Why We Grieve The Death Of Strangers

MissMalini , 15 Jun 2020
Malini Agarwal
Malini Agarwal

*This is an image someone captured when I was at Carter Road after the 26/11 terrorist attacks. I was destroyed by it for days. I had spent the night hiding in a building in front of the Oberoi Hotel, watching it burn.
My grief was not for anyone, in particular, thankfully all “my people” were safe, but it was nevertheless gut-wrenching pain. The photographer came up to me after taking my picture (I didn’t know he had) and asked gently, “I’m so sorry… who did you lose?” And I yelled at him to leave me alone. You know why? Because I hadn’t suffered a personal loss and I thought he would judge me for crying over no one in particular but for all of humanity because it hurt so much. Days later I saw this picture online with the caption “A woman grieves” and I thought. Yes she does. And I felt better knowing it didn’t matter who in particular I was grieving for. So I just want to say sorry to this photographer. Maybe you understood after all.*

Yesterday as you probably know, was devastating for us all. We lost two people back to back with no time to process any of it. In the middle of a pandemic lockdown and overwhelmed by a flood of shock and grief on social media thinking, “Wtf 2020? Enough already!”

For many, this was a deeply personal loss. From friends and family in unimaginable pain to acquaintances and admirers left stunned and heartbroken. But there are others who were none of these, who are struggling too and if you are one of them, this one’s for you.

I got a kind and thoughtful DM from Rithika Devi Sana today in response to a post I shared yesterday while trying to work through my own feelings.

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This message has been coming to me all day in different ways. I have been witnessing people today suffering through various levels of pain, disbelief, numbness, helplessness and deep loss. They all say the same thing. "I can't believe he's gone." In some cases they say "I feel like I wasn't there." ▫️ I think of myself as an empathetic person, but I find myself wondering: am I saying the right things? Should I console or just listen? Should I talk about my belief that souls never die, so don't be sad that they can't live this life anymore, they are already on another extraordinary adventure. We just have to accept that the grief we are feeling is this love we have nowhere to put now because we don't know if it reaches the other side. The heartbreak that resonates through a chain of people now connected forever by this common love of another soul. Or the grief of losing that love we received which we will miss terribly? Will it even make sense? Too soon? Too existential? What do you say to someone who has suffered this immeasurable loss? ▫️ My instinct is to speak from the heart, to ask "what are you feeling?" and try to address that. I am by no means an expert or authority on this. So I will try to get these answers for us all. But I would love to know what you say to someone who has suffered an irreversible loss? Because you can't say "it'll all be ok". It won't be. It'll be different and one day it'll be bearable. But that's not the right thing to say… Anyway now I'm rambling, I guess I want to know from those who have grieved, what did it/would it help to hear? I guess for me, someone acknowledged that my pain is real and raw and valid. But also something that gives me hope… ▫️ And to everyone who reached out to me today to tell me they are there for me. I can't tell you what a gift that is. Please know it reminds me that I am loved and that definitely makes me want to stay on this adventure a lot longer. But also know that we are all supernova dust, you were always there and I hope I was too. ▫️ So ya, just wanted to ask this question, maybe we will in the process discover what it would help us all to hear… #grief #love #hope #support #mentalhealth

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She said, “That’s exactly how I’m feeling, Malini. I’m not sure what triggers me and what won’t, even when I’m suffering from depression since I was 12! But, yesterday was different. I don’t know him personally. I’ve just seen him on screen and it’s been so tough. I think I’m gonna be like this for a few more days. I can feel my insides being restless and I can’t talk about it because it’s not my personal loss, but it feels like it. He had such an amazing life ahead of him. I understand what you’re going through at least I’m trying to. I’m so sorry we’re feeling this way. You’re not in this alone. We’re l together. This too shall pass. Take care❤️.”

First of all, thank God for the kindness of strangers. She didn’t need to send me that. And just like she didn’t need to show me love and empathy as someone she doesn’t personally know very well, she felt the ache for a life not lived and that’s understandable too.

My first instinct was to say, “Thank you so much. I understand how you feel too. It’s ok that’s it’s not a personal loss and you still feel sad. Just shows you are a deeply empathetic person.” Because I truly believe that. And then I thought maybe I should unpack this some more, perhaps it will help everyone understand their grief and work past it.

**Potential trigger warning ahead**

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It is absolutely heartbreaking to hear about @samirbangara who lost his life in a terrible motorcycle accident this morning. Our hearts are numb. Samir was an incredibly intelligent, generous and insightful leader, always so articulate and kind. My heart goes out to his family and friends and I know that anyone who knew him even a little bit has been deeply impacted by this loss. This comes as a great shock and loss to an industry he was so instrumental in carving as he was considered a Godfather to so many influencers and colleagues alike. May he rest in peace and may his family find the strength to endure. Love and light to the entire @myqyuki family. We are here for you if you need anything at all.

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I’ll tell you where I am on the pain scale right now. I can’t seem to separate the information that Samir Bangara is gone–because while I have this information, I also know him as such a sorted individual that surely he would have had a failsafe. Whenever I think about it, I can only imagine a motorcycle and a crash and believe that it was instantaneous and painless. And then I can see his thoughtful face at a panel making an excellent point (as he always did), and then it stops. I am on loop with this image at the moment. When I try to think about his family and all the people he mentored and that loved and admired him, my mind resets to crash and panel. On a forever kind of loop.

With Sushant Singh Rajput, I can’t help but think of the eerie similarities with Kushal Punjabi’s death and so many other celebrities who have taken their lives in a kind of solitude that must have been unbearable. None of us will ever fully understand or know what happened there. The passing of his ex-manager just a week before is adding shades of grey and fuelling gossip that I beg everyone not to fan. Let the police do their jobs. You’ll know when you know.

It’s been a while since I saw him honestly but I remember bits and pieces, from a fun interview at his house, where I admired how he was house proud and had painstakingly decorated and designed everything. To running into him dancing at a club and sharing a non-work relaxed moment. I knew him as a kind, thoughtful, friendly guy. Someone everyone felt had incredible talent and obvious potential. He proved it too.

So then what happened? I guess it bothers me deeply about how these lives are taken. Even by their own hands. The idea of intentionally ending your life in this painful and violent way makes me feel how horrible he must have been feeling, how helpless, how frantic that it happened that way. I’m not saying other ways are better or worse. I’m just saying my mind takes me here and then it stops. I hate that people posted pictures of him after the tragedy. How disrespectful and cruel.

**End of trigger warning**

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Today has been a difficult day. Heard about a motorcycle accident and a suicide that took two precious lives. My heart goes out to those who have been left behind. Family, friends, colleagues. Its mind-numbing. If you are hurting right now know that their souls are alive and always will be. Please share your feelings, ask for help, ask your friends and family how they are feeling too. It's a difficult time and there is a lot to process. Just remember you are not alone. We are all here for a reason, to live and love and learn. Sending you all my love and prayers for the departed. May your souls rest in peace. 🙏 All I can say is that I don't believe we disappear when we die. Our souls live on. And while it is devastating for the ones left behind remember that they feel the love and it heals them on their journey onwards. Please speak to someone about your grief. You are not alone. @mpowerminds @nbcarpediem2 @ananya_birla @adityathackeray @aryamanvb #MentalHealth

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I often go to find solace in Malini’s Girl Tribe. When I feel fragile, I know I will find love there. In the tribe, I came across a blog by Shivani Chavan that really moved me. It’s called Remember Me When I’m Gone in which she says, “Why do we take away a person’s dignity in his/her death? Could we try to remember good things about the person no matter what the conditions of his/her death were? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, remember? Someone’s death is not their story.” And I thought to myself YES. That is so true, someone’s death is not their story. Their story is how they lived.

And so, I come back to this grieving for strangers, for feeling the grief, but also feeling anxious about sharing it for fear of judgment or because it doesn’t fall into the parameters of justifiable mourning.

I know I function on a more instinctual than logical setting sometimes, so I see how a little science may put this into perspective for everyone. So I did some research. According to https://www.livescience.com/, there are various kinds of shared grief. For example, ‘Event grief’ is described as,

When tragedy strikes — whether a hurricane or a missing child — strangers often unite to comfort each other… In our often-isolating society, joining others to mourn for a stranger helps people feel connected, part of a larger whole, and a common cause. This was most dramatically seen after the death of Princess Diana in 1997, which was followed by the largest public expression of grief for a single death in history.

Quora says,

Caring about others means that you are likely to be a conscientious citizen, friend, neighbour, co-worker, and family member. Grief is universal, and it is not reserved exclusively for our friends and loved ones.

Author of The Path to Forgiveness, Michele DeVille says,

We grieve because we are human and humans have hearts that are capable of feeling a deep connection to many things in life… Grief is personal but it is also universal and whether we like it or not, grief is one of the few things that is prejudice to no one. Loss and grief is something that every single person on this planet will experience. There is no avoiding it and loss in life is a bond we all must share. There is grief in our hearts because tragedy and loss of life remind us of just how vulnerable we are. Tragedy serves as a brutal reminder of our immortality and in reality, life does not come with any guarantees. Life can be forever changed in one single second and sadly, those changes in life sometimes come without the chance to say goodbye.

So we grieve and we ache for the ones we are afraid to lose, for the ones we know will ache when we are gone. For the lack of closure and because we are human and empathy is our greatest gift.

A few hours after the news broke I got several messages telling me I’m not alone, and I can always reach out. It felt so loving and kind, I might even take you guys up on that…

Unexpected kindness is the most underrated agent of human change.
Unexpected kindness is the most underrated agent of human change.

So net-net,

While the reasons we grieve for strangers are both personal and varied, one thing seems certain: it is comforting to the families who have lost their loved ones.

So don’t feel like you can’t express your condolences. Even live science says it’s so.

All you have to do is be respectful, mindful, empathetic, and kind.

And if this grief has been instrumental in making you remind your loved ones that they are not alone then please, by all means, grieve for the death of strangers, because a little more love and concern in these uncertain times can never be a bad thing. In fact, it is exactly what the world needs now and will probably need forever.

Wtf 2020? But I’m not giving up on you, and that I believe is because of the kindness of strangers.

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And that's fine too.

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We often have such conversations and share our thoughts on conversations such as this on Malini’s Girl Tribe on Facebook. Click here to join the group.

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