I lost my father two years back. We were very close – we used to share, discuss, argue, and also challenge each other; a relation that brought definition to what I am. It was devastating as he was healthy one day, and the next day he was diagnosed with cancer. Along with my mother, he came and stayed with me in the months that followed. I saw him slowly slip, finally vanish and disappear – everything was over. I stood there trying to deal with the finality of death, the deep chasm that was left behind. It is not an end of a contract – relating does not end. We continue the relationship and relating with the person, just without the physical being. Being a daughter does not stop. In GR terms, the relationship ended, but the relatedness continues. I kept going back in my memory, trying to find the answers. I kept wondering how I could have done something different, something that might have saved him.
While I was dealing with my internal turmoil, something hit me as strange regarding the people around me. They acknowledged the loss and were very sorry for me. But at the same time, they were also expecting me to take care of the normal, routine stuff like earlier. It almost looked as if everyone wanted me to do that impossible thing – ‘move on’. The systems I was part of wanted me back in the same roles – nurturer, provider, and manager. There was no space to process the grief, make sense of the loss.
I am always told that I am a good container. Probably I also secretly take pride in being so, or did I just get used to being that? What happens when people see you for years as a container is that they forget that there is also a need for the container to be contained. After that tragedy of losing my father, I realized that being a container for others can lead to not being heard, and it being assumed that you are taking care of it, and that you need no help. That you can manage grief and the hurting as you continue to play your everyday roles. I also became aware that being the container and holding space for others seemed to be my way of not challenging the status quo of my roles, avoiding the truth about them, and perhaps avoiding the truth about me. In other words, keeping the collusion going, in spite of a yearning for breaking out of it. .
Soon after, I started experiencing pain in various parts of my body. From a frozen shoulder to severe pain in my leg, I was almost limping. I practice yoga, I hated this pain and my inability to move freely. I usually take Tibetan medicine, and my Tibetan doctor gently but firmly told me that I have to let go of my grief and not internalize it. I struggled to make sense of it, I started looking back at life and loss. I reflected and slowly realized I feel heavily burdened and overwhelmed with the responsibility. My pain was psychosomatic, the result of getting back too quickly to the woman who is there for others. At the same time, I wonder if socio-analytically, I was reinforcing a patriarchal view of the role of a woman – as someone who puts her own needs in the backburner to be available to meet the needs of others.
The grief of losing a parent is vast. If you have not grieved and allowed yourself the time to process it, grief can settle itself as pain and twist you up. Knotting the life force into pain and anguish. Sitting down to process it is the first step to accept that the person is no more. Accepting ‘what is’ – the immutable fact that he is no more became critical. Finding other ways of relating, and not the one I was used to. Turning to my faith. Perhaps the biggest challenge was in learning to share and allow others in – to be part of the healing process, thereby breaking the unconscious set up of fixed roles of giver and taker and allowing for a more dynamic shifting of roles to happen. One step at a time, one day at a time, to not ‘move on’ but ‘move forward’ as I untie the knots.
Published on May 3rd 2021 on Group Relations International’s Blog