What To Do When Your Life Becomes a Flattened Film of Grief

Esther Omoye

After Chikodili Emelumadu

Please note:  ‘Grief’ (also known as “mitakuye oyasin” in the Native American culture) is used to say, “We are all related,” but in this context Ibinuje, the Yoruba word comes closest. Ibinuje cannot be used in a way that refers to a self-evident inner reality. One translation into Yoruba of the English phrase “She was in grief” might be “O wa ninu ibinujẹ” (“she grief of inside being there”), but that is not a complete sentence. A complete sentence might be “o ibinujẹ lati rì” (She grief to sinking.) An infinitive like “to sink” is needed because in Yoruba Ibinuje cannot be a complete state on its own. 


When dealing with grief, it is essential to remember that everyone’s experience is unique. However, here are some strategies that may help guide you through the process: For other cognitive and emotional processes underlying complications in grieving, particularly leaning into it please see our companion volume also, ‘Grief & Integration: the gradual corrosion and dissolution of the surface material, then the surface pitting. Then the overall degradation, until nothing remains but the general outlines.’

Thank you for reading this paper.
This paper is not meant to advocate any position but merely to help guide you on whatever path you choose with regards to handling your grief.
This paper aims to guide readers through the process of handling grief, covering various cognitive and emotional aspects, including the gradual fading of grief over time which are not frequently combined in a review. In the first section, I will discuss and help you understand the experience and process of grieving. The next section will cover adaptation to grief in the body, chronicling ways you can handle it during bereavement, followed by acute and chronic changes seen in the biomarkers of tactics and strategy.


Edebiri A. ‘Integration & Grief’ 2011.


Before we proceed, we must, first of all, define and understand the operational term ‘grief’, meaning ‘burden, sorrow, agony.’ So what is grief?

The Etymology of Grief
January 25, 2015.
My mother is asleep and not dead. Maybe not just yet.
Three months have passed, and with each month, her condition has mutated and transformed, most of the particulars forgotten, the sequence of events, the date of the month, the day of the week, the time, the etcetera, and the so on, until only the most absurd details remain.
So, when she begins to talk about the time that I promised to run away from home because she was routinely forgetting to return home from the hospital, it had become unbearable and undefendable for me to keep playing the role of an unaware daughter. She does not talk about the monster who is the condition she will forever refuse to acknowledge, she does not talk about the violence, she does not even talk about the actual chain of events that led to my threat of running away. That is not the kind of story you will be getting out of my mother because my mother is a teacher, and a teacher knows that there is no reason to state the obvious. As a teacher, she also knows that to state the obvious is, in fact, a sure sign of having no direction.
When she tells the story of my escape, she talks of my feet. She does not stay on the subject of my feet for long because what more can she say about it, especially when she has a laundry list of actual health complaints? The story of the feet is a story that does not travel far. They are useful but limited metaphors. It is the other story, the story set at the other extremity of her body – of what happened to her hair and, more specifically, my mother’s rescue mission while she’s completely losing her body immunity – that gets more publicity. It is this story that she insinuates into every conversation, hoping that the stranger across from her will press her for more details. The potent combination of medical advice, cautionary tale, and lived experience is irresistible to her borderline imaginary friends, and she unfailingly plays her role with style. Over the years, she has emerged as some kind of faith-healer in her friends’ circle, largely because she has managed to preserve herself into a more or less pristine form. 


[Insert name of a chronic condition] is nothing – nothing that care and love cannot solve. The cure is not even in medicine. It is in the state of mind. You have to stop worrying. Every day after that is a day of progress. Worry just kills you from the inside. Any disease can take hold of you. I’ve seen that in my mother’s case. God, her eyes! I’m sitting by her side, and I can see them swarmed with indefatigable efforts, which are now being decimated slowly. But every problem, every condition can be fought, I whisper to God like some overenthusiastic child soldier in-out-and-in-and-out of war with building some settlement lego house.
And in the extremely unlikely event that this constant, direct reference has not sparked sufficient interest in God for him to divulge my ‘indulgence’, I moved on briskly and disapprovingly to talk about other things. In most cases, however, my token always seemed to have a healthy curiosity, and I’m sure this pleased him enormously.

The Process of Handling Grief
Grief, grief is an undoing word. An onion peeler. There’s always something deeper you’re hiding from feeling. Some sedimented truth requiring confrontation and displaying. And it’s the things we don’t want to be defined as being that are actually most freeing.
Growing up, I lived with my maternal grandparents while my mother pursued her education, personal life, and career in her late twenties. Afternoons were easily the most excitable time in my life as a child. They made for a perfect film set. And in some ways, that is how I think of it: it is easier to imagine this life in which I’m trapped as a film; it is easier when I imagine myself as a character. It makes everything around me appear less frightening, my experiences a removable item. Less painful, less permanent.
But the calls, the calls from my mother, were what made each afternoon different every time. They felt like a nurture – and each time, when she was in a more relaxed mood and feeling flush with tenderness, she’d hope I had been busy. That I had been lost in restlessness, lost in time that I cannot will away, that I cannot spend as a child.
Even if I knew that she was an inch closer to death, to dying, to being killed, to the fear that I will end up in a fight whose result I cannot reverse. I know that she knows this too. The use of these calls always seemed to signal the impending threat of a greater force. The fear she seeks to cease in me is never the actual act itself but the fear of where the act can lead to. What I made to not see is what I made to foresee.
January 28, 2015.
Afternoons are beginning to carry in their silence and their stillness. The minutes swell into formless monsters.
On a dull afternoon, I can catalogue the moments of silence that have gathered around the house now. This domesticity binds us together. In grief’s handbook, this is the mandatory calm that has to be orchestrated after an impending storm. In the more rustic world of my ancestors, this is the ceremonial bathing and garlanding of grief after the loss of a mother, a token display of affection before every step of the way.
I try to compartmentalise my emotions, categorise them alphabetically, in the hallowed tradition of a telephone directory. The loss of telephonic communication doesn’t wound me too much. But what I find impossible to fathom is how I now find myself in the position of having her absence curtailed in a way I have never had to before. I never thought that it would be so important to me until it was.
I’m in this abyss – glinting, slippery, and deathly. I feel nauseous. I feel robbed of my identity. I’m no longer myself, so if another person can so easily claim to be me, pretend to be me, and assume my life while we live under the same roof, I’d accept the offer. There are only hot glass tears and the enduring fear of how often I will feel this way. The reconstruction of the events does not help. 

My mother is not pretending to sleep.
January 29, 2015.
There are two main ways to process grief:
Cognitive Aspects
grief is a certain breed of brain death.
January 31, 2015.
I find nothing easier. I try to burrow my anger in silence. As I sit and look up to God, tears running down my face, I realise he is watching me intently. There is something about my act of  pain that disturbs him deeply. He spies the irregularities, the ceases, the jagged screams that could only belong to me. The fractured-ness crushes him. He comes close to me, and pleads: ‘No. Don’t do this. Don’t do this – for the sake of us, for the sake of our future. We can move away from our differences. If you put this within you, it will stay there, imprisoned forever. It will be a poison that will never let us move further, it will never let us forgive, or forget.’
I cannot agree with what he has to say. To me, it sounds strange, alien almost, to imagine that my mother will be the source of future trouble, that her presence will prevent me from healing. This is the beginning of my healing, I tell him. It’s by this that I can get over it, while always remembering. 


Emotional Aspects
There is a linguistic theory that the structures of languages determine the mode of thought and behaviour of the cultures in which they are spoken. In an effort to understand my life at the moment, I have come up with its far-fetched inference, a distant ember of this theory: I think what you know in a language shows the depth of suffering you can survive in relation to that language. Not an instance of language shaping your worldview, but its obtuse inverse, where your suffering shapes what parts of the language you pick up. Not just: your language makes you, your language holds you prisoner to a particular way of looking at the world:
I. For a split second, you think of taking a matchstick and burning your own skin. Your aim is to make yourself suffer; you do not want to suffer two fold by inflicting ignorance on yourself. Another match stick is lit and left to burn out. And another and another. You’ve stopped counting. You are addicted. You are addicted. And in an act of mercy, you allow yourself three hours a week: rationed, it comes to a very brief half an hour a day.
II. A grief researcher, M. Katherine Shear, MD, about whom you have no reliable gossip except that they defined complicated grief as “a form of persistent, pervasive grief” that does not get better naturally. Their conjecture: some of the natural thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that occur during acute grief gain a foothold and interfere with the ability to accept the reality of the loss.
III. You read I Remain in Darkness by Annie Ernaux. There is a sentence that preys on your silence, a sentence that blands out your inner reality but sinks you in: J’ai cherché l’amour de ma mère dans tous les coins du monde. I have searched for my mother’s love in all the corners of the world. That line feels like a confession. It feels like what you imagine Sunday morning confession feels like to church-goers. It feels as if death was a religion, even if it swears that it is against religion.
IV. For five days you have been off every radar. No phone, no text, not even the curated happiness of a single post. A friend says they assumed you needed space. Another says they assumed no news was not bad news good enough to tell. They thought you would wriggle yourself out of the darkness when you want the sun to meet your face again.

V. You leave everything as untouched as possible for the sake of continuity. Some memories remind you of unfinished stories, her favourite dress soon to become an old frayed dress, her copy of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple sitting on the pile of this treason, with the inscription, ‘For Esther, you will be fine.’ The humour doesn’t go down well. You’re offended. You’re on the verge of tears; you’re hysterical, in tears. One day, you’re rooted together with someone until an axe cleaves you apart.
VI. Your body’s defence mechanism is broken. It is a free-for-allsituation. The first level is where stress operates.
VII. You’re vehemently against putting your pain in a place. Yes, you know this is not a material basis. Yes, you know this may not exist long after you moved past this stage of fighting. But you want this material to remain, to remind you of how cruel this all has been. 

But also: who you are determines what language you inhabit, the prison-house of your existence permits you only to access and wield some parts of a language. -Meena Kandasamy 

Adaptation To Grief In The Body.
Grief is a process that involves growing around the grief. Translation: in real life, even if feelings of grief remain in the foreground, or rise to the surface from time to time, people learn to incorporate the grief into their overall identity while finding happiness in other areas of life. 

Strategies To Use While Handling Grief
to suffer for your sins, there is so much more to be endured.
I. Ayò, abara tíńtíń. When joy comes, court it aggressively. Don’t ask why or for permission. Take it and savour the moment.
II. Trace the specific evolutionary origins of your everyday aggressions. Long before I read Motherless Daughters, before I knew that my grandfather would angrily order me to leave the hospital room my mother called home, I had a similar directive from my mother. Go away. Don’t come back. For many years, I couldn’t understand why she would say such a thing to her own daughter, but then one evening, while sitting in my grandparents’ living room, half watching the television and half rereading for the third time the chapter, The Seasons of Grieving: Mourning Takes Time, Hope Edelman provided the answer. Go away. Don’t come back. It was an act of love. And so I finally followed her injunction. I moved as far away as my pain could take from me.
III. Disembowel the hurrying-occupational- hazard of healing.
IV. Legitimise fear. For all the arbitrariness of your pursuit, and the lack of light, you will one day steer your restless heart towards a safe anchor. 

In Conclusion 

You ask for a return that has already been taken.

Esther Omoye is a final year student of English and Literature Education at the University of Benin. Her works have previously been published in Green Black Tales, My Woven Poetry and Vanguard


*Image by Lucio Patone on Unsplash

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