Finding the right combination of words has been difficult lately. I struggle to find the right words to reply when I am asked ‘How are you doing?’, and I’ve also found it challenging to figure out what to write about, how to write it, and in what order. It’s not for a lack of things to say but rather, how to capture it wholly, in all its splendour and range of human emotion.
I looked through my journal for clues and I saw incoherent sentences alongside lengthy paragraphs sprawled across the pages. I saw confusion, contradictions, and occasionally, clarity in my words. I saw the actions and emotions that were both documented and left unwritten. It sent me into a warped vortex of time and space as I recalled what life has been like over the last two weeks.
The first few days of Mizah’s passing remains nothing more than a sketch in my mind and all I know about it is that it was filled with deep pain and grief. There was an emotional backlog that rushed to the surface very quickly. All I could feel was a release of the pain and sadness built up over the last of couple years that I’ve had to block out in order for me to function as Mizah’s primary caregiver. There was a lot of crying and anguish. Each part of the house was and still remains a trigger point that flash memories of all the suffering that she had to endure. It feels like a form of PTSD that I may have to live with for a while.
The momentum of post-funeral administrative tasks helped to direct my attention elsewhere for the first week. I busied myself with coordinating legal and financial matters, taking stock and donating away Mizah’s surplus medical supplies, and sending thank you notes in small batches. The social restrictions from the Covid-19 pandemic meant that there was very limited contact with family members, something which was both a struggle and a blessing for I did not have the energy to engage with others. Having my sister live with me during this period helped to remind me of the presence of other humans in this world.
With it being the fasting month of Ramadan, I took refuge in prayers, seeking blessings for Mizah, expressing gratitude for all the love and guidance that has come my way, and begged for strength and wisdom to take the next step. Sleep was scarce as my mind and body struggled to come to terms with what was happening. The vacuum of time was often filled with sorrow and it was hard to feel anything else.
A morsel of strength presented itself at the start of the second week. It was a flash, one that sparked me to engage in a bit of self-care. I decided that I needed to go for a long overdue haircut to give myself a boost. I also booked a session with my therapist to start working through my front row experience to this life event. I created a to-do list with more administrative tasks to help direct my attention – a technique that seemed to be effective a week ago. How stupid was I to think that it would be that straight forward.
A much greater force hit me. My days which were already featureless due to the Covid-19 Circuit Breaker limits had its hollowness amplified. I felt how aimless and purposeless my life had become. My heart was heavy from being empty. I wanted so badly to hold on to the glimmer of strength that I had touched briefly in the beginning of the week but it was futile. The days were dark and difficult and I had to make an extraordinary effort to hold on to the light that Mizah was in order to get me through it. Large segments of the day simply dissolved into thin air, inexplicably unaccounted for as day turned into night. On good days, I felt numb enough to not feel anything and able to work on my to-do list. On bad ones, I spent most of it curled up in a ball on my bed, incapable of doing anything.
That second weekend after Mizah’s passing was also made harder as it was Hari Raya Puasa. Already mellowed down by the pandemic-led restrictions, a world without Mizah was more acutely felt. There was no desire for any form of celebration and I couldn’t bear the weight of not having the love of my life with me. Since her diagnosis in April 2018, we knew that being able to celebrate any Hari Raya after that would be a blessing, and this is to be the year that I ran out of it. The night before Hari Raya and the morning of it was unbearably painful.
I stayed away from social media and any festive entertainment shows for most of the day so that I would not have any reason to feel jealous at the joy that others have the opportunity to feel. I gave myself permission to cry a little bit in the morning but vowed to myself that I would not bring my sadness to the Zoom video conference gatherings with family members. I willed myself to find comfort and joy in the love and care that my family has shown me in this difficult times. All I wanted to do was survive the day.
I am unsure how I survived that second week after Mizah’s passing, but as I began this third week, it felt as though a switch in me has been flipped. There seems to be some space that has opened up inside me. A space where other emotions can co-exist beside my grief.
I have felt a tiny desire to reach out to some friends. I have felt a small urge to get myself exercising. I have felt a glimpse of comfort, peace, and perhaps even joy manifesting in the cracks. Alongside these glimmers of positivity were also the emergence of new existential troubles and life concerns that have been suppressed so far. The pain from losing and missing Mizah still sits firmly in me and I still have trouble sleeping at the end of my aimless days, but it seems that there is now a wider gamut of emotions all existing beside one another in me. Sometimes I go through an entire range of emotions in a single day, and sometimes they clash to exist together in a single moment. It’s a different kind of difficult and I am trying my best to hold space for it.
In recent days, I have started to answer the question “How are you doing?” with some variations of the statement: “Some days are terrible, some days are better.” It’s broad, but those are the best words I can come up with for what life has been like since Mizah passed away on 10th May 2020.
Then, when I think of the right words to write the rest of this story that Mizah and I have lived through, I not only see sorrow and despair, but also a lot of faith, grace, joy, and gratitude. I see a story about love and hope too, right alongside all the shittiness and rage that occasionally breaks through the surface.
However, this story is not special. Every day, there are many others who go through much worse than what Mizah and I experienced and there are many who did not enjoy the privileges that we had. I am only hoping that my story can give others who cannot fathom what having their person go through cancer, a glimpse of what it is like. And if some of all this tragically resonates with another stranger out there, I’m sorry that you’ve lost your person too and I hope you find a light to navigate your way through it.
Dispatches is my monthly letter to you about our shared humanity and life in cities. I send it out on the last Tuesday of every month.