The unbearable lightness of being

I’ve recently had to contend with grief in my life on a number of occasions. In March, my wonderful mother-in-law passed away tragically. Big shock to the system, the worst of all has been coming to terms with the fact that she isn’t around for the mundane things. I’ve lost track of the amount of times my husband and I simply forget and are about to pick up the phone to share some news with her or invite her to join us for lunch.

Facebook reminders brought home a very poignant moment for me two years ago, when I took a day trip to Sicily to say farewell to a dear, dear friend, a pure soul (with a lot of fire!), someone whose simple existence, even though thousands of kilometres away (he lived in Turin), made life sweeter, happier, more peaceful. Mental illness had unfortunately touched his life and drove him to suicide. His friends were left in a total state of shock, belly-achingly numb. In truth, I’m still processing. When I think of him, my eyes still well up and, as I had written then, I know I will miss him till the very last day I walk this earth. (Incidentally, figures for the UK show that suicide remains the single biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45. Source – The Guardian.)

But then there is a different type of grief, but one we must still contend with. Grief for the what ifs, the if onlys. Having gone through a challenging life-situation, I was left to ponder: what if I never had this condition to begin with? How different would my life have been? How many more things would I have accomplished? How many more memories would I have forged with my three-year-old? This grief is of a different sort, and more insidious in a way, because it leaves me feeling guilty. I’m the sort to accept life as it is, pull my socks up, buck up and get on with it anyway. But at times I need to remind myself that it is OK to allow myself to feel weak, to feel numb, to feel exposed, sad, humbled. These are all valid human emotions after all. We don’t have to buy into the happy-ever-after message. Even if we do have it easier than the majority of the world’s people – we are still entitled to feeling down.

And some hurts will never subside, never go away. And we must simply learn to live with them. Yet even then, when you think you have absorbed them, they can still surprise you. Such as the grief over lost (never to be recovered again) friendships which are so hard to deal with when they happen, take a long, long time to process, and which hopefully, one day, lead to a state of acceptance. But then something happens – like a major operation – and you realise that no matter how much you have accepted the past turn of events, you wished that this person/s presence was still around and somehow, their very absence once again opens up the wounds somewhat and makes you reflect all over again.

Are we foolish to expect more than what a person is clearly able to give? Perhaps. But then again, perhaps that is the exquisite and painful beauty of the human condition. To quote Kundera, the unbearable lightness of being.

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