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The past two years of living with gut-wrenching grief have been extremely enlightening.
Despite what you think will happen, when you’re faced with a loss of immense magnitude there are two options in front of you: you fight your way out of it or life will ensure that you fight your way out of it. Because for most of us, there really is no way out except to pick up the pieces of your life and move on.
I also found another incredibly illuminating truth about life, people, and relationships.
During the days and weeks and months after the big tragedy of December 2020, it seemed like people went out of their way to prove how much they really didn’t care about me and what I’d been through. Two years later, I have a bit of a different take.
What I’ve realized is that those close to us do love us. They care about us. And they may even like us. But I did not believe this during the initial months. I looked at their apathetic behavior as them not loving or caring about or liking me.
When those close to me rolled their eyes every time I mentioned those who had passed away (It’s been two years, Roopa…you need to move on.) or tried to hide their disdain for what they thought was my innate weakness or my determination to not move past my grief (You need to stop thinking about them so much, Roopa, otherwise how will you move on? Or Time can be a big healer, Roopa, if you allow it to be.), it seemed like people went out of their way to refuse to rise to the occasion.
I even wrote about those palpable and heartfelt times in my articles here on Elephant.
But I’ve now come to realize that those who said those hurtful things to me did and do actually love and like me. But they were and are also somewhat apathetic and indifferent to what I’ve been going through.
I’ve tried my best to reconcile these two truths. For a while, I could not figure out how those close to you can love and like you but still not “get” your grief and even behave callously toward you. How can that be?
And that’s when something simple yet profound struck me.
I realized that among close family and friends, many do love you genuinely but there are others who love you almost as a knee-jerk reaction. They love you because the relationship between you mandates that they love you. A few of those close to me have understood my anger toward them and have countered me with, “How can you think I don’t care? I love you so much?” And they are speaking the truth—their truth.
And I believe them. I genuinely believe that they do love me.
But that still doesn’t take away the fact that there is a deep-pitted ache in my heart when it comes to these people. Why does that happen?
It took me a long time—well, two years—to understand the difference. There is probably a psychological term for this and if I’d done any research, I could’ve probably shrinked the heck out of this. But simply analyzing the sense of unease that I have lived with over the past two years when I knew that “something is wrong but I don’t know what” inside of me, it finally came to me.
And it’s so simple that I’m stunned it took me so long to figure it out:
You see, people can love and like you. But unless you matter to them, it’s all for nothing.
We all love people we’ve never met, artists whose art we love and therefore transfer that love of their art to the artist themselves. We love many who are close to us because they’re our brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles. We all can and do love many people in this world.
But none of that matters unless we matter to the other person.
When someone close to you dies, especially if that someone had loved you unconditionally, it leaves behind a gaping hole in your heart. This especially happens if you lose a parent or a parental figure. The gaping hole left behind has less to do with how much they loved you—with time, you recognize that you miss how much you mattered to them.
So you do the next best thing that you can: you try to find others who can take that place. Friends, brothers, sisters, cousins, husbands, wives, children, partners, lovers, friends—you go searching to soothe your aching heart. You search for someone you will matter to as much as you did to those who have died.
And that’s when you realize that while there are many who love and care about you, you’re simply not their first priority as you were to those you lost.
You matter—just not enough.
This article isn’t a blame game on anyone. Everyone has a life to live, things to see, careers to nurture, kids to raise, and partners to satisfy. They don’t always have the mental or emotional bandwidth to add one more thing—you—to that list.
Unfortunately, as much as you may understand them and their situation, the hurt inside you won’t go away. Self-righteous thoughts like, “If the situation were reversed I would show them how much they mean to me” will plague you. I know it did to me.
But, eventually, I learned to live with it.
And I made a conscious effort to let go of those who did not want to be held. And then I clung to those who graciously and kindly opened their hearts to me.
Post loss, I realized that I needed to get past my hurt and find my people.
And when I allowed myself to receive, I got…well, not as much as I wanted and yearned for, but I got something. And that’s a start.
Your new support system may look nothing like what you thought it would before the death of a loved one, but that’s okay. Move on. Find those someones to whom you matter. Find those who matter to you.
When we’re in the aftermath of loss and grief and a need to find connections with other humans, the people around us will matter so much more to us than it seems we matter to them. And that’s okay. Don’t let the asynchronous nature of your relationship bother you. Have zero expectations (that’s key) and be open to accepting the support that is given. And give back what you can afford and have the bandwidth to give.
Then, continue living. It’s what I have done.
Grieving is a b*tch and can finish you, if you let it. Allowing myself to get past expectations that were never going to be fulfilled allowed me to let go of the bitterness, anger, and negativity, and allowed me to find those who could truly show up for me.
I hope the same for you.