Mourning; Is There An Easy Way?
August 12, 2022
Ugochi Guchy Kalu (she/her/hers), Low Entropy Volunteer Writer
“I am really sorry for your loss”, “Take heart”, “Feel better”, “God knows best”, “Rise and shine”, “Wipe your tears”, “Don’t give up”, “Have some faith”, “Don’t mourn like a hopeless person”, “There is hope”, “Look on the bright side”. These are words of comfort I learned growing up which I began using each time I had to visit anyone struck by tragedy in their own life. These words became so profound and repetitive that they might have lost their true meaning when I wasn’t looking. Each of these phrases fit perfectly into any situation be it in the event of death, loss of job, ill health, broken relationship, disappointment, depression, and just about anything painful. Really? Are there verbal rules to comfort people who are mourning?
After a while, I learned about the five stages of grief through reading and research. I was engrossed with it all. It absolutely makes sense that people go through these stages in their exact order, starting from denial and leading to anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I understood this and became better at comforting people by observing their reactions each time I visited. You could hear me say “Don’t worry, I understand you are angry, it’s just a phase, you will reach the acceptance stage very soon” Applying the technicality of my new learning turned me into a pro-comforter and also helped me get away from sad gatherings faster. All I had to do was rehearse them in my head, form a speech, land freely and go about my business. One time, someone recommended that I comfort people for a living because of how smooth my speech was. I imagined mourning was that simple. I never understood beyond the crying point and immense sadness. Emptiness and burnout were never part of my considerations because, for all you know, once the tears stopped flowing, life gets good again and we all move on as if nothing happened. I must have really been delusional.
In November 2007, I came face to face with grief accompanied by her dearest friend; emptiness. I surpassed the five stages of grief and nothing changed. I had just lost my father and no technicality in the world could explain and relieve my pain. Friends and family came to me with the usual comforting phrases, “Don’t give up, take heart, wipe your tears, it will be okay”. One of my uncles encouraged me to look on the bright side; where is the bright side? What is bright about my loss? I went numb and every other explanation he gave to support his line of argument fell on deaf ears because I stopped listening the moment he said the word bright. More than my grief, I felt inappropriate and saw my shortcomings in a new light. I realized I had attempted to quantify pain, and minimize its reach and depth by telling people who mourned to take heart and look on the bright side. What a disservice I had provided to humanity for the longest time.
Looking back on the few years after my father passed, I discovered that pain and darkness do not really mix well. How else can I explain feeling better during the day while the pain boomerangs in the night with greater velocity? The knot in my chest and stomach tightens, and the sharp pain as though an arrow was driven across my chest was the hardest part, I was knocked down and crushed by my own grief that I completely lost sight of everyone else. The despair, confusion, lack of purpose and willingness to do anything, chronic sadness and constantly feeling disconnected from the world were some of the popular symptoms that graced my grieving. In reality, there is no cure for sadness, no timeline for healing emotional pain and certainly no measure for recovery.
Days turned into weeks, months flew by, a few years later, my father was still dead and I hadn’t reached the acceptance stage. The emptiness was my relentless companion, the void so deep that nothing could fill it up, the slow burn of emptiness began to set in, mental exhaustion, and my constant cynicism. Fifteen years later and the pain is still there, the void unfilled. But I have lived through it by building resilience. Not by accepting, not by replacement, not by looking at anything bright, just resilience for pain, agony, affliction, torment, exertion and strain because I now know that many situations are irreversible and eternal that no words of comfort are sufficient.
While bargaining with my pain and emptiness, I did a few things that helped me cope. I took up new hobbies, I started painting, hiking, journaling and gardening. I made certain to avoid pain-triggering situations such as watching really sad movies, I became vocal about my pain, talked to my family and friends, volunteered at the Asthma foundation as that was the primary disease that took my father from me and helping people with the same disease made me feel like I might be saving someone else’s loved one. It was therapeutic at best. Most importantly I re-evaluated and learnt how to support people mourning better. Instead of my usual comforting phrases, I became a good listener, refrained from trying to explain their loss, respected their ways of grieving, stayed connected and available, avoided giving any advice, and helped with physical tasks such as cooking, cleaning and running errands.
Truthfully, there is no easy way to mourn, no rule book, no words, no change ever makes it better. When you lose someone that holds so much space in your life, you can never be sure if what you miss is who they were or who you wanted them to be. Your memories are forever changed by the inevitability of death. It is important to acknowledge that for every nation, every tribe, and every religion world over, death and loss mean different things. We all mourn and heal differently. As someone who has experienced pain and mourned the loss of a loved one, I say the best way to mourn is however the hell you choose to.
My name is Ugochi Guchy Kalu. My father has been dead for 15 years, I’m not sad – I take that back, I’m furious that he had to die, I miss him all the time, but I’m better, I celebrate his anniversaries remembering only the good times. In honour of my father, I write, hoping this piece moves my pain farther away. In honour of all those who recently lost a loved one, I may not understand the level of your pain and how sad you are, but I am certain that you are doing the best you can, keep going at your own pace, just like me, you will build your own resilience. To Late Chief Egbuta Fancy Kalu, You are forever in my heart!
My name is Ugochi Guchy Kalu, I have lived in a bubble and also experienced real life hurt. I pulled through the toughest times through acceptance and a positive outlook. Stay positive, pals!
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