“Sometimes it’s hard to grieve for those we’ve never loved because, for some strange reason, we feel that loving deeply is tantamount to permission to grieve deeply.” | Photo credit: Illustration by Priya Sebastian
Aunt Nusrat was not someone I spent much time with. I met her, or bumped into her, at family gatherings which she always attended punctually. She would warmly welcome me with a hug on my forehead and a sloppy kiss. She would ask about my family (although she saw them standing next to me) and my studies, and showered me with favors, including becoming a great doctor and being a mother to boys. She was kind and gentle with everyone, and she was someone people generally had nice things to say about.
Over the years, this repeated exposure to Aunt Nusrat turned itself into habit and then hope. As I reached my early 20s, this anticipation would announce itself at family gatherings as a slight tug at the heart, which would melt into a sense of relief at the sight of it. It was like I had a checklist in my head for the family gatherings that Aunt Nusrat included that I needed. The funny thing about these episodes was that they only lasted a few seconds. They never crossed my mind before or after the events. They only existed as long as they occurred.
One July afternoon, at a distant cousin’s engagement party, I felt a familiar tug at my heart. I looked for Nusrat Aunty but she was nowhere to be seen. I asked a few people, but no one saw it. Later, when the party was about to end, we learned that she had passed away. She was getting ready to leave for the party when she suddenly collapsed. He was taken to a hospital where he was declared brought dead. When we heard the news of her death, she was already buried.
Hearing all this, Phaphi said that she is going to pray for Nusrat. Yes. Did I want to come?
We went upstairs and prayed together after performing ablution. Throughout the prayer, I felt unable to concentrate. I was definitely upset, but I couldn’t say that I was heartbroken or even more hurt. I couldn’t understand why I was getting restless. I thought about Aunt Nusrat, how she had been there for as long as I could remember. I wasn’t missing it, maybe just the idea of it. She was like a painting that had stood in your house for years and now suddenly disappeared, leaving only an impression on the wall, a painting that you passed by most days but sometimes you stopped yourself. Kar used to look at its contents. walk again.
It made me feel ashamed that I was equating this woman with something in a fantasy house. But what this painting represented to me was the permanence of things in my life and how everything I thought was no longer so. And while the loss of that painting didn’t destroy me, it made me question everything around me.
From his prayer mat, his head still in prostration, Phaphi asked why I was so quiet.
“Am I?” I answered. “Perhaps it is me. I just feel strange, separate. I feel as if I fell asleep in one room but when I woke up I was in another room. It is Aunt Nusrat’s death, perhaps. I am very Not worried, just nervous, but I wasn’t even close to him, so I don’t know why I feel that way.”
“Does it surprise you that you feel this way?” Phaphu asked.
“Yes it does. Why should I feel something with such gravity when I barely knew who he was? I feel like a fraud,” I said.
Phiphi got up, folded her prayer mat, and asked me to follow her into the kitchen. He made it Shanger Kahwe (a home concoction for the common cold) and gave me a steaming cup.
“I don’t have a cold,” I said, slightly confused.
“Yes, you do,” he said, “it’s different than what you’re used to.”
I drank it, while my mother sat smoking her two cigarettes and sipping it. Kahve.
“It shouldn’t surprise you that you feel this way. It’s normal. In fact, it’s just as it should be,” she said. “You’re not an island. You are part of a large and complex network. Imagine yourself as a tree in a forest. You all stand on your own but below, in the ground, you are connected to every tree in the forest. The roots become thinner and weaker the wider they travel, but the connection remains. If a tree falls near you, you feel its violence in your roots. When a tree that is far away from you falls, you may not feel it as strongly, but you feel a change, a slight touch on your roots as the tree momentarily moves around you. Takes hold of the roots of the living. Today that distant tree was Aunty Nusrat. Sometimes it’s hard to grieve for people we’ve never loved because for some strange reason we feel that loving deeply is the same as allowing ourselves to grieve deeply. But grieving doesn’t obey any laws of physics.
His words did not have an immediate effect. My anxiety didn’t go away, but his words kept coming back and repeating over and over in my mind. In a world beyond recognition, her words held me tight and allowed me to grieve as the trees fell near and far from me.
A Kashmiri based in England, the columnist spends what little free time she has to reflect on the vicissitudes of life.