest provocation; like each time I look to my right side on the couch and not find my mother, or each time I visit a restaurant she liked, or drove down a street my father drove me through a thousand times when I was a child, or hug my uncle and feel my father’s shoulders in his. At times it’s simply whenever my car gives me a hard time; that nasty cloud reminds me that I have to deal with it. On my own.
I don’t know what this is. It’s either making my adulthood more difficult to endure or is, by itself, adulthood’s way of forcing me to let go and move on just to survive.
I wrote about losing my mother a few months after she was gone. Nothing about that feeling has changed, but the reason why I find myself writing this now, after almost four years of her death, is that I think the moment has come for me to let go of everything that’s ever pained me. I’m in a phase in my life now where all the memories and the pain and the losses have somehow turned into a roaring fire inside me. I can’t bear it and I can’t put it out, but I think I can turn it into something good, maybe even great. I think that each one of us can turn our agonies into a positive energy that pushes us forward towards a better life for ourselves, or others, whichever we’re best at. For example, I’ve learned all the wisdom my parents have tried to pass down to me in their life but were only met with my casual dismissal. Somehow everything they used to say now makes all the perfect sense. And you know what else? I lost my art teacher so suddenly only a month after he told me he would make an artist out of me. I never quite believed him when he said it and I whined and complained about how damn hard drawing was. I never sharpened my pencils like he advised. Yet somehow, miraculously, my grief over him produced some work that I know he would be very proud of. And yes I’ve learned to sharpen my pencils. I started doing it with some obsessive religious vigor.
Those two ironies opened my eyes to the good that can come out of loss, or perhaps it was my firsthand experience with how real life works. So I realized that if I continue to lock myself up in an empty space loaded with memories, or tried to hold on to a past long gone as if trying to make time stand still, that fire would burn me up and leave nothing but ashes. There’s no putting it out except by embracing it and using it to move forward. Maybe that’s what all the annoying cliché talk about looking at the full side of the glass or finding the good in everything could actually mean. This isn’t about standing in the middle of tears and forcing a ridiculous, unfelt smile; this is about using the bad to create the good, the ugly to create the beautiful. I’ve decided to let the cloud thicken and hover as it may and to turn its shots into bouts of energy. Somehow, ironically, I’ve realized that it can be a very soothing process.
Posted by Arwa Salah Mahmoud in Thoughts & Vents on October 26, 2010
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.