When No One Shares Your Grief

A week ago my mom called with some sad news. Stefanous had died. I was so shocked. He was only 5 years older than I am. His youngest daughter was only just married two weeks ago. A flash flood of memories instantly floored me and I began to cry.

For those of us who grew up in far away parts of Asia and South Asia and I suspect in the great continent of Africa, our families, our households, included extra people. It was impossible to attend to all the work of living on their own in places where conveniences were few and life was hard and so our mothers hired house helpers and sometimes gardeners and cooks and guards or watchmen. These extras were a vital part of the cast of our theatrical lives. They were in the background many times, but they were there, constants in a sometimes-chaotic childhood. In some ways they were family, but those ways are stretched and extended. From this side of the ocean looking back on the strange story that is my childhood it feels awkward and difficult to explain the connection to these beloved extras.

Stefanous came to work part time for my family when he was only 14 or 15 years old. Mom taught him to wash dishes, to clean the house, to help with basic meal prep. Later, as Stefanous grew up, he fancied learning how to cook. He learned how to bake bread. He learned several Western dishes. He could make a few desserts. Mom would demonstrate how to do it. She would tell Stefanous the recipe and he would write it down slowly in a small “copy” (notebook) with his pencil. Our strange and foreign favourites were now captured in Urdu in a Pakistani copy and in the heart of a Punjabi man.

Stefanous lived in a small room behind our house. After he got married he brought his beautiful Parveen back to that simple room. Their babies eventually joined our circle; first Lubana, then Aksah and then the boys: Amoon and Shani. I was a teenager by the time those adorable girls were toddlers. Lubana and Aksah were in and out of our home. They were my playthings. I loved them. Lubana, the precocious beautiful first-born daughter especially stole my affections. Like a real life doll, I dressed her and toted her around all over the courtyard and through out the house.

Two weeks ago one of Stefanous’s sons sent pictures of his sister’s Aksah’s wedding. I stared at each picture and tried to find the little people I had known in the adult faces. I marveled at how Stefanous himself looked remarkably the same. Parveen Bhaji (my big sister) also seemed the same, maybe slightly softer and rounder, but essentially the same.

And now Stefanous is gone. The news is cryptic and insufficient. We suspect it was a heart attack, although we’ll probably never really know the details. What do I do with this strange grief? Where do I go to ‘ofsos’? Where do I go to give my condolences? Stefanous wasn’t family in the traditional sense. How do I post on FaceBook, “my parent’s servant died”? There’s no way to explain it.

I called my Lowell. He responded with comfort and joined me in my sadness. I tried calling Marilyn, even though I knew the chances were slim that she would answer. Still I knew that if I could get a hold of her she would understand. I tried calling another childhood friend, Kiran, whose childhood was just as far away as mine. She missed the call but called me right back. Kiran held my memories with reverence. She let me cry. I told her some of the funny foibles of Stefanous’s work habits. I remembered how he just about drove my dad nuts. He was such a slow worker, especially in those early years. Stefanous was also one of the most honest people I know. He was faithful and loyal and consistent. Stefanous was a good husband and a devoted father. He loved his family well.

When Lowell and I got married and moved to India I missed Stefanous so badly. I wasn’t sure how to live in South Asia without him. He became this larger than life thing in our marriage. What I remembered of him and all he could do grew to mythical proportions as I struggled to set up household routines in a foreign country. When Lowell actually got to meet Stefanous and heard the real stories from my parents he never let me live it down.

I know I’m not just grieving the loss of Stefanous. I’m grieving another deathblow to my childhood. I’m mourning the miles and miles that keep me separated from those memories. I cry because somehow the death of Stefanous serves to remind me of how strange my story seems. My tears tell of a strange sort of weariness. There are days I long for a more normal narrative.

But for today I mourn for Stefanous. His widow, Parveen, is a strong woman and she has her two sons to care for her, but it’s too soon to lose Stefanous. I’m so sorry for her loss. I’m grateful Stefanous was able to get both of his precious daughters married off but those daughters will always miss their Abhu Jaan. The sons, Amoon and Shani, still need their father to shepherd them through their journey into adulthood. Death is always difficult. Death so young is impossibly hard. Death so far away seems doubly so.

Stefanous Massey, 51, died suddenly of a suspected heart attack. Stefanous was born to Bharakat and Khurishida Massey in Bees Chuk, District Layyah. The second youngest of eight children, he spent most of his childhood, along with his immediate family, in the home of Norman and Helen Gamble. He was employed by Gary and Joan Allyn from 1980-2000. Since then he has worked in Lahore for the Seven Day Adventist guest house, and for a general in the Pakistani army. Stefanous was a loving husband and a devoted father. He had a great sense of humour and he especially loved playing jokes on people. He loved music and would often listen to it and sing along while he worked. During their years in Layyah he was a member of and faithfully attended the church there. He is survived by and will be sorely missed by his wife Parveen, his daughter Lubana and her husband, one grand daughter, his daughter Aksah and her husband, and his two sons, Amoon and Shani, several siblings, many nieces and nephews and countless cousins.

Rest in peace, Stefanous, rest in peace.

10 thoughts on “When No One Shares Your Grief

  1. I get it. Last year a dear friend of my mother’s died. We knew him when she and I lived together (alone, while she was separated from my dad, and my older brothers lived with him). So we had no one but each other to mourn with, even though my younger brother had been a classmate of the friend’s daughter when I was older.
    The friend was a professional musician and was very kind to me, showing me how to play the steel drums. I didn’t know he was famous – I just knew him as a kind and gentle man who sometimes took us to his concerts.
    Like you, I felt that I lost a piece of my childhood when he died, even though I hadn’t seen him in many years.

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  2. Thank you for sharing and (for some) introducing us to your loved one and his family. And also for giving us another peek into your “not-normal” narrative. From your description I can see how he, and his family, must have been so much like family to you and yours. Grief of his passing and grief for his mourning family only seems natural. I’m so sorry your heart is hurting. Grief can be a lonely place, and we long for others to understand and remember with us. Let the tears flow, friend. Peace to your heart and to all those who cared for him.

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  3. Robynn I do remember Stephanous and his family especially Lubana when we came to visit you in the winter. I have a picture of Lubana and Jolene in your courtyard. I am sorry to hear this news. What a loss for his family. I know that you were so attached to that family. May the LORD give you HIS peace. Thanks for sharing such a meaningful tribute. You are part of all you have met and no doubt his family is part of you.

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  4. I was just thinking the other day how much I miss spending time with Parveen! Now I hear this news and it makes me so sad for her sudden loss. I will definitely be praying for her and the family in their grief (and mine). It is so good to have news of them, though, even if it is through such an occasion. Nathan will be sad, too, but he will be happy to hear of Lubena’s marriage. Thank you for a such a sweetly honest post about our dear friend — as I said on Facebook, you are not alone in your grief! (((hugs))) Margaret G.

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    1. Robynn Bara of sous! To add another memory that you were not there to share about dear Stephanous. One day when he was cleaning our dishes he asked Shelley what are these. Shelley had the hardest time explaining what chop sticks are. After the broken Urdu his reply was why would they use sticks. That is weird why don’t they just use their hands like me! A dear man and a family filled with joy and service!

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  5. The most underrated and overlooked grief is the grief of friends. You are grieving well in this.
    This is when I remember most that tears are the consolation of the Holy Spirit.
    Peace and blessing be yours – and upon the household of your friend.

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  6. Grieve Robynn. He was family and his family was your family. I understand your grief and I cry with you in your loss. But remember, this is not the end. God bless you.

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