Don’t turn your head. Keep looking
At the bandaged place. That’s where
The light enters you.
And don’t believe for a moment
That you’re healing yourself.Rumi
It is one year today since Anya went to be with Jesus. And me? I’m in this place between gratitude that she’s safe and exceedingly joyful in heaven, never to worry—or me worry for her—about this troubled world, and the sorrow of an irreplaceable loss.
I remember the ill-fated night as though it is just now unfolding, how she is lying down, weak and burning with fever, drained of water in her body and I, completely unaware of the seriousness, sit beside her thinking as I press her body with a cool wet cloth, “she’ll be better by morning or we’ll go to the hospital then.” This is a few hours before she passes.
Until then she was a very happy and active child, full of love for life. She lived for the moment, enjoying whatever she found to enjoy.
For some odd reason lately, my memory of her seems fixed on this particular day when she kept playing a music on her toy keyboard, repeatedly, and danced to it for such a long time that we were all amused. How she managed to go on for that long, alone, remains a mystery. Anya didn’t have a difficult life at all, which gives me great comfort to remember.
It is true that loss has a peculiar loneliness. It creates an emptiness within that nothing can penetrate. I watched as my husband and I mourn the same child with perhaps equal intensity, yet in such different ways that none could be of much comfort to the other.
At the beginning, we were united in our grief, but then we kept slipping until we were in our separate worlds. I buried myself in pottery and floriculture. I also found solace in journaling/blogging, an activity I considered private even if the whole world were to read what I wrote. My husband on the other hand was buried in his job, or so it seemed to me.
While everyone has moved on after pausing for a while (for a good while in my case) to mourn with you, you are unable to resume life as usual. Your loss has permanently altered your desires and your perception of life. Nothing carries the same urgency and importance it used to.
You know you are becoming tiresome even to the most patient and devoted of your friends. Sometimes even to yourself. But it is who you now are: a broken human. Your heart is partly with the living and partly with the dead. The strangest thing is that you’ve come to like it this way, to accept it as the best way to live.
So, in order to stop being embarrassing, you know you must either tuck your pain (and your joy of remembrance) away from public view or throw the world out along with its friendships. I find that many times I am drawn to the latter. Perhaps for the first time in my life, alone feels good.
There is a sweet sense of freedom when your heart is no longer fully in this world nor care much for its approval. The less you feel the urge to please, the lighter and merrier life becomes. “What can man do to me?” is a statement that has come to define my defiant attitude to life.
I continue to care less and less. It is harder to make or return phone calls, or to send or respond to text messages, or make any invested post on social media. I try, but it is such an effort. My reluctance is not deliberate; it just happens. Doing these things drain me of energy. If God meant to break me, he succeeded big time!
Even for family members who miss Anya equally much, we’ve all found our separate ways of both mourning and cherishing her memory. We seldom talk about her as a family, except recently when we talked about a tombstone to mark her one year remembrance. Our lively chatter about her has died down to thin embers. Like she has become a sacred topic over which we are afraid to commit a sacrilege.
We have brought down her pictures and hidden them from view. They became too painful to look at as reality gradually settled in that she is gone for good. Time to time we visit them as though by visiting the past, we will gain some sneak peek into her now secret existence.
But she never leaves our thoughts. Some days we miss her terribly and she weighs heavily on our emotions. Arum comes to me on such days, hugs me and weeps. And me, I just let the tears roll once it is safe to do so.
Some other days she fills us with joyful expectation as we imagine the blissful existence that must be her reality at present. Sometimes such thoughts escape in prayer.
I think of her almost every minute. It is as if I can only make sense of the present by comparing it with memories of when she was alive: the things she did or did not do, and things she liked or did not like; places we’ve been together or new memories we are forming without her. It is easy to remember the time when she wasn’t yet born. So, life is divided into three parts for me: before Anya, with Anya, and after Anya.
My healing, I have found, is tied to this simple act of remembering and cherishing, as long as my memory is not of the tragic event but of the person herself. Remembering is a form of acceptance of the reality that she once lived, and that though she is no more, she still lives.
To try to forget that she lived is an attempt at denying reality, which is unnatural, selfish, and cruel. Anya was significant to me and still is. In remembering her, I maintain her significance. In forgetting, I would be letting death win by implying she is now insignificant in death. If I forget her now, what will happen when we meet again?
While there are friends who still listen with great interest when I speak of Anya, I sense silent withdrawal from some, and sometimes even receive gentle rebukes when I bring her up in conversations or on social media. Why speak of the dead among the living, I guess. But this too, I have come to realize, is a cultural philosophical disposition.
I have found myself caught between two cultures on this matter. One culture believes that healing is found in burying the past along with the hurt; a certain form of endurance or outright stoicism, which turns away from the tragedy so completely that the person involved is forgotten, or, at least, never mentioned. I’m not denying that this might be how some people find healing or express it.
The other culture believes that healing comes from remembering, from cherishing not the tragedy but the person lost such that we speak about them openly and freely. As much as I hate to admit, I am grateful for the latter; it’s given me space to brood and breath without condemnation.
I am also indelibly grateful for friends who allow me the space to speak of her openly and freely when I feel like it—because it is not always that I feel like speaking of her. Yes, to remember comes with its own kind of pain at the beginning, a pain of longing, but it eases into an easy feeling of surrender and cherishing.
I am extremely grateful for Anya’s life and the time we got to spend with her; the joys and blessings she brought us in life and even in her death. Anya’s memories have no dull moment except for when she died and the terrible, regrettable moments that led to it.
The Lord seemed to have smiled on us from the time she was conceived to her birth and her growing up into a young girl of four. We received so many favors. Even when she died, her death drew attention and favors that I felt it wasn’t fair to be so blessed from it.
Her clothes and toys have blessed many children, whose parents struggled with the same feeling of guilt that their children should so benefit from her death. But we all were receiving the beauty that came from ashes. Rejecting the beauty won’t make the ashes any less despicable.
She is gone, never to return. I shan’t see or hold or mother her again this side of heaven. But I get to join her someday. I can’t say how soon or later that would be. Some days I am calmed down by the fact, other days I am desperate, yearning for a part of me that no longer exists. It is like an amputation in the soul.
I have learned a thing or two about loss. The first is, it is as it is called: LOSS. Some have told me in an attempt to comfort me that the Lord will give me another child. But my torment is centered not on childlessness but on the loss of a specific child, an individual daughter: Anya. Were I to have another baby again, she will not be Anya. Anya is irreplaceable.
But toward God I cannot be bitter. He owes me nothing. He gave me a gift—actually he lent me Anya; she was his all along. I was only a devoted custodian who got too attached to her charge. Now that the owner has claimed what has always been his, I feel unfairly resentful.
It is like a surrogate mother who is reluctant to give back the child she was hired to deliver; or a foster parent who cannot stand the fact that the real parent has straightened up and wants their child back. You are somewhat happy (if not fearful) for the child that their parent is back, but sorry for yourself. I feel sorry for myself.
That is another thing I have learned about loss. Loss comes with self-pity and embarrassment. Every time I see parents with children around Anya’s age, I feel sorry for myself that it was my child who had to die. When I see little girls in Sunday school, adorned in their Sunday outfit, or see a cute dress or shoes that would have looked heavenly on her, I am gripped by self-pity.
Perhaps this explains that my anguish is purely selfish. It is centered on my own wishes and feelings, not on what Anya may feel right now. It has nothing to do with Anya, who, I suspect, would not want to return to mortality, were she to be giving the opportunity.
I still haven’t figured why I am sometimes so embarrassed, what is my justification? I am embarrassed that I couldn’t stop her from dying. I’m embarrassed because it feels awkward to speak of her publicly when the world is ready to move on without her. Yet I can’t stop myself.
Mostly I am unable to keep my resolve to enjoy her memory alone. Like a sacred ritual of some sort, I know it gets spoiled or diluted by company, yet I find myself inviting company to cherish her with me. I am embarrassed even by sympathy.
Scriptures warn us time and again that everything in the world exists for God’s purpose. This is why any attachment formed with anything or anyone is potentially a recipe for great agony. Yet, to love is human. Writing an introduction to his stepfather, C. S. Lewis’s published journal, A Grief Observed, Douglas H. Gresham notes:
I had yet to learn that all human relationships end in pain-it is the price that our imperfection has allowed Satan to exact from us for the privilege of love.C.S. Lewis, 2004
Would the remedy then be never to love? And if we never love, can we say that we truly lived? Some people resolve to love only God and form deep attachment with him alone (Monks and Nuns for example), but can one truly love God much and not love humanity in return? …
I choose to love—for it is the essence of living—and to mourn the loss of an object of great love, for one does find in the end, through the act of remembering, that true love, once it has existed, is never really lost, not even in death.