The first stage of grief was the longest stage for me. That could be why I tried to fit into the 60-inch casket my daughter was getting buried in. I did not believe that my precious baby girl was gone. The baby girl my husband and I had fasted and prayed for. The baby girl we had been trying to conceive for five years. The baby girl was finally born on 25th December of last year.
“We are all gathered here to say goodbye to…” the pastor began but I took my hands to my ears and shut them. Her name was something I could live the rest of my life without ever having hearing again. As a lawyer, I thought of the possibility of having that name trademarked and making sure nobody else ever bore it so I would never have to hear it again. As a grieving mother, I thought of the possibility of wiring my ears shut so I would never have to hear her precious name again. Irrational thoughts on any other day, but a rational thought on the day I was burying my 1-year-old daughter.
“It’s not your fault.” My husband, Ade kept whispering in my ears and he was right. It wasn’t my fault. It was his. If he hadn’t called me that afternoon and distracted me from keeping an eye on our daughter, she would have still been alive. If he hadn’t insisted we moved into a house with a pool because “Lagos is too hot and I want to be able to cool off after a long day at work,” our baby girl would have still been here, and more importantly, if he had paid the extra 200,000 Naira that her school demanded after school swimming lessons, our little angel would have still been here. So yes, it wasn’t my fault, it was his, and when he reached out his hand to squeeze mine while the Pastor spoke, I hid my hand behind my back. I was in no mood to hold hands with the reason why my baby was gone.
The lack of hand-holding was the first crack in my relationship with Ade and it was soon followed by numerous other cracks. Soon, we stopped eating together, we stopped sleeping on the same bed together, and it was only a matter of time, six months after the funeral to be specific, before he cracked.
“You haven’t said a word to me in one week.” He explained, tears in his eyes but I thought he was taking it a bit too personal. I had not said a word to anybody in one week. “She was my daughter too, Idara, I suffered the loss too.” He added in a cracked voice but I didn’t know how to feel empathy for him. He was still able to eat happy meals like ice cream and chicken while our daughter’s body was barely in the ground. He was able to start and finish a TV show while her body was disintegrating. He was able to be happy while I mourned our daughter.
“I love you, Idara, and I will fight for you. That is why I signed you up for the “Wellness for Life” initiative.” The Wellness for Life initiative is a program where selected women are adopted by the organization and screened by Wellness HMO for blood sugar level and high blood pressure. Ade believed I needed to have my blood pressure checked but I kept fighting him about it. We had spent so much money on our baby’s funeral, on antidepressant medication, and since I couldn’t work anymore, there was no money coming in from my end. We could not afford to spend more money on my blood pressure.
I didn’t believe I would be selected for the initiative but when I was, I started to believe in miracles just a little bit more. At the initiative, I met Zara, a widow. She was also a benefactor of the initiative and I bonded with her simply because her name started with a “Z,” just like my baby. One afternoon, during the program, I broke into tears when a woman came with her one-year old daughter and I ended up telling Zara all about my baby.
“I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be doing anything to improve my health when I couldn’t do anything for my baby girl’s health.” I lamented to her. Zara sat and listened and when I was done, she invited me to a Support Group she was a part of. “This is not going to help me” I argued but she insisted I try. “Just come with your husband. What do you have to lose?” She asked. I decided to attend, just so I could prove to her that I was right, that there was no way I could manage my grief.
The support group was nothing like I thought it would be. There were many cheerful parents, all smiling and asking how we were doing and I was certain I was in the wrong group. There was one woman, in particular, Anjola, who stood at the entrance, welcoming people with a huge smile on her face.
She was also the anchor of the support group and would ask everyone at the beginning of each session if there was anything they would like to share and she would hug whoever spoke up. Anjola was always cheerful and I wondered what she was possibly grieving. Judging by the smile on her face, I assumed it was the loss of a cat. I was three months into the session when I found out that Anjola had lost five kids, her aged parent, and her spouse in a house fire.
“There is no rule book to managing grief because we are different, and we all grieve differently, but here are five ways I could help” she would say.
- Allow Yourself to Grieve. It doesn’t matter how long it takes, give yourself all the time you need, and don’t be in a hurry to “get over it.”
- Find a Creative or Physical Outlet. You can write, draw, start exercising, start cooking, or take up any challenge that will help you channel your grief.
- Forgive Yourself. You cannot live the rest of your life regretting your loss. You need to forgive yourself and let go of all the ‘what ifs” and “if only.”
- Accept Happiness. It’s okay to laugh, play, and be happy after suffering a loss. Allow yourself to accept it.
- Talk With Others. Hold your friends and loved ones close to you as you manage your grief, and always remember, this support group is also full of your friends and loved ones that you can always count on.
I did not subscribe to any of Anjola’s points. They all sounded easier said than done but I found myself returning to each session every week. It wasn’t until I was sitting with Ade, eating ice cream and watching a TV show that Ade looked at me and said “I’m glad you are learning to accept happiness just like Anjola said.”
The next time we attended the session when Anjola asked if anyone had anything they would like to share, I finally raised my hand to speak. “I would like to wish my angel a happy posthumous birthday. She would have been two today. Keep resting Zelia.” I squeezed my husband’s hand as I said it out loud. It felt good to say her name and squeeze his hand.
If you are someone like me who is dealing with grief, what methods have you tried and what were your results? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.