On Breaking Down
I hated funerals. I never seemed to know how to express my sorrow and to what degree. Being emotional by nature I would be deeply moved by someone’s grief, however sharing it was an art I had yet to master.
Often termed "tough" by my family, I had moulded myself to live up to the impression, without consciously realizing it. My shoulder was always the Rock of Gibraltar, which gave solace to many weeping, heart-broken friends in college. Over the years counselling, advising and listening became my forte and I soon became the agony aunt everyone sought.
Marriage, in-laws, kids and career posed new challenges along the way. Each was to be met and resolved firmly, positively and cheerfully. I had learnt the art of hiding my emotions. Displaying pain, disappointments, tears of anger, frustration or grief did not become me, hence had to be hidden. At some point I became a perfect pretender.
Then tragedy struck. I lost my husband. I could not cry. I found myself incapable of expressing the deep sorrow, fear and insecurity I felt. To people I appeared calm and composed. They called me brave.
Since then, funerals became even more difficult to attend. Fortunately, there weren't any of close friends or relatives, till that day in August 2000. My sister lost her elder son to militancy in Tamenlong. My nephew was a young, brave, promising officer in the Army. Just twenty-six, he was not only the apple of his parents' eyes but also the pride of the entire family.
I did not know how I was going to console my sister, and express the deep sense of personal loss I felt. Dry-eyed, I tried the best I could. It was not difficult as both she and her husband, faced it with a stiff upper lip. I wondered if they were going through the same inner turmoil I had experienced, at my own tragedy.
Their son had a martyr's funeral with full military honours. When the buglers had sounded the Last Post and the echo of the gun salute had faded away, the flag that had draped his coffin, was presented to his parents. In the deep silence that wrapped this poignant ceremony, we heard a broken voice saying--"We bear no ill-will against those who killed our son", as they accepted the national flag.
The quiet dignity in sharp contrast to their pain-wracked faces and haunted eyes, unlocked the door on years of pent up emotions and I felt the pinprick of tears, as they welled up and overflowed.
Unashamed, unmindful of the onlookers, I was crying not only for them but also for myself. I had learnt at last to feel pain, sorrow, anguish and to express it without the feeling that I was a weakling.
In years of trying to be what my family thought of me, I had forgotten to be myself. By reaching out to my grieving sister and experiencing her pain, I came face to face with my true self and I was not ashamed. I came away putting to rest all my fears and misconceptions. Now I no longer shy away from the onerous task of offering solace to the bereaved, it is an art, which I have mastered.