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The Gift Of Grief

May/26/2024 / by Sweta Vikram

Life is always teaching us lessons, even through loss

woman holding blue burning candle
Photo via Shutterstock

On May 28, it will be a year since Dad passed away. The loss of a loved one is a major event in one’s life. When you are as close to the deceased as I was to my father, there’s no way to be prepared for the emotional impact of the loss. Even though I did cremate a part of myself with Dad, a part of me remains. I am not sad or mellow or depressed. If anything, I have never been more at peace, and I will tell you why. 

No matter where you are in life or what you are doing, grief will stop you dead in your tracks. It will bring reflection, introspection, and finding meaning. I think unless grief strikes, we don’t make real efforts to elevate the quality of our thoughts or life. The reinvented Sweta 2.0 is quieter, grounded, focused, and more assertive about her needs. 

In reflecting and recently returning from a trip to India, I have been thinking about the teachings of this past year. A podcast interviewer, who read my book “The Loss That Binds Us, asked me if there are any gains from grief. To me the word “gain” has a materialistic connotation. But I do believe that every situation teaches us a lesson. We only need to be open to the idea of learning. 

Lessons From Grief 

I spoke with friends and family members who have suffered the loss of a parent, partner, child, sibling, or friend in the recent past. And they shared that while their grief has been devastating, in the aftermath, it’s allowed them the gift of opportunity to become who they are today.

The Richness Is In The Pause

Every single griever confessed that they understand that time is fleeting. You plan life, but it has a mind of its own. But to live an intentional life, we can’trun through it. The loss of a loved one makes us pause, and it gives us a rare opportunity to take a long, hard, and honest look at our lives. Basically, where our lives have been and where we want them to be. You may be surprised by what you find.

I have friends who moved cities, changed jobs, ended toxic relationships, went back to master’s or doctorate school after someone they loved died. Of course, it wasn’t easy. But the loss made them claim responsibility, forced them to re-evaluate their lives, and act. 

Keep The Petty At A Distance

I don’t have the patience for adult immaturity. I think it’s insensitive and ignorant to comment on anyone’s grieving, lifestyle, marriage, body, career choices, or just about anything else. When my parents were alive (especially my mom), I would accommodate fools to keep her happy. But I find it dangerous to compare whose grief matters more or whose marriage is more successful or whose child drives a better car or whose partner studied at an Ivy League school etc.

Most grievers said to me that they have built healthy boundaries and kept the non-value-add people a few feet away. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care or won’t show up in their times of need. It just means that they value their brain and mental health as prime real estate and won’t rent it out to every reckless person who wants attention.

The Clarity Is Healing

For the first time in 24+ years of moving to New York City, when I wake up at 1am because of jet lag, I don’t feel tired or torn. When Dad was alive, I would call him up and chat at 1:30-2 a.m. over chai. Then I would speak with a few friends in India until it was time to shower, practice yoga, and leave for work.

A part of me always felt the burden of leaving my dad in India even though he never once complained. A part of me longed to move back. It would take me two weeks minimum to settle back into my life in NYC and even then, my heart belonged to India and the U.S. And my body was exhausted. But this time around, I am at peace. I understand that India is the country of my ancestors and I’m proud of my roots, but it is no longer home. With my parents gone, no one is waiting for me in India.

When jet lag woke me up this time, instead of longing, I ended up working hard and had an incredibly productive week. 

Grief Unites Us

My father would say that even the worst things can have a purpose. Encountering loss and dealing with grief has equipped me to empathize with others going through similar experiences and understand them better. I am closer to my brother and a few cousins, and I make time for them, no matter what’s going on in my life.

It’s so important to know who and what matters and to prioritize life accordingly. I check in with my husband more diligently how he’s handling the loss of his father. I have made deep friendships and intentional connections with others who have suffered a loss. We don’t sit and mourn our pain or remain in victim-mode. But we understand each other. These are the people who get when I say “India is a place I will visit for those I love, to eat mithais, and to honor my ancestors. But India will no longer be home.” 

Grief Teaches Us To Keep An Open Mind

I grew up in a Hindu home, so the concepts of reincarnation and karma are not unfathomable to me. I have wondered where my parents or others who die go? Science tells us that nothing can be created or destroyed, right?

Like me, after the death of someone close to you, you might find yourself looking for signs that they’re still with you. I have read that if you see a feather, butterfly, pigeon, or a coin, or a strange smell appears out of nowhere, it could be a deceased loved one communicating. For example, my mother was very fond of mogra, which is Indian jasmine. In the middle of hot and humid New York City, there have been times I have smelled the fragrance of flowers in the oddest of places. After my mom passed away, whenever my father visited us in NYC, a curious pigeon sat on our windowsill daily when I cooked. It would pace up and down but with one eye on my kitchen. My friends have had other mystical experiences, and we hold space for each other’s stories.

“Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.” ~ Marcel Proust

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