Kate’s piece on positivity—and the ceremonious celebration of gratitude four days away—places me in a strange cusp, a crack in the veil of pristine white we are asked to gently wrap around us. As though positivity or gratitude is going to whitewash our lives into becoming those pretty pictures we put up on Facebook and Instagram. As though losing a baby is one of those elastic springs one can bounce back from.
Standing atop this fissure that Kate’s thoughts on positivity opened up, I am going to lay the crack bare, pry it open, and talk about that which has slid into its dark innards, irretrievably and unequivocally. The black, the opaque, the real in grief as a state.
The pot bristles on the corner stove. I am standing in front of it. I am staring into the late afternoon sun outside my kitchen window. If one needs me to identify a destination for my stare, that is. I am not aware, but it is actually floating. Since losing Raahi, my eyes can levitate. The liquid in the pot bubbles in my ears. I do not smell anything. I see smoke. I feel hot. I turn the stove off, and leave the kitchen’s sun to go and stare into the living room sun.
That would have been dinner. And there it went.
I had wrestled myself out of the couch earlier on this October afternoon, aiming to fold some long-pending laundry and start dinner. My son would be back from school soon, and then he had swim practice. Which meant just one thing—I would get little time in the evening, and had to therefore plan out my afternoon well. In a life where a basic household chore or errand required enormous energy and willpower, dinner and laundry were nearly campaigns. They needed the earnestness of a mission, the careful planning of a profession, and often, despite my best efforts, they would warrant a few talks to myself.
All of which fell flat on their face that afternoon.
I retreated onto the couch, and lay still until I heard the doorbell. My husband came home from work and started on dinner.
Familiar with my frailty, he did not ask a question. He has been the steady rock, on which our home and our family stand, when all else has been broken apart, washed away, eaten alive. He holds us aloft, and our share of responsibilities over the past few years has been so unequal and so skewed against me that my mission of living life after loss can definitively be termed a failure. He protected me from Raahi’s last rites, so I survived. He never thought of me as a failure, so we survived.
Over the years, he has made more than dinner when I could not. He has made living possible.
Dysfunction. That is the word I have been searching for this state of inability I seem to have been in, despite sinking under it for years now. I emerge from it on days, functioning like clockwork. I run like a machine with a regularity and a smoothness that belies the overtime on the dead batteries I am running on. On some days, I even excel at and enjoy my run—churning numbers, producing results, drawing the checks and balances.
But on most days, I am still trying to locate Raahi’s breath, her heartbeat, her presence in our lives. In the middle of most days, I can feel Raahi’s cold body at the tip of my fingers, as I try to revive her warmth, and fail miserably. On those days, haunted by her absence, and still in a state of terror, I cower like a shadow under my own presence, distancing myself from my body, my home, my roles and responsibilities. I squirm intermittently and cry tearlessly.
On those days, disappearing uncontrollably, I forget hunger, I try to regulate the heat, the cold, the sky, the air, and when all else fails, I just sink into the earth. On those days, dinner is not made, phones are not answered, meetings are not attended.
There are several scientific phenomena that can help one put a finger on what this dysfunction is a function of. It may be because of depression, PTSD, or one of several mental health conditions. It may be because I have lost cognitive abilities and large chunks of my memory with Raahi. In lay terms, it may be because I am absent-minded, preoccupied, unoccupied. Simplistically, it may be because I have aged beyond my years.
Would I be more functional if I had a 9-5 job? If I was forced to perform, rather than being left on my own? If demands were made on my mind, claims exerted on my heart, outcomes squeezed from my actions—would I be more productive, more competent, more focused? Are the inabilities that conquer me, and the tiredness that comes easily, the by-products of grief alone?
There are changes in me others cannot see. Those who smile at my pictures on Facebook, or even now call me the life of a party. They do not know how much effort it takes me to put up this act, and yet how easily, how naturally it comes.
The much harder, almost impossible thing to do after losing my daughter, is be the me I am when no one is watching. The woman who still walks into a closet and forgets why she got there. The mother who does not volunteer to be the home-room mom, ever. The wife who does not pull her weight, and instead just sinks, lock, stock and barrel.
In the world outside, I waft by lightly, floating along sidewalks, braking at stop signs, pausing between sentences. I know the scripts, the scented nods in agreement even when one disagrees. I know how to be, or at least play, a human being.
It is the woman, the mother, who I no longer know how to be. Ensconced in the comfort zone called home, with no parts to play, my parts do not play up to form a whole. I cannot wake up, burst open, pour into, this scene called life on earth. Instead, I lie throbbing like a wound in daylight, and still like a scar at night.
Inside a crack on the skin of the sky where there is no light, I am a dead star whose cold light from ages ago is deceptively shining still.
In the urban jargon of today, we hear the words “functional” or “dysfunctional” quite often. Post-loss(es), how are you functioning on a daily basis? How has loss changed your everyday life, at home, and outside?