Thursday, June 20, 2013

Statute of Limitations

I watched the Reluctant Fundamentalist recently and encountered the term ‘Iddat’ for the first time. In Islam, the Hadith states that a woman should observe the mourning rituals for a period of four months and ten days after divorce from or death of a spouse, no longer. There are very specific rules to follow during this period but after that grieving ends.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), released in May this year, has included bereavement in the diagnostic criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), in which five out of nine symptoms should be exhibited and if demonstrated for two weeks or longer would need medication and treatment. It implies that grief should ideally end in two months and if not, is pathological.
I stand at 62 months today, way past the statute of limitations society, religion and science puts on grief. I will admit the nature has changed but it does not diminish the pain of separation from my loved one, the loss of someone I loved more than life itself.
I remember immediately after, the GP put me on some very strong anti-depressants. I found myself vibrating at an unearthly frequency, rocking my body unconsciously and trying to get a full breath. I went back to him and said I could not take his recommended medication. He gave me Ignatia instead, which I checked on the net was homeopathic medication for women hysterical with grief. Hysterical? Me? I hadn’t shed a tear in the first 24 hours.
The nights were the hardest to get through. I craved sleep to shut down my mind but medication was hard to come by. A friend gave me some for the first few nights. I took one at bedtime each night and let sleep blanket me in the security of its darkness. My mother arranged for more but it was conditional and rationed on good behaviour. After the first two weeks when people left, I was alone at night with the medication and alcohol.  The fear was I would choose an easy way out to end it all. I will not deny that the thought did cross my mind but the anxious and troubled faces of my children kept me on the straight and narrow.
I revisited the darkness of those first months and then the passing years while reading Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala a few days ago. Her memoir of surviving the 2004 Tsunami that took away her husband, two boys and parents in one fell swoop has messed me up. I find it hard to breathe in the realization that it was my birthday. We were on the sea with friends in a Junk, celebrating while disaster had wiped out a huge chunk of humanity and for this one surviving individual…
I have now realized that there can be no statute of limitations on grief…it remains embedded in the foundation of surviving life, it lives and breathes in memories, photographs, songs, snatches of writing, smells, gestures, in every sense…just when you think you have travelled far into your journey of recovery, a brief glimpse of life as it was can bring you to the extreme rawness of your separation from it.
As years layer on themselves, it is hard not to think of how it could or would have been if…but as I fall off the wagon, I pick myself up yet again. Life does that to you, it makes you hunger for a better tomorrow, a painless rising from sleep and a yearning for a semblance of wholeness. I have found some of it by not seeing Shekhar as separate, gone, lost…he is here, integrated in me and in grieving for him, I grieve for me. That’s the paradox…I am not dead yet.


I have gone ahead despite the pounding in the heart that says: Turn Back.

Erica Jong


The nights are so unkind
Bring back those nights when I held you beside me

Un-cry these tears
I cried so many nights
Un-break my heart

“Un-break my heart” by Toni Braxton