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About Losing a Parent

May/07/2023 / by Sweta Vikram

5 things no one can prepare you for in your grief

A woman grieving
A woman grieving. Shutterstock

I returned from a seven-day trip to India last month. There, I visited different cities, including my mother’s hometown. It was a city wherein I got married, and eventually completed my mother’s last rites. I visited the home where the new owners now live. As I entered the kitchen and what used to be my parent’s bedroom, I dissolved into tears. I wished badly for a glimpse of my mom. I wondered if she would show up draped beautifully in a cotton sari and with talcum powder in the crease of her neck.

She would say,,”Sab theek hai, beta?” (Is everything okay?)

The owner lost her husband a couple of years ago, and her daughter told me that she read my poetry book, “Saris and a Single Malt,” to navigate the loss.

Losing a parent is never easy, whether you doted on them or shared a toxic relationship. Biology is powerful!

Here’s the other thing: grief is unpredictable. You never know how and when it will show up. Let’s not forget that healing isn’t linear. On some days, I feel I am in a zone of acceptance despite knowing that I will never get to see my mom ever again. Then there are days when I am tired, and I miss her asking, “Beta, kya khao gi?” What would you like to eat?

May I remind you to hold grace and not judge yourself when you don’t feel okay or experience jealousy? Because losing a parent or both doesn’t come with a grieving manual. And there is no statute of limitations on when you might get triggered.

You Will Feel Jealous

I was talking to a very dear friend — let’s call her Mindy — and she said that when she visits her best friend and sees their entire family together at Christmas brunch, she feels a twinge of jealousy. She is happy for her friend but there is sadness within herself. Mindy lost both parents when she was in her twenties. I can’t even pretend to understand how awful that is. When my friend apologized for her jealousy, I validated her emotions. “It’s understandable. What happened to you is unfair.”

Family gatherings of “full” families, even though dysfunctional, remind me of what I will never have. I look at our family pictures and always feel there is something missing in them: my mom.

You Won’t Be OK on Certain Days

My mother and I loved sharing our menu for Diwali and Holi. She would be appalled and amused by how I established traditions in my home. I used to roll my eyes when she’d ask, “Made it from scratch or instant Gits, beta?” Hallmark doesn’t make cards for those of us with dead mothers and broken hearts, waiting to hear one comment, criticism, or joke. Honestly, Mother’s Day is extremely triggering for me. My mother loved being pampered. She looked forward to receiving flowers and acting all coy because it was Mama’s Day. She acted like a queen. Mother’s Day on social media is raw and such a reminder of the permanence of loss in my life.

Guilt Can Feel Heavy

A childhood friend recently confessed that she envied that I was a writer. Only because through writing, I get to keep my mother’s memories alive while she has to fight for those memories. I feel her so much! You can’t constantly keep talking about your dead parents to those who have parents and grandparents alive. It gets awkward.

But not talking makes you feel guilty if you slowly start to forget the small things. Be it the sound of their voice or details about specific events related to the deceased. One of my friend’s mothers attended a party on a Friday night and called her daughter to complain about someone. My friend— the daughter — was late for work since it was Friday morning in the U.S. She told her mother, “Ma, why do you need to attend these parties if all you want to do is gossip and whine?”

On Saturday morning, her mother died of a heart attack. Two decades later, my friend feels heaviness because her last conversation with her mom was brusque.

“I will give anything in the world to hear Ma complain,” she says.

The Ache of Unresolved Conflict

Between media and the world population, we are trained to romanticize the dead. Just because someone is gone doesn’t mean you only remember the good about them. There might be bad memories. The mind goes to unresolved conflicts and unspoken words. There are times I wish my mother and I had addressed the elephant in the room. Not so much for closure as much for addressing the problems head-on. Some things, Mom deliberately didn’t want to talk about; some things, I couldn’t tell her because I was too emotional and attached to them. Now I will never have the chance to have a personal conversation with her. I am not the type who journals or writes letters to my mom who has been gone for a while. I walk around with the burden of unsaid words.

Milestones Can Trigger You

My mother died before I turned 40. When people asked how I wanted to celebrate my 40th (desis imply a big party), I said anything but a gathering. My husband and I went to Paris where a dear friend and his family live. We went out with them for my birthday dinner and had a very healing evening. There was someone familiar in a foreign country yet not an overt reminder of my childhood. I know that when you lose a parent, you will miss celebrating certain milestones together. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. When I graduated from Columbia University, my parents traveled from India and attended the graduation ceremony. We went out to dinner.

I am the first kid in my family on both sides to attend an Ivy League school. I am doing a doctorate in Ayurveda. When I graduate and am addressed as Dr. Sweta Vikram, neither of my parents will be in the audience to cheer me on. Mom has been long gone, and dad lost his health and ability to travel to the U.S. during the pandemic. Nothing anyone can say will make me feel better.

Unless you have lost a parent, you won’t understand what the grieving process looks or feels like.

Don’t say, “Everything will be okay.” Because you minimize our suffering. I am no psychologist, but as someone who suddenly lost her mother, I can tell you that suppressing emotions doesn’t get rid of them. Grief has its own ebbs and flows.

Grief and love are conjoined; you don’t get one without the other.” ~ Jandy Nelson