Tuesday, April 2, 2024

On why you should not be Woman (II): A Tale of Grief.

Photo Credit: Andrés Gómez

There is something sad about hospitals. A heavy sense of foreboding. A tale of sad tidings. An overshadowing cloud of doom.  And if you ask the necromancer, the lingering of ghosts.

But we need not be necromancers to agree. We saw it for ourselves. You and I, in ward 3, Room A10 of something - something hospital (You didn't think I will let this one mistakenly slip, did you?) where a man lost his wife in childbirth. Now, read it again. See the “man" there. This one is unlike my previous post. Or an open society where men could cry. Instead, we are begotten in an unfortunate one where they are taught to leash it in. And leash in he did. Years of socialization and programming took its toll. He acted like what he has been cultured to be: collected. Even if his world was falling apart. 

Some time ago, I came to realize that we cry not because we are weak or for want of a solution (although that could be it). But they are also times we cry just to cry. To let it go. Those strains from being strong for so long. It is the heart unwinding. Let it. 

Photo Credit: Janko Ferlič

I wanted to break the societal walls, walk up to him. And tell him to cry. That it is okay to. He lost a wife. He has a baby he has no idea what to do with. But you and I are young adults and teenagers, often banished to corners in adult’s conversation. Without gray hairs to prove our wisdom, we stayed put lest we get reprimanded. 

"He is a man," you reminded me - like I could not see it for myself.

"In a traditional African society," you added. Like it is supposed to make me understand. I chose not to. 

We watched him draw his daughter close and let her do the wailing for him. If you put these pieces together, you make a sad picture. 

He rocked her gently. As if trying to tell her all that has happened. How he has no idea what to do. How she could help by crying less. He told her about her mother's love the only way he could: in soft gentle strokes. When he smiled at her, it didn't reach his eyes. I thought, “how can something so innocent be a sad memorabilia?” My heart moved for them. He looked as helpless as she was. Just as fragile. For a fleeting moment, I wanted to put my hand around them. Around him. But instead, I looked on from father to daughter wondering the difference. 

Photo Credit: Christian Bowen

It was a silent mourning. He didn't mind our presence. He was lost in a world of his own. A world without us. When we drew closer, we began to get tidbits of information. How diabetic the wife was. How the increasing number of daughters after each pregnancy didn't strengthen his homestead. How her diabetes worsened after each one. How they shunned adoption. “How can we,” he spat, “adopt when your womb works just fine.”


“And the rest of the body?” I almost asked. But you hushed me lest I look unsympathetic. It is a traditional African home, you explained again. Like it explained everything. This time, it did. 

I looked at the man again. I wondered if he would have looked this lost if he had a boy instead. Another girl seemed superfluous to the 5 already at home. Without a mother, they were a litter. 

I let a tear slip. And another. I cried for him. For the tears he will not shed. For the heaviness in his heart. The clouds understood. They became heavy too. And cried with us, shedding off generously all that load we have clung stubbornly to.  They emptied our heart’s content. None of us had an umbrella. So we waited out the rain. 

Photo Credit: Valentin Müller

"But some rain never stops,” you told me. “Some fall for a lifetime. You can choose to wait forever or get drenched in it.”

“What if we catch a cold,” I asked you. 

You retorted, “What if we never get to our destination?”

Choices are a mesh of consequences. Causes and effect. We can't influence all of them. But we do what we can with the ones we can. If we can't help it, we can as well as enjoy the process. Playing while at it."

I shuddered.  Since we lacked the ominous power of classifying rains, I was able to convince you to wait a while. We talked about the girls. How the stability of their lives depended on a lot of factors, each one more fickle and feeble than the last. A flicker of candlelight doused with uncertainty. 

He will mourn for a while. The length of this mourning period depending on how tenable or not what he shared with his wife is. He may mourn longer. Or not. Since, he is missing a pair of breasts and a hole, it need not go on for as long as a year. Or shave his head. Or remain in a room crowded by unwanted visitors for that long.

Photo Credit: Storm seeker

But since he looked genuinely sorrowful and contrite for his loss, we assumed he would mourn for long. Such sorrow cannot be feigned. The world will mourn with him. They will try to be helpful. They will help him wean the child. Stay a while with her while he sorts himself out. Then they will move on. Like life does. 

As they do, they will encourage him to do so too. A list of all eligible women in town. “An older woman,” some advised. “A widower,” a few added. The children first.

“Younger,” others said. A lineage of male children. How else do you intend to keep your homestead? 

He hesitates for a while. This is a life changing decision. He decides to fill in the gap while weighing these options. He makes his way to the kitchen wondering why a meal has to take so much time to be edible (He has given up on making it delicious.) He wonders why the society never taught him. Never told him babies cry a lot as they teeth. 

He will randomly pick a name off the list when his oldest daughter asked him in tears why she won't stop bleeding. He will struggle all night to set the pad right. The guilt sits on his throat as he tries. If only he did not pressure for a son. His decision is a quick one. He tells himself it is the right one. The most realistic for anyone in his position. His guilt worsens every time he settles a fight between his new wife and oldest daughter. It chides away at his heart. Bleeding out all the tears he has refused to shed. 

I laugh at your imagination. You let me. A little humour can help. We are in the hospital after all. This place with a tale of griefs. The foreboding hangs over us. The what-ifs. 

It's been a while. The rain won't stop. You give me that knowing look and ran off. I put out my slippers and ran with you. Playing as we went. 

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