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January 2, 2015

The grief directory

Opinion

January 2, 2015

They say time is a great healer. For a mother who has lost a child, I doubt if it is. I would know. I lost my eleven-year-old son, along with my husband to the bullets of terrorists almost two years ago. The pain has not diminished, if at all it has grown – and I know that this is a burden I will carry as long as I live.
So when I saw the news of the Peshawar massacre on TV, my heart bled for those mothers whose lives have been changed forever. It is going to be a hard, painful journey, and each day will be a challenge. I know because I continue to struggle. But today, I want to reach out to those families, because while there is nothing that will help ease the pain, there are small acts that can bring some degree of solace, comfort and support.
My own experience has taught me that in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, there are so many friends, relatives, acquaintances who come up to offer condolences, who are genuinely sad, but who are not sure how to help. They express their frustration and helplessness, wishing they could do something to help.
There is so much they can do, but at that time, it is impossible for a grieving family to be able to articulate their needs. So they say thank you and after the traditional forty days of mourning, they are more or less left to cope on their own. The extended family members continue to lend support, but very soon they too become exhausted. They wish you to ‘get over it’, ‘to get on with life’, ‘to move on’. But that is easier said than done.
The family continues to require support. When a breadwinner is lost, there are financial and legal matters to be taken care of. Onerous visits to banks, courts and offices have to be undertaken. When a child is lost, there are grave emotional issues, which can paralyse a grieving parent. Practical, everyday chores and responsibilities have to be re-assigned and dealt with.
A widow may suddenly find herself dealing with issues she was previously

completely unfamiliar with, from household maintenance, budget management and generating income to creating new family dynamics and nurturing vulnerable relationships. A widower may find himself suddenly facing the prospect of raising young children on his own. In all cases, a whole new hierarchy and support system has to be developed. From dealing with hospital reports and banks, to something as simple as eating a meal, the family needs friends.
Candle light vigils, Facebook statuses, government resolutions, speeches, articles, all may have a place, but that empty chair on the dining table is what gnaws at the heart every meal time. How to deal with birthdays, anniversaries, books, clothes and pictures? How to create a new normal? How to establish a new routine? How to start living again? For me it was like becoming blind and then learning how to go about in my own house with a white stick. If a friend is there to hold your hand at that time, it makes it just a little easier.
Visiting the west in my younger days, I got introduced to the idea of a wedding directory where a couple getting married would create a list of things that they needed and register the list in a local department store. Friends and family could tick off items on that list and buy them as wedding gifts. It seemed such a practical, smart thing to do.
In our unfortunate circumstances, where every other day we hear of families becoming victims of gruesome acts of terror, I am now beginning to think we need a Grief Directory. A one stop help or crisis centre, where families could register the kind of support they require and well wishers, friends could choose what kind of help they can offer depending on their own availability of time and resources.
This would bridge that unnecessary gap between the well intentioned, kind people who want to help but don’t know how, who hesitate to intrude into the privacy of the family, who don’t know how to approach such sensitive issues, who struggle to find the right words or actions and the grief stricken family who don’t know how to express their needs or feel too embarrassed or shy to do so. Professionally done, it could avoid so many of the pitfalls I have had to face and it would give breathing space to those close family members who after a while begin to experience fatigue and emotional exhaustion.
I intend to start this Grief Directory as a small step in my own journey of survival. It may help ease my pain if I know I am helping others who are in a similar situation as me. We share a bond of pain and loss and it is important to know we are not alone.
The Grief Directory is envisioned as a coordinating mechanism to provide voluntary service to aggrieved families. Once a family registers with the directory, a list of their needs will be formulated with the help of the family members depending on their unique circumstances. These needs will be matched with people volunteering their services or time. Such people can fit into one or more of the following categories:
• Those volunteering or helping to organise professional services like legal help, psychological/emotional counselling, banking services etc.
• Those willing to give or organise financial help.
• Those willing to help with daily routines till the family settles into its new rhythm. This may entail bringing meals, or simply eating with the family, being there for important occasions, helping with transport, household maintenance, baby sitting etc.
• Those willing to help find employment opportunities, helping sell/rent properties, re-locate etc.
All those interested in helping me with this idea or those who are in need of support, please write to me at [email protected] or to Dr Narmeen A Hamid, who is helping me in this endeavour, at [email protected]
The writer lost both her husband and son in February 2013.

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