"Pearly, come up and check what is wrong with your mother." Little did I know, that sentence would be the beginning of a very, very long nightmare. No matter how much I begged God, I never seem to be able to wake up from it.
Mums. The very person that we first bond with even before we could think or comprehend. Inherently loving and nurturing. Kind and compassionate. Sensitive to every micro movement or sound that you make. Yet fiercely protective if she senses any danger befalling on her family.
As a kid, I always thought that my parents would be there for me forever. Unfortunately, this was far from reality when I had to say goodbye to her when I was 17. It happened in one night. Too sudden for a teenager to make sense of what was happening. No one really talked me through it. My dad didn't know how to help my brother and I navigate through it either. For a long time, I would appear very "brave" or "Christian" about it. I would respond to well-meaning people. "Yes aunty, I am fine. Mum is in a better place. She does not need to suffer". "God is sovereign. He didn't choose to heal her because He has a better plan".
I was living in the first phase of grief. Denial.
I denied giving a voice to my heart. What's the point of talking about it when it won't change anything? I stuffed my feelings and channeled my time towards my studies instead. "Mum would be proud of me. That's what I need to do. She would want me to move on, be happy and successful".
Until one day, a kind aunty asked me how I was doing. I mumbled the same response that I usually give. She looked at me, with teary eyes and said, "Pearly, you do not have to be so "Christian" about being in pain". It was my first snort-y, ugly cry. For the first time, I felt like I was given permission to let down my defenses and be really honest with God about what I was feeling.
God, it's so *bleep* not fair. Why did you take her away?
I hate this so much. Will the pain ever go away?
I don't know what do do. What's the point of living?
That was the beginning of my healing journey.
If you have had to say "goodbye" to someone or something you have lost, whether it was through death, a divorce or an unreconcilable friendship, you may be going through the different stages of grief (The 5 stages of grief by psychiatrist, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross).
Phase One: Denial and Shock
A common defense mechanism to cope with the trauma. You may avoid talking about the person or what had happened. Or you may seek comfort with food, alcohol, or Netflix to numb the pain. Or if you are like me, I was eager too eager to move. Skip the process and became busy with school and life. While being in denial is part of grieving, it is possible to get stuck in this phase. In order to start your healing process, I would encourage you to start acknowledging the loss and verbalizing how you really feel. No fluff, no sugar coating. Raw and honest as you let people in your journey. If you are still not comfortable speaking about it, I find that journaling helps you untangle the million thoughts and feelings that you are experiencing into sentences.
Phase Two: Anger
This is another part of grief where you may redirect anger to yourself, others, doctors or even to God. Some of my clients would have some resentment towards the direct or indirect parties involved. Like the doctors who did not do their job well, the passerby who could have helped but didn’t or God, “Where were you when my brother died?”, "Why me? What did I do to deserve this?!"
Researchers agree that anger helps with the healing process. The more you truly feel the anger, the more quickly it will subside, and the more quickly you will heal. Give grace to yourself to fully feel your anger without feeling a sense of guilt. Of course, it is not a license for you to hurt people. Anger can be expressed healthily as well.
Phase Three: Bargaining or Guilt
This is the phase that I spent most of my time in. Feeling guilty that we didn't seek medical attention sooner or being aware of symptoms that my mum might be experiencing prior to her brain aneurysm. You may be bombarded with "what ifs", "I should haves". And you might want to bargain with God to regain control of the helpless situation that you are in. Common things you might be thinking, "God, I will give up anything, just to see him one more time"
Phase Four: Depression
This phase may look a lil messy and different for everyone. You may choose to isolate, feeling intense sadness, not being to enjoy life (or maybe even feeling guilty for feeling moments of happiness) and have suicidal thoughts. It can all seem overwhelming but you are NOT ALONE. And you don't have to be. Reach out to a friend, a therapist. Not to be "fixed" because you are not broken in the first place. What you are feeling is valid and is not a sign of weakness.
Phase Five: Acceptance and Hope
Being in this stage doesn't necessarily means you are well and jolly. There are good days, there are bad days. For a couple of years I would feel tender during birthdays and anniversaries. Finding acceptance does not mean, "It's ok that my mum passed away" but more "My mum passed away, but I am going to be ok". It's about finding new meaning and purpose to life. Finding a new normal, what works and what does not work with not having this person around. It is about entering a new reality with hope and regaining the ability to feel joy again.
Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes to grief. No fixed formulas because everyone is uniquely different. You are unique, the relationship that you had with the person is unique. You feel pain because there is love involved. We may be tempted to suppress grief, thinking that "time will heal". However, unresolved grief can be detrimental in so many years. It can adversely affect how you do life, maybe triggering unexplainable fear due to the trauma. One of my clients would experience intense anxiety whenever she goes near to a swimming pool because she she had lost her brother in a drowning accident. There is absolutely no shame to reach out to someone if you need help. In fact, we want to celebrate you for being courageous in taking the first step in your healing journey.
Pearly Ng, a trained life coach has tremendous experience in helping people through their journey of grief. She has led support groups under the organisation, Grace to Grieving Persons ("GGP" Outreach") which has been featured in The Star Newspaper. She was also part of the team who held workshops for families who have lost their loved ones to the Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, Philippines. She is currently offering coaching sessions in this area. Check out her website: https://www.pearlyng.com/coaching