Reflections on the privilege of grieving
Like many of us, school was not a very good experience for me. It always surprises me that the space where we spend most of our lives across multiple development stages is fraught with such threat & anxiety. I would find myself daydreaming, distracted or imagining scenarios that would never exist, and at times I would find myself soaked into certain proses from my English & Hindi textbooks. It’s surprising to many that I enjoyed the stories CBSE decided, and the context here is that I did not read a book until I was in 11th, so the only access to literature I had were my textbooks.
Adolescent Manish came across this Hindi prose called “Dukh ka adhikar”, and I distinctly remember crying as I finished the 4-page story. Something about the story stood out to me, and I guess presently as a therapist I can reflect upon & understand what about it was so powerful, and timeless.
The author (Yashpal) talks about an old woman in white saree, sitting on the footpath trying to sell muskmelons. She has her head down on her knees and is sobbing, she lost her son yesterday. In the prose, you will find different characters commenting on the woman’s lack of dignity & integrity, how she started business so soon after her son died; all of them unaware of her predicament. The old woman has two grandchildren to feed and a widowed daughter-in law, but no money to buy food. Any little money that they had was used for her son’s last rites. An old grieving mother with no money, and voyeuristic people shaming her.
The author contrasts this with his neighbour who also lost her son last year; this lady was bed-ridden for months to grieve, she had access to doctors and caretakers round the clock. The author paints the picture of how she was allowed to grieve.
Adhikar translates to right, and hence one can interpret the title as the ‘Right to Grieve’. I would like to interpret it slightly different, and use the word ‘privilege’, i.e., the privilege to grieve, to feel.
The prose very directly talks about class differences and how people belonging to certain class have the right or the privilege to grieve, whereas others have to ensure mouths are fed while being privy to society’s voyeurism.
As a therapist I actively encourage my clients to reflect, to feel their emotions as it is an important aspect in the process of healing. A few months ago, I started to realize that to feel, process and grieve is a privilege, a luxury if I may add. Majority of us do not have the space to feel our emotions; we are constantly demanded by external factors to perform, to be perfect, productive members of this voyeuristic society, that there is rarely any space to be human, to be devastated, imperfect and a mess. Just like the old woman in the story selling muskmelons to feed her family, many of us have roles & responsibilities that pressurize us to move on or supress our feelings: systems such as family, educational institutes, work etc. all contribute to this culture. It is a systemic flaw where we are expected to keep moving, hustling where stillness, to pause is seen as unproductive.
I use the term ‘voyeuristic society’ because all of us are so intrigued by others’ lives that we forget about our own self. Everyone feels too seen, alongside a weak sense of privacy and virtually no anonymity or personal space; we all see others and feel too seen ourselves that it creates a cycle of voyeurism that is often accompanied by judgement and shaming. We judge and shame others because we feel judged and shamed ourselves. It is a positive feedback loop that leaves no room for processing, feeling and just being.
I find myself telling clients I work with to pause, and I remind them that the second wave of covid-19 in the country was happening roughly 2 months ago, that is just 60 days or so. It is important for us to remind ourselves of streets in cities that became open crematoriums, we cannot forget that we were collectively mourning, in utter shock and perhaps despair. We cannot just move on.
The privilege to grieve is just as real and like any other form of privileges, it varies amongst us all. I think that many of us are so afraid of the collective shame, the voices of systems judging us that suppression seems to be the only way out. As a therapist, I am afraid too. What do we do when so many forces work together to ensure we don’t feel? More so, what can we even do when we ourselves are part of these forces. Who do we blame? Who do we hold responsible? It is complex of a process for any linear progress to happen.
My intentionality has been to recognize the privilege of feeling, to further the idea the author posits: we should all have the right to grieve.
I leave you with a line that stood out to me from the prose (forgive my poor translation): “A living man can bear to live naked, but how do you cremate someone who is dead, naked?” Loss & grief is complicated, and requires more from us than we can ever be prepared to imagine.
Lastly, with utmost vulnerability I must add: this was my attempt at processing pain.