About Death, And Dying, And Guilt.
This is the sixth year since my mother passed away. I still haven’t cried, I haven’t bowled over in spasms of grief and despair. I am not much of a crier anyway, but the point is, I haven’t felt any of those things I was certain grief would come with. The tears, the dramatic hollowing out of my person, again the bowling over, the ache, and most importantly, the gentle weight that sits behind my throat when an ending happens.
For a long time, the most that I could muster was a flippant sadness, the kind that makes sense to feel if you’ve broken up a friendship that might have lasted long, but not when you have lost your mother. Times when I feel this: a woman sitting beside me on a danfo, muttering prayers under her breath as my mother used to, a woman re-tying her wrapper in public as my mother used to, a woman’s voice talking as my mother used to, a middle-aged woman being as my mother used to.
I once read somewhere that my feelings are valid and backed by science. That a sort of involuntary mental blockage is happening to me and one day, something might trigger the dam and I would be able to feel all I should be feeling. But what if this is as much as I can feel? What if grief is a messy construct sold to us as a unidirectional business; loud and shrieking when it is death and mellow when it is simply a break-up or a separation.
I say this because my mother isn’t the only person that I have lost in the past five years. My brother died two years after my mother died and while I feel a sinking sense of dread each day I think of my other siblings who are alive, my sadness isn’t as deep cutting as I imagined it would be. But I did like my brother and think of him as often as the thoughts come in. And so what does my mostly removed reaction to him no longer being here say about me? A broken business? Or a mind yet unable to understand the cost of death so close?
I suppose with two deaths, the overarching concept of people no longer being alive stops being about them dying, with its taste of dread and its overall venerated body, but the cost of their absence. I am more close to the heart of the matter and it terrifies me, it hollows me out and turns me into a hanging lifelessness in the face of tragedy. So what is the cost of these two deaths? What is its weight against what they meant to me? Is there space to not perform grief while acknowledging that as people who were in my life once, I liked them and they meant a great deal to me. Is there space for that to be the beginning and the end of this subject.
Or maybe I am lying. Maybe I did not know them well enough to actually like them. Maybe I liked them because that is how we are expected to feel with family, with parents. But as people, imagine them now as strangers, or neighbors or family friends, I don’t know. Or maybe I am not lying and they grew on me, surely that matters more than merely liking someone. Or maybe they stood in for the things I wanted but never had. I cannot remember my brother playing with me the way he would with the neighbor’s boys who were about my age, but more boyish, with multiple interests in boy things. He never offered to teach me the drums he liked to teach them. I couldn't play football, so no trips to the neighborhood football field together. He never seemed to approve of me and I resented him and looked up to him and wished desperately that he would like me and perhaps this is how my mind continues to remember him. Unreachable.
On another note, when I think about my mother no longer being alive, I can picture her sitting. She did a lot of that. Praying, cooking, talking, providing care, advice, and once watching my brothers beat me for being gay. I often wonder how love functions in families, Nigerian families. I often wonder how Nigerian parents never teach their children to genuinely like each other and I circle back to that moment where my brothers including the dead one, pelted my body with belts. Me; a failed and abhorrent concept, easy to hate from a history of not being liked.
So what does it say about the agreed concept of grief that we only feel pain for the people who liked us and nothing for the people who didn’t? Too linear, too open to explosion and chaos, if you ask me. But I don’t suppose you are asking me. One thing though, it would be nice to feel grief the way I am expected to, regardless, regardless, regardless.