Grief and loss: 10 Lessons learnt in the last year

Image courtesy CAfRIC

It is said that the first week of January is the cut-off to say happy new year, so here I am … For this time, from the innermost depths of my heart, I want to appreciate the ideal and the reality of fraternity – the communities, solidarity and togetherness that have helped us be each other’s keepers. A lot of us had an extremely dark 2021-22. Death and sickness were everywhere, their experience amplified by the isolation that governments regulated us into. People were experiencing loss of different kinds – social, physical, economic, and emotional. Jobs were lost, and we had to physically distance ourselves from our usual circles, living daily with health scares and challenges. The culmination was a sense of loss and grief that many are still dealing with.

Personally, I suddenly lost 3 family members in a span of 3 months in addition to a number of cousins, neighbours and dear friends. In our African families, many of these deaths were not even COVID-19 related, but death seemed to be everywhere. Sometimes, it felt as if the ground had been yanked right from under our feet. Nothing felt stable or secure anymore.

I’ve always generally cared, but sadly, I could also finally and fully identify with those who have had intimate losses and dealt with that kind of grief. I empathize and mourn with anyone who has had to or is dealing with multiple losses. I now get that pain on a raw, personal level. I learnt many lessons too including these 10, some of which you might connect with as well:

  1. Nothing beats faith in God [if you’re a person of faith]. Even in the worst moments, there was a deep assurance, a conviction, that dawn would eventually come.
  2. In addition to family and fast, solid friends, have an army of prayer warriors around you whom you connect with as much as possible. These circles will ensure you get back on your feet. 
  3. Grieving in the diaspora away from family members and the larger community is extremely difficult. Make sure you’re a part of a local community long before you need them. 
  4. Grief isn’t linear, it is personal and unique and you’re unlikely to grieve two different losses the same way. You will be okay today and crumbling the day after. There’s no preparation manual for this, deal with it as it comes.
  5. Being self-aware can save you in the worst moments. If you know yourself, you will recognize your limits. Can you cope with your grief or could you use some professional intervention? 
  6. People can surprise you, and help doesn’t always come from whom and where we expect it to, so spread your kindness. In the same breadth, it is during the down seasons when we learn who is truly in our circle. How does that phrase go? “Everybody that is riding with you ain’t riding for you. Let the gas run out and see who helps you push.”
  7. Life doesn’t pause because of your circumstances. And the fact that you’re going through a difficult time doesn’t give you a carte blanche to be insensitive to other people and their needs. Watch out for streaks of selfishness or meanness on your part in the name of self-love during a grieving season.
  8. Your network is your net worth. In African societies, communities come together to support the bereaved, including with finances. We need this kind of support, even more so if living in the diaspora. Invest in others, through individuals and communities and it will have its returns.
  9. We’re human and while it may happen at different times, pain eventually knocks on each of our doors. Support others in whichever way you are able to – praying with/for them, calling, visiting, giving funds, etc.
  10. “People tend to think that grief shrinks over time. What really happens is that we grow around our grief.” This is Dr. Lois Tonkin’s model of grief which challenges the idea that “time heals all wounds” and instead argues that we do not move on from grief, but grow around it. I’ve found this nugget to to be a true and essential lifeline.

Yes, it has been a season of multiple, intimate losses in which we’ve equally been shocked into emotional alertness and numbness. We have come out on this other side (2023) but we are different, and that is okay. It is a blessing to be both alive and to have had people we loved enough to grieve their loss. Hopefully, we can finally stop taking ourselves too seriously and recognize that God is the author of life and that time and seasons are indeed in His hands. 

Lastly, and most importantly, thank everyone who supported you in any way; standing with you and checking in on you during your difficult season until you could say, “Niko sawa sasa, asante sana.” After all, life continues, with all its accompanying joys and pains; and so does our healing.

Happy New Year to us! May God show Himself mighty in our lives, and come through for us and our families as only He can.

You can also read this piece on relying on community in times of grief with Florence Juma.

What lessons have you learned in your season of grief?

Wambui Essie


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