The Complex Art of Grieving

By Zahraa Shehzad

Standing in the small square room, surrounded by the plain, white-washed walls and the sharp scent of illness, I missed the heat of tears in my eyes. They should have been streaming down my cheeks by now as loud sobs tore through my dry, chapped lips. But all that prevailed was the rhythmic beeping of a machine, and a disturbing absence of grief in my heart. 

Maybe it was because he wasn’t dead yet.

The lines on the monitor rose and fell like his chest. But the rest of his body was nothing but a vegetable, mostly a potato, with his dark skin covered in pores and his completely bald head.

Or maybe that thought was just self-reassurance, a weak attempt to make myself believe that I wasn’t a disgraceful, terrible daughter and an even more horrid person.

I released a quiet breath, shifting on the hard, uncomfortable seat that I’d been practically living on for the last two days. My bottom was no longer sore, maybe because I couldn’t feel it anymore. But my back was positively killing me. What were hospitals thinking when they chose these insufferable chairs for attendants of chronically ill patients? 

The least they could have done was provide us with cushions and a blanket which was more than a flimsy piece of woolen cloth. And maybe better food than the same, bland chicken served at the cafeteria every single day. Oh, and iced coffee, creamy and refreshing. Maybe some snacks to munch on as we sat there idly, staring at our beloved parent or friend or lover comfortably sleeping in their cot as fluids dripped into their bloodstream through the clear, thin tubes.

He stirred, making me instantly sit up straighter, afraid he would wake up and catch the bored look on my face. But he fell back asleep again, and I allowed my shoulders to slump once more. A humorless smile tugged at the corners of my lips. Even when connected to a network of IVs and wearing an oxygen mask over his mouth, somehow, he still managed to make me tense up and quicken the beats of my heart.

I swallowed, the dry walls of my throat chafing against each other. There was something fundamentally wrong with me, wasn’t there? Seeing him in that condition—so helpless and vulnerable—should have made my heart hurt. It should have tightened my chest and clogged my throat. And yet, I wasn’t able to shed a tear. 

I closed my eyes shut and leaned my head against the wall behind me as dizziness relieved some of my distress. 

Happy memories… maybe those would help? 

I thought long and hard. I searched the oldest, furthest and the dustiest corners of my mind. But memory worked in a funny way. I knew he would take me riding on horseback when I was six. I knew once in a while, I would sleep on his chest with my arms wrapped around his neck. He would sit me in his lap while pulling the car out of the driveway sometimes, pretending like I was the one controlling the steering wheel. But I remembered none of it. There were no images. No emotions. No feelings. Only a dull awareness.

And yet, I remembered my first plastic dining table, upon which I would place empty toy cups, pretending to serve tea for my dolls and my stuffed animals. I could still see the way he’d thrown it across the room, how it crashed against the wall and fell to the floor in pieces. I remembered everything I saw when he raised a hand on my mother for the very first time. His furious, bloodshot eyes, the fear on my mother’s face. I remembered the nightmares I’d had about him over the years, wherein he would sometimes hurt my elder sister, sometimes my brother, and sometimes me. My father had never laid a hand on either of us, and yet, my brain had managed to concoct those visuals, so strikingly vivid that they sent shivers through my spine.

Father whimpered, making me tense up once more. I stared at the monitor. The lines looked like the scribbles of a child’s drawing of grass. For a second, I think I saw the peaks levelling. But they hadn’t. I was probably tired. 

I closed my eyes again, a bitter taste coating my tongue, my stomach in knots. 

There was something fundamentally wrong with me, wasn’t there?

                                                              *   *   *

Zehraa is an emerging writer living in a bustling and rather crowded city in Pakistan. She has written multiple web-novels in the last six years and is now looking into publishing a Young Adult Fantasy book. When she isn’t writing, reading or studying for a rather academically challenging degree of Computer Science, she can be found sipping iced coffee, hanging out with her mother, siblings or her small but wonderful group of friends who keep her sane.

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