Despite I being a psychologist and my job description entailing me speaking to people grieving the loss of their loved ones, I always feel anxious when I have to speak to anyone who is grieving. It is extremely tough to say the right things and do exactly what is necessary to ensure I make them feel I am there for them and not exhibit cliched sympathy. Death, in our society as we know is always spoken about in hushed tones. And most of us don’t really know what to say/do when we meet someone who is grieving. Many times we end up saying inappropriate things like “I am sure he/she is watching you from above and is proud of you” etc., when all what is expected of us is to just be a silent support system. No matter what, none of us is prepared to deal with the awkwardness that surrounds speaking to the grieving. However, in the recent past, I met three women who had lost their loved ones at different stages in their lives and who taught me life lessons of courage and love.
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Radhika Vemula as we all know, lost her son Rohit to suicide. A mother who dreamt of seeing her son earning a PhD and getting a job which would end all her miseries. A mother who invested her everything into making sure the marginalised community they belonged to, didn’t deter her sons studied well. A mother who is sometimes angry that he didn’t think of her even once before ending his life. A mother who continues to struggle to make ends meet by stitching clothes for women in her neighbourhood. A mother who is staging a dignified fight against the oppressors who killed her son. Beneath all the strength she has been exhibiting fighting for her son and all children/students of this country who seek her support, is an extremely warm and child-like soul with a will of steel who is ever ready to go any lengths to fight for justice and equality in this country. Not for a second did she exhibit any sense of self-pity or expressed any expectation that we “help” her in any personal way. All she wants anyone to do was to never stop fighting for what is right.
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Master Oogway says “There are no accidents” and I have grown to believe that it definitely is true and everything that happens in my life, every person I meet is an opportunity to learn. I was asked to speak to an ajji (grandma) who has not been doing quite well for a while and needed some help with dealing with her emotions. Geriatric Counselling is one area I haven’t really explored much so I thought I will just try and listen to her the first few sessions before I can try to start “counselling” counselling her. I was feeling extremely jittery when I met her, but all my fears were soon put to rest when we casually struck a conversation about her life from her childhood. She spoke of the movies she watched, the friends she had, her siblings, the games she played etc., with so much of enthusiasm that I forgot that I was called to counsel her. I have totally started to enjoy the freshness and energy that she brings to any conversation she has. She is full of life and of course totally naughty, with a brilliant sense of humour. During the course of the conversation when she felt she could trust me enough, she spoke to me about her youngest daughter who died when she was just a year old. I understood that it had been very long since she spoke about her probably because people don’t really allow any unpleasant conversations surrounding death. However, I was pleasantly surprised to know that she wanted to speak of her, she didn’t accept that someone she loved so much should just be erased from her life just because she isn’t physically existing anymore. So I respected her feelings and continued the conversation. I asked her questions about her memories with that girl, how beautiful she was, her name and everything that she remembers fondly about her. I could see immense joy in her eyes when she understood that there was someone listening to her about a person from her past who mattered the most to her and who she kept alive in her memories and wanted to keep alive in her conversations but was probably snubbed. I learnt that losing a loved one doesn’t mean one should erase all memories about that person and avoid conversations about him/her. We can never really forget how we felt around anyone we loved, so it is necessary to celebrate the person he/she was, celebrate the memories and everything good about him/her.
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When a friend said we had to meet another friend who is recovering from the death of his father who he had lost some couple of weeks ago, I was thinking till late into the previous night as to what would be the best way to deal with his family members when I meet them. However, I was pleasantly relieved when we met them and they greeted us with a broad smile. His mother was extremely welcoming and to my surprise offered us a sweet when we entered their house. As we started talking, she spoke about her husband’s cancer and how he suffered during his last days and still never stopped spreading joy to the people around. She also spoke about the tribulations they had to go through because of the not so effective medical system. Despite all the stress she was experiencing related to her husband’s health, she never stopped herself from fighting for what is right. In all the caregiving she had to do for her husband, she never stopped empathising for the nursing staff and the other patients in the hospital who were put through difficult situations due to the loopholes in the system. She constantly kept giving feedback in the hospital to improve the facilities for patients as well as the nursing staff. She was also discussing about donating her husband’s medicines that were remaining to someone needy because they are extremely costly (running into lakhs) and unaffordable for most people.
She fondly spoke about how much her husband loved writing and how she along with his brothers published a book of the story he had written as an 18 year old. She also gifted us a copy each, signing it with a lot of love. That day, I understood that true love isn’t just about possessing the person and keeping him/her with us at any cost; True love is also about letting go when necessary. True love is not about choosing what we think is right for our loved ones, but what is actually best for them.
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And… Any piece of writing about strength of women would be incomplete if I don’t mention about all the extremely resilient women farmers who despite losing their husbands to suicide are braving it all day in and out with limited resources, tons of debts, harassment from moneylenders, inadequate support systems and of course a family/children to fend for AND fighting battles for justice for their husband’s deaths.

I am a psychologist working with a rural distress helpline called KisanMitra. Our work mainly focuses on prevention of farmer suicides in Telangana.