Modern grief

05 Mar 2019


The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.
The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

THE unpredictability of life — and death — sounds like an overused cliché. We often only see tragedies in works of fiction we watch on television or read about in books — at most, about an acquaintance suffer through. But then we wake up the next day and carry on with our business. However, having to suffer the loss of loved ones first hand at a young age is unfathomable, even when it becomes reality. But such is the fickleness of our moody destiny.

Such ruminations are founded on suffering a personal tragedy recently — of having to come to terms with losing three young and dear friends in a tragic accident. Whereas statistically such an occurrence is an outlier, an exception to the rule, coming to terms with it also means feeling vulnerable about all human relations one holds dear.

Do we live each day with the assumption that our loved ones may not be present tomorrow? Do we avoid petty quarrels based on the unpredictability of life? Do we express our emotions as we feel them without holding ourselves back? Do we try to capture every moment with the intention of some day having it as the only thing that brings those we love to life? These are just some of the uneasy questions that come to mind as one starts to process grief in the modern age.

We all grieve in different ways, but there are many similarities amongst the majority. One of the biggest risks to mental and emotional well-being after losing a dear one is holding one’s feelings in. Not talking about how one is feeling, avoiding mentioning a loved one who has passed on, and shutting one’s mind off in general can do a lot more damage than strengthen those in grief.

The obsession with capturing every moment through phones acts as a saviour.

How we process memory, however, can change our circumstances a lot. For me, thinking of the warm infectious smiles of Hina, Isha and Rimsha, their positive outlook towards life, and their resolute dedication to living life on their own terms inspires me to carry on.

Hina, just two weeks back on Valentine’s Day, was gifted a card by her primary school student telling her how much she was loved for being so good to her students — it was not just her friends and family that she looked after with her warmth and selflessness.

Isha was trying to choose between two great job offers in the humanitarian sector, with both her ex-employers trying to convince her to rejoin them—her resolute dedication to achieving excellence was similar in the thoughtful gifts she got for friends and family.

Rimsha had just taken up a new work assignment instead of applying for further education because she wanted to gain diverse experience before she could decide to specialise in a particular field — always clear about doing things right, whether an uneasy apology to a friend or being sensitive to family’s expectations.

Theirs were lives just like anybody else’s in their youth — trying to build a career while strengthening strong bonds with friends and family each day. What is the best way to respect that after their passing on to a different realm?

How would they have liked us to mourn them? It helps to think of the times they were present to uplift our spirit in any difficult circumstance. Logically, they would want to be able to do the same in times of hurt caused by their departure. Recollecting pleasant memories of times with lost loved ones — what Wordsworth calls “emotion recollected in tranquillity”, that he credits for poetry, which for him is “spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings” — can help us grieve with strength.

Technological advancements of our times make the process of recollecting memories a lot more potent. We now have cou­n­tless photogra­phs that capture special and everyday mom­ents; videos that record their laug­hter and voice; and cou­ntless messa­ges and social me­dia posts that automatically create stream-of-consciousness tales of the life of those we wish to remember. For once, the millennial obsession with capturing every moment through phones acts like a saviour bringing to life those we long for.

With the rollercoaster that grieving is, there are times when the exhilaration of reliving memories of times bygone make death — and not life — seem trivial. But it is normal to break down at other points. After all, putting up a façade of strength can do more damage than accepting weakness and then letting oneself heal.

So whereas the end of life is beyond our control, we can try to cherish the memories of the past, the larger community the passing of loved ones brings together, be the strength for each other that our friends and family would want us to be, and hold on tightly to all those we love — and never hold back from expressing it, leaving little room for regret.

The writer is director of Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum for digital rights.

Twitter: @UsamaKhilji

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2019