Monday, May 27, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

A daughter's notes on grief

Processing the physical and emotional toll from losing a loved one can be a journey of transformation and discovery

Update : 21 Apr 2024, 10:05 AM

Grieving a beloved parent is the biggest life changing experience. 

It changes the shape of one’s heart -- literally; lungs run in lower capacity, muscles tighten up, ability to eat or sleep diminishes, and the brain feels like it’s suffering a severe malfunction and might have a system crash any minute. 

How does one deal with it? Where’s a roadmap? 

It is a curious fact that we are never raised armed with the skills and tools to overcome the endless tides of adversity we face in life. 

Even though one always is aware of human mortality, the fact doesn’t hit home until you have lost a parent. Until then you somehow imagine your parents to be immortal superheroes, the constant presence of loving kindness in your life -- after all these are the people who give us our life's breath and in many ways they are like gods to us; not humans, not mortals, not capable of disappearing into thin air. 

Grieving changes you down to the molecular level. 

In the initial months, I felt I was downloading my father's emotions, his dreams, joys and pains into my brain and my body. 

My brain kept running over and over again each visual, each close shot of his body, his temple, parts of his ankle, his feet, his fingers, the hair on his chest, the eyebrows, the nails, the face ever so fading yet so solid. 

As a child I used to look at my parents intently, as a result I have both their bodies memorized in my head. 

I realize how I can find my father in my memory and my DNA. I know that he is not lost and I just have him in a softer way, and I talk to him in a different way, and he answers in a different way. 

I find him in knowing the constant fact of life’s impermanence, its inevitable fleeting nature. Yet I hold on, because that is also what life is, a push and pull of letting go and holding on, wanting life, but always moving towards death. 

I feel immensely grateful for being born to a father who had a super power to love. His love and guidance remains in the air and he keeps telling me he is right here. Just because he no longer manifests in human form doesn’t mean he is lost, rather his human form of the physical body is lost, then again nothing is ever lost -- only transformed. 

He has transformed as have I, my mother, and my sister. We all became different people, dare I say kinder, more competent, and wiser versions of ourselves. 

That’s also a gift from him. A loving and kind parent is a gift that keeps on giving. It is by tapping into that gift that I survive. I wanted to initially get a tattoo on my wrist that will say Abbu, to proclaim that I am his daughter. 

I can find my father in my memory and my DNA. I know that he is not lost and I just have him in a softer way

Now I see that is not necessary. First of all, he would not like the idea of it, and secondly, my whole life and my entire trajectory is now defined by the fact that I am my father’s daughter. 

This is a fact I used to hide because coming from a political and wealthy family meant enjoying certain advantages, which we were always taught to deny by our parents -- thus we mostly lived in disguise and quite privately. I never introduced my father at my film premieres because of how the intellectual and artists community would judge him as a wealthy, politically-connected businessman, who is one of the highest tax payers in the country. 

As it is, my American education and social position were very hard to hide and I had to face severe gatekeeping in entering the film scene in Bangladesh. 

How trivial it seems now, how stupid, what a waste not to have my own father as the chief guest at my film premiere. 

I didn’t do it because I feared what society would say. How would I be judged? His passing has made me free of such societal nonsense. 

I truly don’t care anymore, and I am fearless in being and proclaiming who I am. No fear, no judgement, nothing holding me back anymore. 

It has been close to 200 days now. I continue to sail the unknown sea, trying to intellectually and spiritually make sense of grief and the best ways to navigate it.

One thing is for sure, as a society we need to talk more about death, to normalize it as a part of life -- not the opposite of it -- also to share with each other our own paths to surviving and transforming grief. 

Rubaiyat Hossain is a film-maker.

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