My son had his 10th birthday last month but there was no party, no cake and no present either. In fact, only one person rang to remember his birthday, which also happened to be the 10th anniversary of the day he died.
I received a call that day from a dear friend I hadn’t heard from in years. But he didn’t ring to reminisce about my son. He rang to offer his support for another tragedy - my father has recently been diagnosed with a serious illness. Like so many others did 10 years ago, his heart was open and present to help in whatever way he could. It reminded me just how quickly people flock towards you in times of tragedy and how so many seem to vanish once the hard work of grief sets in.
When my son died on the day he was born, people were ready, willing and able to roll up their sleeves and help in any way they could. For days and weeks, the fridge was filled with Tupperware, the scent of freshly cut flowers took over my home and I was rarely left alone to reflect and absorb what was happening to me.
In tragedy, I could cry for no reason and scream the house down if I wanted to
In tragedy, I could cry for no reason and scream the house down if I wanted to. I was forgiven for forgetting things, refusing to eat or losing track of the days. I had permission to go outside social norms, lean on my vices or do whatever I needed to help me get through it all in the name of comfort. While this did help deal with the pain and I am forever grateful to those who got me through that horrible time, I realise now that it did nothing to prepare me for the void that was to come once the tragedy had passed.
That’s because tragedy is fleeting so it’s easy to find quick fixes to get through the days and weeks. But that moment flies past and then the reality of life sets in, and with it comes the ensuing silence that is grief.
For about 18 months I dealt with the pain and shock of what had happened and tried to find a new normal, but living the same life in different skin proved too difficult so I escaped. I packed up my life and moved to India where the tragedy didn’t follow me but the grief did.
The grief didn’t disappear and my memory didn’t fade
The grief didn’t disappear and my memory didn’t fade. Grief followed me everywhere I went. It changed how I view the world and reshaped me into a new person. While I continue to walk amongst the living, laugh out loud and make grand plans for the future, everything I do is covered in a fine veil of grief because it’s woven into the fabric of who I am now. Over time, grief no longer consumed my days in the same way tragedy did but it has never become any less tangible.
What my grief has become is disenfranchised.
It feels like I no longer have permission to speak about it or remind people about what I have lived through. Many people seem to have forgotten that it happened, some even seem to have forgotten that my son existed at all.
While each minute of that day 10 years ago still stings like a fresh tattoo, I’m now left to sit alone with my grief and suffer in silence. I can remember my son within the confines of my own mind but it no longer seems to be acceptable to talk about him out loud. So my tears and thoughts are hidden away in a dark place that only surface when I’m on my own.
While tragedy is brutal, grief has taken me to depths of sadness that seemingly have no end. I now look to the future and fear what’s ahead as I deal with what’s now before me.
The only comfort I have is knowing that I can’t be the only person living like this. Walking among us, there must be so many others who grapple with their grief in silence years after everyone else has moved on from the tragedy.
Rakhee Ghelani is a writer and mother based in Melbourne. She is a Director of Legal Writers. Follow her on Twitter @rakheeghelani