When the world opens up

A remarkable thing happened to me this past weekend.

We spent the weekend with a group of Dutchy friends in an area close to where we had had our last family vacation together with Jan.

There is a process to grief and grieving and I suppose that I had become quite an adept in avoiding certain places or things that would remind me of the past and of loss. It may sound strange, but I think a lot of my coping process lay in avoiding the painful parts and focusing on the present.

So there we were, out on a walk in the countryside, and my eldest son suddenly says: Mom, isn’t this the place where we spent our last holiday?

That last holiday was memorable, not only because it was the last one, but also because we were staying at a really nice place with a lovely view of mountains and with a road going down to the river where the kids spent a number of afternoons wading or trying to make pebbles skip on the surface of the water.

That’s not possible, I said to my eldest son.

But even as I said the words, we rounded the bend and there was a familiar sight. The same road, we had argued over taking, the same road going up to the apartments where we had rented a room.

And just like that, I was in tears.

The great thing about Dutch people is how discrete they can be and how they will let you be alone with whatever it is you need to be alone with unless you ask for company to share that moment with you.

Later that day, in a conversation with another mother, the subject of my writing came up. It is very strange to talk about your work as a writer when you feel like you aren’t one anymore. But we talked about it and about her seven year old daughter who writes small interesting stories. She asked me how long I had been writing and I told her that I had dictated my first story to my mother when I was three or four years old. She told me about her daughter doing the same thing with her. And as we talked, I realised how good it felt to be able to encourage someone–to be able to encourage a possible young writer in the art of storytelling. (It was also very lovely to meet a Mom who was keen on encouraging their child’s creativity in this way.)

In that moment, I felt a shift in myself. I don’t know how to describe it, but on the trip back, I kept thinking of the word Alive.

I also thought of the conversation I had with one of Jan’s closest friends and of how he told me about the world narrowing down when his father died and how at a certain point, the world opened up again. Different, changed, but no longer a tunnel.

I am still quite astounded by it and so I had to write it here. To mark it in some way.

Pain and loss have marked us, but we are alive and the world has opened up. We are no longer in the tunnel. I am finally allowing myself to look forward with something more than just the will to survive and to make a life.

I started writing again over the weekend. It is still raw and unfinished, but it is honest and truthful and it is science fiction.

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Slow small step

It has been quite a while since I wrote on this blog. My last entry was full of hope and looking forward and since then, life happened as it always does.

There have been moments when I wanted to erase myself from the world. When I wanted to give up, to just vanish, to just be no more.

My kids lost their father, their aunt and their grandfather. All within a short span of time. I lost a husband, a beloved sister and a father.

How do you write about such things? How do you help your children cope with loss when some days feel like a never-ending dream with empty spaces?

I am writing in this space because I need to remind myself that the journey has also had its beautiful moments. I need to commemorate the fact that we are here now and that my children are in a much better space than we were a year ago. I am in a much better space than I was in the preceding months of this year. I am able to sit down and write and I am able to raise my head and look to the future again.

Sometimes, I will encounter a friend or an acquaintance who hasn’t heard about our past 21 months.

How do you answer the question “How are you doing?”

I am doing as well as I can and coping as best as I can. In these past months it has meant not being on social media. It has meant limiting everything that requires energy. It has meant letting go of so many things.

I have sometimes wondered if I will be able to write again. Words seem meaningless sometimes. But here I am, writing words. I guess, this is how it is. Because I live so much in words, it won’t be real if I don’t write it.

One Sunday evening before going to bed, my youngest son told me how much he missed his father.

“I know,” I said to him. “I know exactly how you feel.”

I also know what it’s like to have to miss a father.

Moving forward means acknowledging loss and the pain of loss.

The Dutch have a great way of expressing the moment of acknowledgment: stilstaan.

A minute of silence. A moment of pondering. A time when everything falls still.

Our time has started up again. Slow small steps. We are moving forward.

You don’t get over it

I am reading a book about grief and grieving children. Sometimes I think that with the passage of time, we will get over it. If I am strong enough. If I am cheerful enough. If I keep a positive outlook and greet everyday with a gung-ho attitude…we will reach a space where we are no longer grieving.

For a while, I hated the idea that my children were without a father. My first impulse being to do something, to find something–to reach out and fill up that gap. But slowly, I am coming to recognise that there is no filling up that gap because it is already filled. My kids are not without a father.

Yesterday, I learned that one of my friends had lost his father in a brutal wrenching away of life. This friend was 19 years old when it happened.

I told him about my youngest son weeping over the fact that he could no longer recall the sound of his father’s voice.

“It’s okay,” my friend said. ( Youngest son was listening in as we were talking on skype.)

“Your memory becomes a bit vague. You forget how he sounded. Sometimes, you don’t remember what he looked like. But you look at photos and you remember the feeling. The feeling is the most important thing.”

It dawned on me then that no matter his physical absence, their father will always be present with us. He is here in our memories and in the feelings that we have when we think or talk about him.

I think of conversations I’ve had with the kids–about boats and distant shores and rowing together.

My kids are not fatherless. Their Dad is always with us. In memories and in the feeling.

What it’s like

Today, someone asked me what it feels like.

“I mean, you lost your husband and then now you’ve lost your sister.”

How do you put into words what it feels like to lose the other half of your heart?  She was always there–my sister. In the darkest periods of my life, I hang onto the thought that my sister was always there. She was witness to my wildest dreams and imaginings and she was the person I confided in the most in times of deep despair. She loved me steadfastly even when she didn’t agree with the choices I made and even when it grieved her to see me walk away from the path that was familiar to us both.

I have a memory of my elder sister from when we were in grade school. Back then, going to school meant climbing down the mountain path to the gravelled road and then a 10-15 minute hike to the central school. I was always slow back then and a little bit of a spoiled child.

(My sister, being much quicker on her feet always was at least a few feet in front of me. )
In this memory, my sister has reached the bend in the mountain path–a couple of meters down from home. I am still at the top of the path. It had rained in the night and the path was a bit slippery and being the scaredy-cat that I was, I wanted my sister to come back and help me down the slippery slope. She, on the other hand, was already impatient to go to school because the first bell had already rung.

I remember my sister telling me to hurry up and I remember crouching there and crying for her to come get me.

Finally, she came marching back up the mountain slope. I still remember the look on her face.

Regardless of how aggravated she was, she helped me down from the top of the slope. She held my hand until we got to a place where the earth was less slippery.

My heart aches.

I have so many memories. Of stories shared in the dark of night after the lights went out–of listening for the crunch of gravel outside our bedroom window–of running up and down the mountainside.

There are not enough words to say what it’s like.

 

 

My sister

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Yesterday, my neighbour brought me lights for my sister. I made a spot on the living room table with these roses that seem to keep on blooming and a print of a happy selfie from the time my sister was here with me.

Loss is an ache inside my chest and it takes a lot of effort to keep on going.

One never dreams or hopes of losing their sister. I never thought or imagined that I would lose mine so soon. How is it possible?

My sister who I laughed with and cried with. The one I fought with and made up with. My sister who always won the contest over who got the read the books first…because she was (of course) the eldest. My sister who irritated me and encouraged me; who challenged me and didn’t hesitate to confront me. My sister who lives in so many of my stories; whose voice I hear when I am on the verge of throwing in the towel. My sister who refuses to let me give up and surrender.

My sister.

My sister who started the bookblog together with me; who made me understand that there are readers who just want to enjoy a book and who see its flaws but love it anyways because that’s how they are.

I remember fiery discussions over the dinner table, pillow fights in the bedroom, whispers in the night when the lights went out, secret conspiracies, mad adventures.

My sister who saw no need to conform to societal expectations but who chose to be exactly as she was.

My sister who loved and forgave wholeheartedly. My god. I shall miss my sister. There are not enough words for the agony of this loss.

I can only go on and do as she would tell me to do. Live because you have your sons. Live because you must write. Live because your path in life is not yet done. I must live because she wanted me to. Someday, I too will pass through the veils. I will see her then.

 

March 7,2016

Heartbreaking news reached us on Sunday evening. My beloved sister, Weng, passed away after a bout of a pneumonia compounded by problems with her liver and her blood. She went quickly and did not suffer long.

I have no words for agony.

Loss followed by loss. Sorrow upon sorrow.

My sister has gone from this world.

That moment when you don’t know anymore

Ah life. On some days, I think I can take on the world and we are moving forward and we can do it and we can come out stronger. And then there are the days when I am reminded that loss is still an open wound, when it seems like every step is weighted down and all I really want to do is lie down and go to sleep for a long time.

There is a limit to how much friends and loved ones can carry together with us. There are things we cannot ask them to bear for us. We must bear these things…the three of us. My sons and I.

And the psychologists tell me that the job of moving forward rests mainly on me because mother determines how the children deal with their sorrow. How I am determines how my kids face up to their grief…with how they push forward and carry on.

Most days, I can carry on. But on some days, I can’t see beyond one moment to the next. There are moments like now, when I just don’t know anymore.

Today is almost done. I did my best. We all did. It wasn’t perfect, but we are getting there.

Tomorrow is waiting to happen. Tomorrow, we will move forward again. Tomorrow, things will be better. Tomorrow…

I have to keep on believing–

 

Morning

It’s cold in the house. I can’t decide whether it’s winter moving into Holland or if it’s in its final throes. I like the days when the skies are clear and blue and where the sun comes out even if there is a chill in the air.

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to music so much as I have in the past few months. It’s as if my entire self is striving to compensate for an absence.

This morning, I’m listening to a group called Fun. They sing…it gets better. And I believe it does get better. At present, I am struggling to find the balance where I can be the Mom my kids need me to be and still carry on with the things that fuel me. Finding the headspace to write has been the most challenging of all. I’ve had my computer open to scrivener and the pages I worked on previous to the trauma of loss. Just a little bit more, I tell myself. Just a little bit more. My novel is almost done.

Let me gather up my brains…they’re scattered all over the place.

I fluctuate between now and then…and I grab onto the things that anchor me to now. Now and the future. Now and the future. Push onwards. Push.

I’m slow, but I’m gathering up the things that have fallen by the wayside. The thanks that haven’t been put into writing just yet because there are too many things demanding time and attention and it takes so much energy to focus on now and the future. I am still here. It’s morning. Waking up isn’t easy, but I am greeting the day.

Back to Life

In the moments after sudden loss, the world falls away. For a while, you live in a vacuum where nothing exists except sudden emptiness. There is no formula for dealing with that kind of loss. There are no answers to questions left hanging in midair. Resolutions made, half-spoken plans–things not quite wrapped up. You are left there–hanging in midair, seeking for a foothold, trying to find stable ground again.

For a while, writing becomes a struggle. The words are too heavy–or not enough–the suddenness of loss is too startling. One moment there, then gone. Just like that. Photographs cannot answer back and memory rubs across the surface of the mind like rough paper over an open wound.

There is nothing to say. There is a lot you still want to say. No more questions can be asked. There are still so many things you want to ask.

Life moves on relentlessly. Life is too short to dwell on loss. Rather remember the good. Rather remember to embrace life and live life because the end is never expected.

So let us live life, I said to my friend.

And I think…I have to be bolder. I want to be stronger. I want to cherish those who are dear to me and to let those I love know that I love them. Each and every day. Life is too short for fear, for pride, for hate, for regret.

grieving

It has become harder to write. All my words turn into tears. I choke up. I stop. I have nothing to say.

My heart aches constantly. My head hurts. There is too much to do. My dreams are interrupted. I cannot catch them.

My friend tells me that good days lie ahead–that the sun will come again. I grab hold of those words and hold them like a promise.

I am afraid of being left behind. Of losing everyone I love. Of becoming a burden that is too hard to bear.

My quiet moments are curtained with tears.

Comfort me, I say to those I love. Send me smiles. Send me hugs.

I know I cannot ask anyone to carry my grief for me.

I will make a nest in the attic for me and my children. Up there, where we can look up at the sky through the wide window. Perhaps, if we look up long enough, if we hold each other close enough, we will be able to find the path of our dreams again.

For now, I continue to be grateful for warm hands, warm hearts and for the knowledge that we are still surrounded by love even if we have lost someone we love.