When I was much younger, my father would place his eyes on my palms, and a little magic would unfold; his face turned into joy. I was too young to know that we were cultivating a relationship of peace and happiness. Today, I am too fragile to hold this memory and recall how the two of us watched tranquillity flow slowly from my tiny hands on to his baggy, aged eyes. Baba was 43 years old when I was born. Very often, in times good and bad, we held hands. Today, I miss him very much.

Grief is a feeling. It is having your life become eternally attached to a void. It is telling yourself that you’re in a paradoxical finality of loss, you’re inside it, you are it and quickly you’re outside of it, out of it.

Grief is place-making. Turning inward to your heart and finding it weak in its knees; like an elderly person sitting alone in a dimly lit room, a faint winter sun hardly touching their toes.

Grief is knowledge, and it is action. Making death and love both sit side by side.

Grief comes in waves and completely unexpectedly. How does one deal with the loss of a dearly loved one and the finality of an absence?

Grief is a cosmological intervention. Like getting on a bus and freezing at the sight of a hand wearing an aqeeq [agate] ring, similar to Baba’s. The finality of death hits. The probability of seeing him again in this life, after all, is zero. His face will never again appear amid a crowd at the airport, looking for me. Only a cosmological intervention, a dream perhaps, is where we reunite, hold hands, if ever.

I see my father’s smiling face appear in front of me as I write this and all of what I have written just now, dissolves. Grief is also dissolving, unbecoming, and completely shattering. My father, Jafar Mehdi, passed away on April 20, 2022. He passed away peacefully, showing us through his life how to open one’s heart to the world like a spring of water. To give. To not worry too much. To not speak ill of others. Baba loved to laugh loudly, especially when he met his cousins and his friends. Laughing loudly, what a concept.

Grief is memory. It is childhood. Waking up very early on a summer day, expecting no one in the living room and finding freshly plucked jasmines on the table. Baba picked the jasmines up and is now making tea in the kitchen — both of us find the other in the early morning breeze. Grief is almost love, only diametrically opposite.

Grief is firm and permeable. It finds you anywhere, amid an argument, at the grocery store, at the sea, in a half-cut mango in the fridge. It is confusing. There are days when I go about my day in a way that Baba would have: laughing loudly.

Yet, I cannot go about my day listening to his favourite ghazal collection: Jagjit Singh’s Sydney concert. The heart, I suppose, agrees to mimic that which is lifelike — being a bit like him as a way of feeling that he is alive. And yet, opposed to listening to his favourite music because I can no longer see him sit next to me, on his red chair, smiling, his eyebrow lifting in joy.

I remember planning to go home right after graduating, but Baba went, right before that happened. Just like that, without crying with me in my graduation robe, without holding the degree that he was so proud of. Changing everything, making me look up, up in the sky, as I sat listening to people express their joy. Grief truly is nothing and everything all at once.

I left for my master’s shortly after my father’s cancer diagnosis. What that meant for us, I am not sure. He was happy. I was not sure if I was or could ever again be, in a pre-cancer diagnosis way. I thought about my sadness often and that was that, for most of my masters. Baba, meanwhile, told me over and over and over again that he was proud of me. Grief is often an ambiguity, the breaking of a promise and that breaking, breaking your back.

At times he’d break into tears, assuring me of his happiness. I took a Harvard hoodie for him but Baba being Baba, asked me to keep it. I had seen people die in hospital emergency wards, I remember speaking about grief, about targeted killings, about death, and caring for the grieving families many times.

I remember planning to go home right after graduating, but Baba went, right before that happened. Just like that, without crying with me in my graduation robe, without holding the degree that he was so proud of. Changing everything, making me look up, up in the sky, as I sat listening to people express their joy. Grief truly is nothing and everything all at once.

It is sanity and madness hanging by a thread. At times, it means escaping, living in a place of memories, wishing people asked more often: how are you doing? Grief is a piece of paper turning into a beating heart as you write on it everything you would’ve spoken to your father about.

It is remembering up to obnoxious details who said what to you when the world slipped from under your feet. Like being in another country with a plate of iftar in your hand and reading a WhatsApp message pop up saying Inna lillahe wa inna alehe raji’un. It may have been for anyone, that message, but you know immediately that this is an announcement of your orphanhood.

Grief is silence. Resting. Disconnecting. Finding that a river has flown from your eyes as you were lost in thought. Will I ever hear stories of his school days from his friends again? The punishments, the college elections, those walks down Mall Road? Will his friends come over as frequently as they did before? Will he not see where I go from here in my life?

After a while, you begin to understand that the only way to survive is to accept grief as love and completely submit to it. To make a place for it in the fragile centre of your heart and let it sing its sad song. Mapping it in yourself, even though mapping reminds you of Baba, driving you everywhere in Lahore, from hospitals to fundraisers to protests, and telling you the history of a city that he so dearly loved.

Grief is holding a map of certainties and ambiguities and marching on. It is a loving, a longing and a dreaming. A ritualistic rewriting of life with loss as the language of love. Of remembering the tranquillity of holding hands and smiling.

The writer is a freelance contributor.

She tweets @Minahiljmehdi

Published in Dawn, EOS, September 18th, 2022

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