On 11th September 2005, the telephone rang and the news came of my father’s death. He was 71. At that time, I and my wife were busy preparing to go to see him in Samtse hospital where he was being treated for jaundice. We had already bought bus tickets to go to Samtse, but when the devastating news came in, I lost my world. Everything went blank in my head and I broke down in tears even before hanging up the receiver. My wife and her brother consoled me saying it’s part of human existence but even the reminder of that universal truth did not do much to make me feel better. At the time, I was attending the National Graduate Orientation Program (NGOP) in Thimphu and I was waiting for the program to end but just then, the tragedy befell me. As soon as the program ended, I and my wife rushed to Samtse to attend my late father’s funeral. My paternal uncle who oversaw the cremation had waited for my arrival to bury my father’s body.
What I realized while staying in Samtse attending my father’s funeral service was that people hesitated to talk to me about the tragedy and most of the time, they left me alone. Even those who were close by talked to me about other things but did not seem to feel comfortable talking about my father and his sad passing. “At least he could see you graduate and get married!” some elder people told me trying to comfort me, while others said “At least he didn’t have to stay in a vegetative state for long”. I know he was in coma for a couple of days but the fact that he didn’t have to struggle for days in that state did not make me feel better. I felt very lonely. “At least yours is over now, but I still have my parents alive and I am yet to go through this kind of experience”, my wife told me. Whatsoever, I learned that creating such an imaginary worse scenario does not make the current situation any better. I spent sleepless nights wondering if I could hear the spirit of my late father talking to me so that I could apologize to him for being late to come to see him alive. I was caught in between guilt and grief. I was guilty because I couldn’t see him that year because I had to go to Thimphu directly from Phuntsholing while returning from college in India as I had a heavy bulk of braille books with me. I had a taxi full of braille books and I had decided to drop them at my brother-in-law’s house in Thimphu and return to Pasakha where my father was living with my maternal uncle. But due to financial constraints and other unfavorable circumstances, I could not return to my father immediately as planned. Soon the National Graduate Orientation Program was round the corner and I decided to leave for Pasakha directly after attending the orientation program. I know my father had eagerly waited for me to come to see him although I had informed my uncle in Pasakha that I would be able to come only in September after attending NGOP but before that, he fell sick. So, I am still very guilty that I did not go to see him when he was alive and he had thought that I had forgotten him after getting married. So, it was a painful experience for me to really get out of that grieving process.
Although I am a counselor by profession, I still find it difficult to help people through a loss. I know grief is a journey nobody can ever be prepared for. It’s utterly lonely. Loss and grief are an integral part of our routine life but when it really comes to helping someone move through this lonely experience, it’s always a challenge. We don’t even know how to react or respond to the grieving person. During my counseling practice in Australia as a practicum student in 2013, I had a client who was struggling to cope with the sudden loss of her husband. Based on the theoretical knowledge I had learned in the classroom, I tried to help her move carefully through the grieving process. Rather than helping her forget the dead, I insisted on helping her how to best remember him. It’s true that whenever we find somebody grieving the loss of loved ones, we tend to minimize the grief by helping the victims forget the deceased. We generally tell them that time heals all wounds and that they should be alright in a couple of days. We always encourage them to forget the tragedy and demand that they should continue to move forward for the wellbeing of their children and other living members of the family. But I have realized that such things won’t help in the longrun. To cope best with the loss, one must be able to continue bonds with the dead in the form of writing letters, offering prayers and remembering them in the form of artistic representations. We must always talk about the dead person openly, how good was the person and so on. This would help the victims complete the unfinished business with the deceased and his or her presence can be felt in the family all the time. I tried this strategy with my client and after six sessions, she told me she was feeling better. I also learned that during such circumstances, it’s important to give the grieving person companionship rather than advising them to do something that might help them feel better. For instance, it would be good to say “Shall we go out for dinner?” instead of “You should go out for dinner!”
However, I feel sorry that I could not help my friend a couple of months ago when I heard that his newborn child died a few days after delivery. The child was a special gift from God for him after 11 years of marriage. It was really devastating for him and his wife. I was confused how to talk to him at that situation. I miserably failed as a friend because I could not call him thinking he might not be in a stable state to talk on the phone. When I called him some months later, he sounded normal but I couldn’t take him back to that tragedy for fear of reminding him of that painful experience. But I think he is fine now. Grief is really a complicated journey.