My Decision to Wear Black for a Year, and Other Grieving Matters
Grief is Definitely Not a 5 Stage Programme
Writing has become a form of comfort since mum has passed away. It offers me a release from over-thinking. I often sit and repeat all of the negative things that have happened in the past year. I find it really hard to consider the positives because it is just too painful to connect the good with any emotions I am feeling right now. I think about any times I argued with mum, or said anything inappropriate or wasn't around as much as I felt I could have been. I am fully aware that mum was proud of me and that she was actually happy with us. All families argue, we didn't have a bad relationship, quite the opposite, in the last few years mum was turning into one of my closest friends, and this is what makes it more painful.
I have moved on to anger as a stage in the Kubler-Ross 5 stage programme (1969) (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) however I think that I will always be angry in some form over what has happened here. A quiet, positive woman was hit with an awful type of aggressive cancer and lost her life within a year, lost her children, husband and home. Why? What will ever make me accept that this was a 'just' death and something that we should all accept and move on from? I know that I will eventually be able to accept it and have started to dip in and out of all of the stages, but I believe that grief is much more than just a 5 stage programme when it comes to emotions, culture and other such matters.
Mama was a Shia Muslim, she believed in many things that I didn't always see eye-to-eye with her on. I remember going through a period of my life when I would tell her that Islam was a religion that I hated beyond any explainable words. I was ignorant and did not really know enough about it to criticise it or to belittle other people's belief systems. She would get upset and I would get angry. We would never see eye-to-eye on this topic. More recently when she did approach death, I started to read Quran passages for her, they helped her to feel at ease and that was more important to me than my own beliefs or anger. I found that in fact they also helped me to feel calm. I did not always understand what was being said, but the thought of having some sort of faith was important at a time of difficulty.
When she passed away, I decided to read the Quran properly and found it to surprise me both positively and negatively. I do not know what I believe and I prefer never to fully divulge it to others. I think religion is a personal private matter and faith is not quantifiable or something you can explain or see, not everyone will agree with this. When asked earlier this week, "Are you Muslim?" I nervously replied "I think so, I'm not sure, maybe a Muslim 2.0 version." The reason being that I was adhering to mum's religious rituals as a mark of respect for what I believe she would have wanted, not totally sure of what I want.
Why I'll Be Wearing Black for a Year
Whenever anyone passed away in mum's family or dad's extended family, mum wore black for a year. It is more a cultural rather than religious practice and is used as a mark of respect for those who have passed. Mum always adhered to it because she grieved for everyone in the same way, it only felt fitting to do the same for her.
In Victorian England a similar practice was adhered to by women including Queen Victoria who wore black for 40 years after her husband passed away (Encyclopedia of Death and Dying, 191:2003) Black as a colour (yes I believe it is a colour) has many connotations positive (sophistication, luxury, high fashion, respect) and negative (death, depression, bad luck) (Feisner, 120:2006) and many people seem to associate it with the latter.
Whenever I try to explain that I have made this choice to wear black for a year, I am often reminded by others, that things don't really work that way for everyone. Some people may find themselves getting depressed or annoyed or feel they need a change. In all honesty, I love wearing black. It is my signature colour and I have grown to love it. My wardrobe is filled with black clothes as it is. I hate crazy prints, vibrant colours or anything too flashy.
There was a time when my uncle passed away 4 years ago and I was quite childish and kept complaining about how annoying it was to wear black and how depressing it was. The worry is that the same feeling will come back. However I feel that I am a changed person. I do not recognise myself from a year ago, let alone 4 years. During periods of great difficulty, we often encounter depths of maturity in our soul that we never knew we had. I truly believe I have mentally aged 10 years in a short space of time. Whether I wear black or not won't add or take away from how I feel in my opinion, but I think mum would have been touched by the sentiment.
'You Must Be Crazy If You're Going to Therapy'
Whenever we lose someone special to us, we try to go back in time and figure out what happened. In Kinchin's book "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: The Invisible Injury" (revised 2005) he uses the Oxford English Dictionary definition of trauma: 'a powerful shock that may have long lasting consequences' and further suggests that the event only has to be 'perceived traumatic by the victim' (Kinchin, 2:2005) I truly believe that losing a loved one can cause traumatic stress if it is sudden, unexpected or when you cannot find a place in reality to explain why it happened. I still don't understand why it had to be mum that is gone. It may sound awful, but I often question why other people are still here and she is gone. Dictators, rapists, extended family members...the list goes on.
It hurts to look back at the wonderful memories with mum. I try to look at her pictures and watch family videos everyday, but not everyone can do that as it may become painful. I visit her at the cemetery and find it odd that I can speak to an empty open space and have no one reply back. Sometimes I feel like an idiot, but mainly I feel comfortable, as though I know she is listening. What makes it more painful is the idea that her physical body is only a few feet away in the ground and it feels nauseating, odd and surreal. Did this actually happen? I have often thought about digging up the ground with my bare hands and seeing her, I know that this is crazy but I miss her beyond normal reasoning.
Many people have suggested going to see a therapist to discuss my 'feelings'. I disapprove of this for several reasons. I do not think that hashing out everything at the moment will do anything but torture me. I have been to therapy before when I battled with depression 4 years ago, I am not ashamed of admitting that. I am aware of all of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy suggestions that will be given to me and I have been trying to use them. Writing helped back then, and it is doing the same now. Eventually if I want to speak to someone, I know the option is available. I am just not sure I want to do it.
Hockley and Fadina (109:2015) suggest that there is still a social stigma attached to therapy, the idea that there is an 'inane belief that you must be crazy if you're in therapy' and it is difficult to remove this negative stigma in society. This is especially so in my Iraqi culture. I remember after my mum passed away that my aunty decided to remember how many difficult negative things she thought mum went through in her life, a trait I think I have learnt from her. She suggested that my mother used to cry heavily when she dropped me off at 'that place' (my aunt would refuse to use the word therapy) and therefore placed a negative stigma around it, making me attach a negative memory to the idea of going to speak to someone, putting me off completely. Our culture like many others, is clearly still very uninformed about mental health.
Communication is Key
I'm not sure for how long I will turn to writing. At present it is helping and is the only thing I don't feel guilty about doing. I am aware that divulging too much information can either worry people, make people think negative things about you or could just be seen as attention seeking. For the majority of my life, I really couldn't care less what people thought about these things. If you have a love for something, do it, milk it, do it until the cows come home. People will always be people: negative regardless.
Communicating my feelings has never felt so easy. People listen and try to understand where you are coming from. Speaking to people who have already lost a parent is sadly one of the most comforting things. They just get it. They get it all. They understand the pain in ways that we don't need to express physically. There is a sort of karma, an energy, an aura if you like, which brings us mentally together without having to speak a word. I truly believe in the power of karma, of positive and negative energy in and around you. When we were growing up we were always warned by people of our culture to be careful of the 'evil eye', of people negatively trying to influence our lives. In some way, I truly do believe that the jealousy of others, is what took mum away.
So as a mark of respect to her, Black will remain my staple wardrobe choice for a while. For how long exactly will not be easy to decide or determine but I will try my best. Humans are fickle, we change and are influenced by many things. But respect, is something you cannot buy in a shop or trade for the world and mama deserves the highest mark of respect, regardless of whether it be in clothes, our behaviour or in honouring her memory, anything we can do, we will try our hardest. We lost a Queen who really did have heaven under her feet and still deserves the very best in life and the hereafter.