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Halfway Thoughts | Grief, death and moving on


Helen Hajjaj is a Danish-Lebanese journalist who has spent most of her life in Denmark. After stints in Beirut and Cairo, she returned home for a career in TV production. With parents from two different countries, Helen is able to see Denmark and the Danes from both sides but self-identifies as a Copenhagener.

February 4, 2014
18:32

by Helen Hajjaj


A friend of mine recently lost her mother to cancer. It took less than a year from when she was diagnosed until she passed away. My friend has been very open about her thoughts and feelings throughout the entire process, crying out her own inner pain as her mother’s physical pain grew stronger. It was a heartbreaking process to follow from the sidelines. And one that brought back many memories.


My father was diagnosed with cancer the day before I started upper-secondary school. It was the beginning of August and he was told that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year. Twenty-one months later, he died. I don’t think anyone can prepare for how it feels to watch another person die – much less if that person is one of the most important people in your life. In the final few minutes, you’re torn between never wanting to let go and not being able to stand the sight of pain. I’ll never forget the look in my father’s eyes the last time he was able to open them. I’ll never forget the sounds he made when the morphine started to wear out and the pain set in, because he was too weak to speak. 


My father passed away almost 15 years ago, and yet it was only this week that I had a dream about him so vivid that I had to remind myself that he isn’t here anymore when I woke up. Whenever that happens, even if it’s only for a few minutes, it still feels like reliving his death and the sorrow that came along with it. To me, the most severe feelings of loss come when I should be feeling the happiest, which gives the word ‘bittersweet’ a completely new meaning. My friend is still getting used to the thought that she’ll never speak with her mother again, will never hear her laugh or feel her embrace. The initial shock might be fading away, but the sense of loss grows stronger every day as she realises these things. 


But on top of all that, she also has to deal with the fact that while she has been through – and continues to go through – an emotional earthquake, everyone else can just keep moving on. And that’s one of the hardest parts of loss. 


Being in school, I quickly wanted to move on and not miss out on parties or important school events. And everyone told me it was good to see that I wasn’t wallowing. But what was undoubtedly meant as a show of support wasn’t necessarily the best thing. At least not for me. I took all the comments as a sign that I shouldn’t mourn at all. Feeling sad wasn’t an option in my world. The consequence of that was that for several years I couldn’t talk about my father for fear of breaking down. If anyone even mentioned his name, I would have to look away. I dealt by not dealing, and that was a huge mistake.


So I admire my friend for being so open about everything she’s going through. She’s written long monologues on Facebook about her pain. No doubt there are those who think feelings like that should be kept at home or with your closest friends. But if posting her thoughts is what gets her through the hardest time in her life, so be it. It’s a healing process for her to write, and it has been a healing process for me to read.


As the months have passed, her Facebook profile is slowly being filled with pictures of her beautiful daughters and happy moments in life. Many people think that means she herself has healed and moved on. They’ve stopped asking her how she is. But still she keeps on being open and honest. I hope she continues that way, and I hope she inspires others to do the same. Loss and sorrow are still big taboos, but taboos that need to be broken.