Heartache in Gaza: A Mother’s Reflection Amidst Loss and Trauma

Heartache in Gaza
Photo Courtesy: Taneet Grewal

Waking up on a Sunday morning, hearing the pitter patter of feet in the kitchen, loud whispers being exchanged, dishes clinking, and birds chirping outside my window, I sat up in my bed and sent a prayer of gratitude into the universe. As I released my prayer, a deep guilt settled into my bones, and I felt heavy while thinking of the loss, trauma and heartache in Gaza.

For all the heartwarming sounds rising into my ears, the voices and noises that make up my home, on the other side of the world there are mothers who have become numb and gone deaf from the horrifying sounds of their homes and families being blown to pieces.

[Read Related: ‘Amplifying the Voices of Palestinian People is Absolutely Critical’: A Conversation With Catt Knarr]

As I took in the scene of my daughters in our living room — displaying handmade cards, bright with various colours of the rainbow, a slice of toasted bread covered in Nutella with a smiley face made of chocolate chip cookie bits, and a secret gift ordered from Amazon — I drew my girls into an embrace. I squeezed them, kissed them, and thanked them. But I didn’t feel any lighter. That guilt and grief continued to weigh heavily on my mind, my body, and my soul.

Whether I closed my eyes or kept them open, I could only envision images of mothers holding their dead babies. My brain cycled on children covered in blood and rubble, the white-grey skin of lifeless infants, the open mouths of wailing mothers, over and over and over. I tried to imagine those children covered in mud from playing with friends, those infants with rosy cheeks filled with their mother’s milk, and the mouths of those mothers spread into joyful grins at the sight of their laughing children.

My daughters and I continued our Sunday with our traditional visit to the Sikh temple, where we bowed down, touching our foreheads to the ground, and brought our hands together in prayer. As always, I asked God for forgiveness for my sins, for God to keep Their hand on the heads of my loved ones, and thanked God for each and every one of my life’s blessings. The hymnal music radiated through my body, and as the Ragi sang the words, “You are my Mother and Father, Lord,” my bones ached with sadness.

We ate our langar silently, side by side, and with each morsel of food I put into my mouth, I ruminated on how starved those mothers must be. Not just of nutrition, but of the love and warmth of their children and their homes. My skin prickled with fear and a lump formed in my throat as my mind conjured up nightmarish visions of my daughters being taken from me.

Being an empath my entire life, I already absorb the feelings and emotions of others, whether they are in my physical presence or far away, whether they are family or complete strangers, my mental state can alter in mere moments. But witnessing, in the palm of my hand, a genocide of innocent families, my mental, emotional, physical and spiritual state has been unfathomable. A roller coaster of rage, guilt, and grief.

Rage at the world for its evil, guilt for my helplessness, and grief for the mothers who will never get to celebrate Mother’s Day again; for the children who will never get to become mothers or fathers themselves.

After the Gurdwara, the girls and I went to the grocery store. They led me to the fresh flowers section where beautiful bouquets of roses, baby’s breath, hydrangeas and peonies stood before us. I thought of the mothers kneeling before the tiny graves that encased their children and wondered: did they even get to place flowers on those graves? Or were they murdered too?

I told my daughters that I did not want flowers this year. “But you love flowers!” they protested. “They won’t last,” I said, “they’ll die soon.” My guilt only grew, seeing the joy wiped from their faces. Fortunately, as many mothers often do for the sake of their children, I was able to put on a cheery mask and turn their frowns around.

However, despite what my daughters and I did that day; getting groceries, watching a movie, eating together, snuggling together at bedtime, my thoughts were consistently elsewhere. Scrolling my social media feed didn’t help. My body went rigid at the sight of celebrities on red carpets, influencers unboxing PR gifts, sharing their outfits of the day, links to all their baby gear, vacation vlogs. It just isn’t fair, I thought. How can everyone go on like this?

[Read Related: An Open Letter to Hindu-Indian Americans — It’s Time to put Ourselves on the Line for Palestine]

I turned red with shame thinking of the moments in which I had compared myself; my home, my salary, my material possessions, my marital status, my body, to the mothers I follow online. How foolish and selfish I was to think my life was lacking something, when I have everything I need and more. How dare I? At least I have a place to call home with access to food, clothing, electricity, and clean water. And most importantly, my daughters. I get the privilege of being their mother, experience their growth, create memories with them.

My Mother’s Day ended the same way it started: with lots of hugs and kisses. I told my daughters how grateful I am for them, how honoured I am to be their mama. As I took my anti-depression and anxiety medication, I reminded myself that although this war – in Gaza and in my heart – has shifted my perspective on life as a single mother, it is imperative that I take care of my own health; mentally and physically. I reminded myself that it is important to give myself some grace. Carrying the grief of these Palestinian mothers will not lighten their burdens and losses. To ensure I do not lose myself in these moments of overwhelm, I must reach out to those who can help, to be the best mom I can be, and to give my full support to freeing Palestine.

If you or someone you know is struggling with the emotional impact of the situation in Gaza, there are organizations that can offer support and assistance. Here are some resources you can reach out to:

  • Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA): Provides resources, support, and advocacy for mental health.
  • Kids Help Phone: Offers confidential support for young people via phone and text.
  • Soch Mental Health: Aims to empower community members to recognize and accept mental health as an essential part of their wellness through education, prevention, and building resilience.
  • South Asian Therapists: They are the largest South Asian mental health therapist and counselling community in the world. Their directory has hundreds of South Asian therapists, including those of Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan, Afghani and Nepali heritage. Here you can find culturally-competent South Asian mental health professionals to help you get the support you’re looking for.
By Taneet Grewal

Taneet Grewal's passion for storytelling began at the age of six with many fictional/magical characters. This grew into a love … Read more ›