Content warning: Bereavement
Last weekend was one of my aunts’ second death anniversary. Mamoni, as I still like to call her, was my eldest aunt from my mother’s side. Losing a loved one to old age and losing them from far away is something I am familiar with since my early years—however, for none of the other deaths in my family, was I ever old enough to remember any details of either the person or their death. My aunt, on the other hand, was the one extended family member who was deeply involved in our lives, both in joy and in pain, and her death was unexpected and quite a blow to us.
In our family, we observe such anniversaries with solemnity and prayers for the departed soul, and excusing ourselves from loud celebrations. Needless to say, we observed hers in a similar manner. However, this was the first time my mother and I sat down and had a conversation where we finally opened up about her death and how it has affected us over the past two years. The conversation was heavy and emotional, but it made me realise quite a few things. Grief is such a deeply personal and individual experience because it is shaped by so much that is unique to each person, that there is no one way to grieve the loss of someone. My relationship with my aunt and my perception of her is quite different from my mother’s, and these things guided my experience and how I grieved her. I remember being at the funeral and not being able to shed a tear, while other family members could not stop. I remember feeling guilty about not being able to grieve in the same way everyone else outwardly could. I was only able to grieve after perhaps a month, and that always made me feel like a fraud of a niece in my aunt’s memory, until I learned to come to terms with it. It was also immensely helpful to learn from my mother about her experience, and I found it surprisingly comforting to know how she, too, felt she could not grieve the way she has always seen people grieve.
It took me two years to slowly come to understand my own way of grieving my aunt. Grief is a multifaceted reaction to loss and there is no set rulebook about what are the right things to do when you experience such a loss. Instead, I think it is so much more important to recognize and respect the individuality of grief experiences and hold the space for those who may not grieve in the exact cookie-cutter manner that is often expected. It is perfectly fine if your expression of grief does not match anyone else’s—it most probably could not, because grief is personal. In retrospect, I wish I understood this earlier—it would have certainly helped me in navigating how to move forward from such a loss.
If you want to read more about ways to support yourself in the event of such an experience and even to support a loved one, you could read more and learn further about grief here. Above all, always remember to give yourself the space you need during such moments.