She was standing exactly at the point where the road takes a turn towards right. I could see her bewildered expression from afar. It seemed as if she was waiting for me. “What happened ma’am, are you alright?” I asked, looking concerned.
“A little girl fell off from that balcony there, she is dead now,” she said pointing towards the 4th floor of the building, some 50 metres away from us.
Hearing this, my eyes immediately shifted to the multi-storied structure. I saw some cops and residents of the huge housing complex engaged in some sort of animated discussion outside. There were a set of women too, huddled in one corner, away from the cops, narrating the horrific incident that had taken place just a few minutes ago.
“Are you going towards that side?” the lady enquired, breaking my chain of thoughts.
“Hmm” I nodded absent-mindedly in affirmation without looking at her…trying to get a hold of the situation unfolding before me.
“Can I walk with you?” she asked gingerly, as if pleading me to take her along.
Surprised at the strange request, I looked at her. “How old is she, must be somewhere between late 40s or early 50s,” I mused. She was plump with a round, chubby matronly face accentuated by a trendy pixie haircut, “very fancy,” I thought. But the thing that struck me the most about her appearance, were her affectionate, almost childlike, kind, inquisitive eyes.
“Sure,” I replied reluctantly and started trudging towards the road that runs parallel to the building. She, now trying to keep up with my hurried pace, spoke timidly, “I lost my husband to cancer a few months ago, and I cannot bear to see death anymore, it scares me.”
Not knowing how to react, I stopped in my tracks and could only utter a confusing ‘Oh’ in response, while trying to gauge her changing expressions- from sad to angry, all at the same time. Oh! How expressive those eyes were….affectionate yet filled with tremendous amount of pain.
“How did he go?” I asked, bemused.
“Negligence from the doctors and their inability to diagnose the problem early on took him away,” she said, sadly looking at the tree-lined path ahead. “He was only 54, perfectly fit and healthy, never drank or smoked in his life. He was very cautious about his fitness,” she continued, letting out a sad sigh of hopelessness.
“I never thought he would go away so soon. If only the doctors had put aside their egos and had considered sending him for a timely biopsy, then the tumour under his hipbone could have been detected on time. And maybe the right treatment at the right time could have saved my husband,” she added. And I noticed a flicker of anger, which lasted merely for a second or so, in her kind, beautiful eyes. In that fraction of a second, I could see her entire life unravelling itself; her sadness, anger, happiness everything came alive just for that tiny bit of a moment.
“He was in excruciating pain during his final days, and I felt so helpless that I prayed to god to take him soon, because it was unbearable for me to even see him suffering and crying in agony like this. Oh! He was a strong man. A brave and decorated soldier who died an untimely death, it wasn’t his time to go you know,” saying this she broke down.
Dumbfounded by the sudden turn of events, I tried to comfort her, “I am sorry for your loss,” I said, trying to incorporate as much genuineness in my voice as possible, but that came out rather fake, I thought.
I hate myself in times like these when nothing sensible comes to my mind. The inability to say something which could console her mourning soul was too disturbing a thought for me to bear. “Damn! Why can’t I think of something nice to say to her?” I muttered angrily under my breath.
“I understand your pain,” again, I made a weak attempt at comforting her and immediately regretted it. I know no amount of genuine empathy or sensitivity in my thoughts or voice can measure the painful intensity of her loss. I decided to let go of the idea of consoling her, and concentrated on rather lending an ear so that she could vent out her frustration and pent-up anger. Also, I was secretly hoping that she may feel a little better after talking about her feelings as talking is considered therapeutic; it quickens the healing process I have heard.
After getting a hold of her uncontrollable emotions, she gathered herself and reiterated with a feeble voice, “If only his cancer was diagnosed at the right time, he would have been by my side now.” I listened to her quietly as that was the only thing I felt was feasible and right for me to do at that time. Maybe the shocking death of the child (who accidentally fell down, while playing, from the fourth-floor balcony of that apartment building) stirred the painful memories of her early days of mourning again.
I have read somewhere that grieving and healing is a lifelong process. It comes in waves. For days, the mourner may go without feeling anything and suddenly a song, a peculiar event or even a seemingly harmless external provocation may bring back a barrage of painful emotions. Everything that the mourner strived to fight against comes back with a strong force. It’s a mixed bag of feelings-sadness, shock, denial, abandonment, anger, panic, confusion, regrets, emotional numbness- that defies all reasoning. Only after dealing with the various stages of emotional highs and lows completely, can a mourner manage to shrug off all the negativity that comes with the loss of a loved one. He/she may still miss the deceased but sans the pain, regret or anger. Alas there is no quick cure or shortcut to this process of healing.
After quietly walking with her for some time, I came back to my house all the while pondering how grief changes us. Since that day, I haven’t been able to tread that road which runs parallel to the gloomy building, for it was too much for me to bear.
And neither have I seen that lady with that childlike kind, inquisitive eyes.