Navigating Grief and Loss During Diwali


When I think of Diwali (or Bandi Chhor Divas), I am immediately taken back home to my parents’ house; lit up with divay, my mother dressed in her finely embroidered silk Punjabi suit, and the entire family going to the Gurdwara. There, we would listen to beautiful hymns and prayers and eat a delicious dinner in the langar hall. The whole community would come together, lighting hundreds of candles. The night would end with everyone gathered outside to watch the fireworks as the children held sparklers in their hands with a joyful light in their eyes. These are the memories I am striving to recreate for my own girls as I am navigating grief and loss during this Diwali season.

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It was a time of pure magic. Exactly what I strive to give my own children when we celebrate Diwali. For them to one day be able to look back and remember some magical and colourful moments.

I can certainly provide them with the glittering Punjabi outfits, the twinkling lights and the visit to the Gurdwara. What I cannot do is bring back their daddy. My daughters lost their father 18 months ago. The pain of his loss still feels as raw as the day it happened, especially around the holidays, regardless of what holiday it is. Father’s Day is probably the worst, but Diwali is right in between the Canadian and American Thanksgiving. It is a time when everyone is usually posting on their social media platforms about their big family get-togethers and huge dinner tables filled lavishly with an array of food. Although my girls and I have a great support system throughout the year, it’s just not the same during the holidays.

Holidays never used to be hard. They were always about family, gathering, and celebrating. But now the first thought I have is, ‘he is missing all of this. He isn’t here. He doesn’t get to see the girls or experience it with them.’

I think what I grieve the most is not what I have lost, but what my daughters have lost and will continue to lose as they grow older. Right now, they are okay, they are, as we quite often hear about children, resilient. However, I can sense that going into their adolescent years, we will be facing their daddy’s loss in so many fresh, painful ways.

We are told that grief comes in waves. In my experience, those waves are awfully big, coming in crashes, leaving me breathless and sometimes feeling like I’m drowning. Although I refuse to take my daughters down with me, I have learned the impact of being vulnerable rather than hiding my emotions from them. As a single parent, I find that open communication is the most important thing I can foster with my girls.

What really helps when I am feeling especially heavy is crying. This has always been frowned upon, not just when I was a child, but I have even been discouraged from crying as an adult. It is unfortunately viewed as a sign of weakness and vulnerability. Fortunately for me though, as I grew and learned from several sessions of counseling and therapy: It takes strength to be vulnerable. Being vulnerable is powerful. It has shown my daughters that mommy is not a robot, but a human being with many emotions.

[Read Related: What Stops South Asians From Discussing Mental Health?]

Thank goodness I have been able to teach my daughters to let out their tears if they need to. In fact, I encourage them to let it all out, because keeping our dark and negative feelings inside causes them to fester and results in us becoming unhealthy in so many ways. It is unrealistic to always be happy, and I have realized as a parent that I just want my daughters to see me as an authentic human being, so that they can live freely as their best authentic selves, too.

When I do find myself in the depths of grief, I let them know what I am feeling and thinking. I might say something like, “I was thinking about daddy, and I’m feeling sad.” This opens up the conversation for them, too. They talk about how they feel and if there is anything bothering them. Sometimes they bring up their dreams, where he comes to visit them. It may have been a happy dream; them at the water park and him looking like his healthy self or a sad dream, when they wanted to save him from illness but could not. We can then turn this grief into something joyous, bringing up memories of daddy.

There aren’t a ton of memories surrounding Diwali with him specifically, as he was neither Sikh nor Hindu and did not attend the Gurdwara with us often. However, he did encourage me to light my candles around our home, dress up our girls and take photos of them looking like tiny Indian dolls. Even after we separated, the photos I took of our girls were immediately sent to him, followed by an exchange of messages filled with astonishment at the speed of their growth.

His father is Catholic, and his mother is Hindu, (his family is West Indian/Guyanese) so he grew up familiar with Diwali but didn’t quite experience it until he married me. He loved seeing me excitedly skip down the stairs, out of my mommy pajamas and into colourful garments draping over my shoulders, filling every corner of the house with heart-shaped divay, and cooking my famous Punjabi cholay with rice. It was a special time for all of us.

Grief can also bring up anger, resentment, and guilt. Anger at him for leaving this world, for leaving us. Resentment towards other families who have both mommy and daddy in the picture, lighting their candles and enjoying all the festivities that come with Diwali. Guilt for not being able to save him.

Which is why I have recently learned the importance of shifting. Shifting my way of being, whether that be angry, frustrated, sad, etc. to being joyful and grateful. When we are in a state of gratitude, there is absolutely no room for anger. Quickly shifting is the most effective way of ensuring my daughters are aware that we are responsible for our reactions. The easiest thing to do is to immerse ourselves in books, crafts, and bakes. These activities always take us out of any dark state and into one of light, freeing us and bonding us all at once.

This year, for Diwali, we plan on reading our Sikh/Punjabi children’s books, as well as some Hindu Diwali books. Some of our favourites include The Many Colours of Harpreet Singh, My Diwali Light, The Best Diwali Ever, and Binny’s Diwali. We are also going to create pretty lotus flower lanterns to place our lights in and place them in our dining room. One of my personal favourite childhood activities is devouring my mother’s famous homemade barfi, but this year I’m hoping to tackle her secret recipe with my daughters.

[Read Related: Book Review and Author Insights: Twas the Night Before Diwali; by Zenia Wadhwani ]

The girls also really enjoy dressing up Arya, our little Pomeranian chihuahua, by wrapping her up in small pieces of fabric from our Indian clothes. We cannot confirm or deny whether Arya feels the same way!

This is our second Diwali without him. We will continue to light a candle in his honour, just as he brought light into our lives when he was here in the physical form. When we get ourselves ready in beautiful clothing, send well wishes to our family members and friends, cover our heads in the Gurdwara, savour the langar, and light the divay, we do so in his memory.

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 ›