When grief strikes, it’s time to reach out


When grief strikes, it’s time to reach out

After the death of her husband, who had been mute and bedridden for four years after a stroke, INGRID JONES began to doubt she was human, because where were the tears? Then a Peaches & Herb blues tune made her heart explode.


FOR the first time in my 61 years on Earth, I am completely alone in my little house by the sea. My husband recently passed away after a long illness and my daughter went to seek a breath of fresh air in South Korea for a year or two. Now I am here with only the plants, the silence and the everlasting, damn power outages.

I struggle with the concept of grief. There is the clinical conversation, the academic approach, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), then there are the widows in black mantillas and stilettos who throw themselves weeping onto coffins and slowly descend to the bottom of six-foot graves.

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I am aware of the society that stares at me, waiting for the dam wall to break. I am also waiting … in the night, in my car, when I think about the past, in a candid moment. Nothing. Empty. All I know is that I made a shift from sleepless nights to deep sleep. And I began to wonder if I was human, because where were the tears?

My husband was sick for about four years, mute due to a stroke, also bedridden. Four years filled with days and nights tiptoeing on eggshells as we waited for the next stroke. Life doesn't stand still, the orange traffic light keeps flickering incessantly. The wait for death is unbearable. And against all expectations, he breathed for four more years as we stood by, holding our breath.

We had four years to say goodbye, and the rattle of the final days brought each breath closer to the final exhale. Then it was silent. During the funeral, I was like a zombie in my black dress with pink puffed sleeves and a wide-brimmed hat behind which my eyes hid. Nothing. Be strong, the cameras and eyes are on you. Dignified.

Two weeks ago, we celebrated a friend's birthday with a grand party. The invitation said to wear something flashy, so I showed up in a multicoloured floor-length sequinned jacket, just like Joseph from the Bible. Not a widow in black in sight. We danced and danced, then a sweet Peaches & Herb bluesy song floated across the room and my heart exploded like a grenade in my chest.

Is this it? Is this grief?

It's wet and messy. I can't breathe, and I cling to the shoulders of the man I'm dancing with. Somewhere inside my body, a tear starts its journey through my organs until it bursts forth from my eyes like a waterfall, and I desperately try to prevent a primal scream from escaping my lips. Dignity first! People start staring and I try unsuccessfully to push the tear back to wherever it came from.

Is this it? Is this grief? “Let it out, my dear. It has to come out. Whether now or later, it has to come out," the sympathetic bystanders say, forming a protective circle around me.

In the hours that follow, I try to make sense of the feeling. Is grief the opening of the floodgates of tears so the fatigue that follows becomes a type of catharsis?

What I do know is that people can be healing. No one should approach me with a downtrodden face; I don't want pity. Look into my eyes and say, “I see you."

Make an appointment with me, come sit on my porch and let's talk about life as an existential perplexity, studded with moments of desperate happiness.

Let's talk about how we should always be aware that death is truly just around the corner, waiting, and therefore we should experience each day as deeply as possible.

Let's talk about solitude versus being single versus being a widow.

Let's talk about why we are so inseparably connected to someone that when they are no longer there, our centrifugal force disintegrates and we want to jump into graves because we simply cannot breathe.

Let's talk about the splendour and grandeur of funerals, where motorised glass carriages transport shiny coffins to a hole in the ground, leaving us financially ruined.

Let's talk about whether I see a chance to fall in love again and what it means for the family standing ready with their judgmental flags.

Let's talk the grief out of us. People can be healing.


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