I shared a version of this story as a Twitter thread recently. As a lover of (descriptive) words, the piece grew longer ‘overnight’ when I started to edit it for the blog.
Perhaps someone who needs it will find it here.
Four years ago, I had an idea to write about a difficult topic which few people talk about yet it affects several women across the globe.
I tweeted asking for volunteers to share their experiences.
They would remain anonymous unless they chose to have their identity disclosed.
Angel* reached out and we agreed to meet.
I could already tell she was an extremely private person. Her Twitter handle wasn’t her real name, neither did she use her photograph or share personal information online.
I half wondered if she was ‘real.’
I quickly realised she was.
She shared about her struggle openly and offered resources when I mentioned a friend of mine was struggling with the same condition (the friend whose experience had inspired me to go looking for more information in the first place)
We shared a love for reading and soon after, she began giving me feedback on my old blog posts on here. Whenever a tweet I wrote resonated with her or she wanted to celebrate/commiserate, she hit my DM.
We eventually met and it was a beautiful experience. Her introvert self opened up to introduce a whole new bubbly individual.
We spent only 20% of the evening on the ‘interview’ and caught up like old friends for the remaining hours. We giggled, shared experiences and got to share quite a bit.
She carried a gift for me; different tea flavours (my heart!🥰) and signed up to become a 4040 subscriber, making a monthly contribution to our work.
She mentioned that she had been raised by a village after one of her parents abandoned them and she wanted to pay it forward. We welcomed her support.
We became ‘chat buddies’ and often shared about our different joys and trials; praying for and supporting one other through them.
When she told me she was looking for a job after her contract ended, I got right to work, sending her opportunities every other week.
Her responses were usually timely so when I didn’t hear from her after sending another one of my ‘741’ links to jobs, I got worried.
I called her number and sent messages to no avail.
I only knew her first name, no address and we had no friends in common (her number didn’t have her registered name by then)
I kept trying it but nothing.
Eventually I would only call after a fortnight, then a month passed and another. I had a bad feeling but couldn’t confirm it.
I started to think maybe I had imagined her existence completely.
One day as I was randomly scrolling through the timeline, I saw a poster for a Thanksgiving service (which had passed) I clicked and there was her face. I had only met her once but I could remember that adorable baby face anywhere.
When I saw the date she had passed away, I checked our messages. It was about two days after the last text I had sent her for a job I thought would be perfect for her.
I wept uncontrollably. Alone.
I wondered if it was the illness which had taken her from us. Had it been painless or did she suffer?
Was I going to ask a stranger to lead me to the burial ground to pay my last respects?
Who would I say I was?
I still mourn her when I think of her, and even more so in the recent weeks.
This tale resonated with quite a number of people who reached out to me to talk about the loved ones they have lost; those they were unable to bury because they were oversees, others who lost touch with individuals who’d impacted their lives and many that generally missed their people who left this world.
Most sent messages in the middle of the night and as much as I wanted to ‘unsee’ them and respond when I was in a better mental state, I found myself going back to read and try to find the words just so that they could feel seen, heard and comforted – if only a little.
It is usually therapeutic for me to write but I have to admit that this time, it wasn’t.
In fact, openly sharing this story brought back so much pain which I was trying to bury. I had not told anyone about it before and I quickly remembered why.
I was ever so slightly ‘consoled’ that it was relatable, that people were comfortable enough to share their stories and probably (hopefully?) felt a bit soothed when they spoke up; but it also broke my heart more – made it that much more real.
I knew I didn’t have the right words for the grieving parties but I didn’t wish for them to feel lonelier than they already did – pouring their hearts out only to get no reply.
In fact, the night I typed it, I was mourning two recent losses. The very next morning, we were travelling to pay our last respects to a dear friend’s Mum and I was beside myself with grief.
As I struggled with insomnia, I scrolled through my phone and it occured to me that the most frequently dialled number in the recent past had been of a florist and I read the trail of messages booking wreaths- agreeing on wording, colours, pick up time etc.
I was further crushed by that realisation.
How I thought it was the ‘right time’ to unearth even more pain is beyond me.
I have found myself unable to show up, to join the ‘outside world’ and have to pretend.
On the other hand, being alone with my thoughts comes with its own share of frustration and discomfort.
All my usual coping mechanisms are increasingly inadequate.
I know that I have to feel everything and then work towards healing but it is such an uphill battle.
No matter how much grief you have encountered, it still finds new ways to break you. It often feels like the grief even births new grief along the way.
You question your beliefs, ponder mortality and just as you become aware of the absence of answers, a new wave of sadness is hitting, demanding acknowledgement at every turn.
Amidst all the weakness I feel from the outpouring of agony, I have purposed to do whatever I can to be present for my people.
I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my Angel but I still have a chance to do more.
I feel for all those who have not been able to bid their loved ones farewell, especially during the past two years; who have been separated from family, lovers and friends and struggled alone through some of the darkest moments.
Grief is complicated. It is ever changing. It is lonely. It will sneak up on you in the middle of a joyful moment, and you will have no control whatsoever.
One minute you are sitting on a boda boda, laughing with the rider as he shares his views on politics or relationships and suddenly your cheeks are wet; you are fully prepared to blame the wind, if it comes up.
You are watching a comedy which is set in a completely different world from yours. You are happy about the escape, grateful that it is silly, not remotely relatable but there you are grabbing your bedsheet unexpectedly – and blowing your nose amidst a hilarious scene.
I must say the shower offers the most relief for me, like “Are these tears, or is it just water?”
Who knows? Who cares?
You almost wish you had a physical wound that you could show so that people ‘understand’ your pain better, something you can nurse and get over within a reasonable time frame.
Learning to cope is an extreme sport. The world doesn’t wait for you, and if it did, how much time would be enough?
I hope that you are held close as you grieve.
I hope that we can learn to be a little more kind, empathetic and present especially to those who need us the most.
We may not always have the right words to say, but if we show/let them know they are not alone, that it is okay for them to be sad and broken with no judgement or expectation, maybe, just maybe, it will ease the journey.
I hope that through your pain, you find some healthy distractions, rest, happy memories to hold on to and a safe space to be exactly who you are in each moment.
I hope you don’t grieve alone, that you have something to live for and someone to hold on to, when nothing makes sense.
I love you Angel and I am ever so grateful to God that we got to share parts of our lives when we did.
I will never forget you.