Its 4:00am in the morning in New Delhi, and I am window shopping online (if there is such a term/activity). What’s worth mentioning about this- you may wonder? Well, nothing much really- except that 24 hours back I was in New York, planning what I would cook for a Sunday Brunch I was hosting for friends at home, when I received frantic calls from my parents about my 12 year old pet Appu’s critical condition.
I had adopted Appu when he was only 3 weeks old, sneaking him into my bag, beeging and pleading with my parents to let me keep him. He was my first ‘responsibility’. My first true definition of a goal manifested itself in the task of getting him potty trained, all by myself. I beamed like a mother whose child had got all the lyrics of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ right, in front of all the guests, each time Appu responded to a ‘sit’ or ‘paw’ command from strangers.
As I write this, we are 12 days short of his 12th birthday, and the doctors say he has a 50% chance of survival- a sudden arthritic attack left him with partial paralysis in one leg, and a ravenous bacterial infection in his blood, that’s slowly eating away his energy, appetite, consciousness. But his will to fight, powered by frantic prayers of my family and friends, has raged a battle of sorts with this infection. Appu finally opened his eyes enough to recognize me, licked my hand and tried to sit up- me and my family applauding him way more in the effort he put in his failed attempt to sit up than we may have ever applauded him on returning us his ball in a game of fetch.
The last 24 hours have been a roller coaster. I went from crying uncontrollably back home in New York, shivering hands frantically booking a flight that left 5 hours later, to a numbed mind making me clean the house as my husband was trying to pack my bags. “Are you mad Sup, we leave in an hour and you are cleaning the god damned house!?” he shouted. But somehow nothing comforted me more at that moment than the sound of the vacuum cleaner- a semblance of what an otherwise normal Sunday would have been.
I cried all the way to our car, and then became too preoccupied trying to find that one song I had on my mind on Spotify. I cried all the way in the security check, and then became too absorbed deciding whether tacos were a better choice than a falafel platter. I cried the minute I entered the plane and in no time my biggest worry why my headphones weren’t working. Even when I saw Appu, and cried my eyes out for the good part of an hour, I found myself hungrily gulping down mom’s Rajma Chawal, excitedly telling her how much I missed the magic with which her hands transformed any dish.
Long back I was in South Africa, and we had planned what eventually became a ‘trip of a lifetime’. A day after we landed I heard of my grandmother’s death. I wanted to cry, but I also wanted to go on the late night safari. I wanted to call my family, but a part of me also yearned to shout out to the world via social media, that I had watched a pack of lions an arm’s distance away. Two days later I broke down- not because of the pain of losing my grandmother, whom I had not even met for an year despite staying an hour’s drive away from her- but because I felt wretched at not grieving adequately. In short, I grieved for the part of me that did not know how to grieve. I grieved for the mundane things in life that had snatched my ability to grieve in the way that society and culture had deemed right. Per the standard notions of ‘grieving right’, people may have grieved for film stars on their deaths and injuries possibly better than how I grieve- by window shopping online.
Long back, at the first funeral I ever attended, for my friend’s father, I saw his mom crying inconsolably only to be smiling (not a sad smile but a smile verging on a whole-hearted laugh) a few minutes later. I remember thinking to myself, rather angrily “doesn’t she miss her husband!”. Oh how shallow I feel now when that memory creeps in my mind. Who am I to judge anyone’s grieve – even my own? If anything, that close-to-laughter smile on my friend’s mom’s face may have been ignited by a thought of ‘happier times’
And that leaves me wondering, is there really a better or best way to grieve? My colleagues in office see me online- while some may mock me thinking “so much for a dog?!” others genuinely care- and they wonder why I am connected, and responding to emails. I am jet lagged, everyone is sleeping, as is Appu. What else can I possibly do? And I can sense in a matter of 15 minutes the change in their tone of communication- more work begins pouring. I don’t mind, but I do realize at some corner of their mind, a picture of a helpless girl crying in a hospital, drowning in her tears is replaced with a nonchalant girl whiling away her time at a laptop.
And perhaps that is why cultures and traditions described ‘rules’ for grieving. Because we humans are inherently judgement. And we spare none, not even ourselves, and not even in death.
But my grief is my own and I will raise it like I raised Appu. Appu was never judged, nor will my grief be. Appu was rewarded for acting on a ‘paw’ but never forced to- we let his mood decide. So will be how I treat my grief. I will pat it on the back when it reacts appropriately in front of strangers but I’ll let it be governed by its own moods. If anything. I will not grief on my success/failure of ‘grieving right’.