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Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Sunday Long Reads: The various facets of sorrow and grief and how we deal with it

This special issue on grief will lend you different perspectives of how we deal with it

Updated: June 20, 2021 9:46:40 am
bivash barua illustrationIllustration: Bivash Barua

That thing in your belly

Time has altered during this pandemic — stretched out into a vast marsh of uncertainty. These past few months have been particularly swampy. During the recent Tamil Nadu lockdown, my parents and brother moved from Chennai to shelter with me further down the coast. We have not lived together for 20 years, but I was startled by how quickly we ordered ourselves. Between dogs, meals, dragging the projector out for evening films and dividing duties, our days took shape.


The Language of Sorrow

grief, dealing with grief, honouring grief, remembering life, sunday eye, eye 2021, indian express, indian express news Ancestral memory: A break from words can rest grudge and frozenness. (Getty images)

“After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” said poet Emily Dickinson. On May 20, when I heard of the Urdu poet Tarannum Riyaz’s death, I realised there was indeed a strangely formal composure in the chill of aftershock, even as lines from Riyaz’s poem replayed themselves in the mind: “One should keep phoning friends./ If one loses touch… the friend himself may no longer be around.”

The Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral, who died last December, also had a poem on telephones: This Number Does Not Exist. An ironic symmetry. It helped to think of symmetry in verse, given that there seemed little evidence of it elsewhere. The other line that kept looping back was, unsurprisingly, from Wilfred Owen’s World War I poem: What passing bells for those who die as cattle (1920)?


The End is the Beginning

children, death Talking to children about death is especially significant. (Source: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

I don’t know how to tell her. But if I don’t, won’t she blame me when she grows up? Isn’t she too young to understand?” These are questions from a 38-year-old father. He lost his wife to COVID-19, but has no time to grieve. He needs to find the best way to tell his six-year-old daughter that her mother, who she still believes is at her naani’s place and recovering from fever, is no more. Barring a few times, the child isn’t speaking of her mother’s absence. She has simply begun to ask her father to do the tasks that her mother did for her. “Has she just forgotten her?” he asks, and starts sobbing.


Tonight I Write the Saddest Lines

pandemic, pandemic grief, letters to loved ones, COVID-19 losses, COVID-19 deaths, eye 2021, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Letters of grief (Illustrations by Suvajit Dey)

Dear Mamma, 

On May 18, the night you left this world to embark on a new journey in a new dimension, I had a strange experience. I had not been informed of your passing. You know how Pappa is na, he always protects us. I was talking to my friend throughout the night till 7.30 in the morning. Just as I fell asleep, I felt a presence on the left side of my bed, the side you always slept on. I woke up scared, but went back to sleep within seconds. Was that you?


Love means never having to say goodbye

What memories we’ll carry forward from this pandemic depends on the stories we craft together. (Source: Getty images)

She left us last night./ My whole heart. My whole life. The only god I know./ My Amma, I’m sorry I couldn’t save you. You fought so hard, my mama. My precious. My heart. You’re my whole life.

A heartbreaking and poignant love letter by a daughter to her mother.* The lyricism, the beauty, the grace of what we call life, loving and death encapsulated in a few words. As I read and reread them, the pain in these words choked me, but the love in them made my heart sing. If I were to die, I would want my children to remember me with, “You fought so hard, my Mama. My precious. My heart.” That would be the love story I would want them to cherish me with.


Every Missing Piece

In Town Is By The Sea, I found it heartening that Schwartz and Smith had attempted to tell their younger readers about a real and not-quite-picture book-pleasant issue. (Source:

In December 2020, I received a gift from a friend: two books for children which affirmed the power of a story effectively narrated, proved the importance of broaching difficult issues with children, and showed how a thoughtfully chosen gift could brighten up a sombre day in the life of the recipient. Those two books were Sidewalk Flowers (2015), by JonArno Lawson, illustrated by Sydney Smith, and Town Is By The Sea (2017) by Joanne Schwartz, illustrated by Sydney Smith.


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