Grief and Goodness
Once, in a course facilitated by Tong Yee (The Thought Collective), we were posed a question on what types of emotions we experienced on a constant basis. While emotions were good, he explained, being stuck in certain emotions over time weren’t helpful, and they could become “moods” of resignation, anxiety, anger (or others) that hinder us from experiencing the fullness of life.
I was surprised to find that my internal response to that was sadness. While there were definitely episodes of sadness before, I never noticed it still lurking around like a shadow, especially now things were alright, well, at least on surface. On the bus home, I prayed for release - and then a deep, strong wave of grief surged up, and tears fell uncontrollably. I hurriedly hid my face, trying awkwardly to wipe the tears away. It was on public transport after all; crying like this in the open almost felt taboo.
I did have a sense of sadness growing up, but it wasn’t huge. Going through a number of operations did leave me questioning why life was such. And while family has always been unquestionably supportive, they too were each reeling from the effect from breaking apart. But all this, together with experiencing long-term, seemingly incurable illness in your twenties, and the departure of someone who was supposed to love you, probably did it for me. Unlike the surgeries, this had no end in sight. It was to go on for years of being cut off from normal functioning, isolation from society, work and friends, and repeated rounds of hospitalisation, eating, puking, and looking at the toilet bowl every time I peed, fearing the recurrence or worsening of a protein leakage. Multiple rounds of meds-relapse-meds-relapse-meds-relapse over the years brought about despair: I felt incredibly helpless that this could go on forever, and I had absolutely no control over it. It wasn’t even the prospect of kidney failure in a decade or so that daunted me; it was getting past the dreadful everyday.
What resulted was an interminable, prolonged period of sadness. The world grew a shade of darkness I never knew. There was no motivation for anything, life was colourless, and I was constantly in tears. There were occasional encouragements from friends, and huge support from family. But these felt like a drip of hope amidst the dark, foreboding ocean of grief. After a while, you learn different ways to cope - pretending to be normal, resisting the dark and pressing on for the light, or accepting the dark and giving up on the light, or existing somewhere in between. The gap between reality and hope is a muddy field, and I am still finding my way through it.
It’s funny when they say I am resilient, when I know myself as utterly weak. I guess it’s because events like these show your failings up in their worst, and they do leave a mark that only you know. But at the same time, I have a deep sense of gratefulness for the range of experiences I’ve been through, and the opportunities I’ve been given. Being in London now and travelling have been incredibly healing. It reminds me everyday that life is and can be good. Being able to eat and cook whatever I want is a tremendous blessing after being on an enforced and restricted diet for years. And sharing these experiences with a husband who shows ultimate compassion, kindness, forbearance, and acceptance has been a deep well of comfort and release.
I still have some way to go - I have learnt that neurological patterns take time to reset - but I write this today with tears of gratefulness, not sadness. I’m thankful that there can be rejoicing after mourning, and there can be healing for every pain. And even though it will always be a journey this side of heaven, goodness and restoration are possible.
Many of you are also going through some grief of your own. Know that you are never alone. Someday, perhaps, you’ll find the reason for which pain came in this way for you; but if you don’t, it’s really ok. We live and breathe through the pain, and know that goodness runs after us. While you may be grasping at straws to catch a glimpse of it, and it often doesn’t come in the way you’d most expect - it will come, and strangely enough, more so when you believe in it.
Finally, always, always seek out community. I made the mistake of isolating myself because I never thought anyone could understand, and I was also under the advice of someone who disliked being in community that one should only turn to oneself to find internal strength, and doing otherwise is a sign of weakness. I’ve realised since that it’s not entirely true. You may have had a bad experience with people and community, but prolonged isolation is always a bad idea, and will drive you into greater despair - this is while acknowledging that sometimes you do need to be alone to process internal matters as well. Healing often comes through community, and positive relationships, even if you’re an introvert (see study here). It requires a great deal of vulnerability and courage, and lots of awkwardness and discomfort at first, but you may find the healing you desperately need with the right people. I pray you’ll find them eventually, and if not, that they’ll find you.