'To commemorate Jai, every year on his birthday we watch every film in the Marvel franchise'Audrey Lim

Content note: This article contains mentions of grief

From Hamlet to Blackadder, and Kipling to the Queen, it is clear that the ‘stiff upper lip’ has long been seen as quintessentially ‘British.’ However, societal expectations of stoicism and self-restraint create an environment in which it is difficult to seek help when we are struggling; exposing our vulnerabilities to others is often misconstrued as weak, while articulating a need for comfort or guidance can be seen to carry connotations of failure. Indian society too is permeated by stigmas and taboos about mental health.

Growing up, I straddled these distinct yet parallel cultures. It’s no wonder I’ve never felt comfortable talking about my feelings. I tried it once, around the age of fifteen. Upon the insistence of a former teacher, I went to visit the school counsellor about some largely inconsequential teenage woe. Trudging into the homely office with a scowl etched on my features, I slumped into a puffy armchair laden with fluffy pastel cushions. An hour of stilted conversation later, the sensation that my every micro-expression was being magnified and scrutinised under her piercing gaze — like some sort of shuddering insect awaiting dissection — was enough to ensure that I never returned. This suited me just fine. I was more than capable of handling anything, I told myself. After all, I always had. And I was, until the day my cousin died. I’ve had over two years to come to terms with it and still I struggle to type these words. My hands shake, my breath shudders, and my eyes blur as tears trail down my cheeks, reminders of the visceral pain I feel to this day and no doubt always will.

“Grief is confusing in this way. It’s an odd dichotomy of the universal and the personal, always messy and never linear”

Jai passed away unexpectedly. A bad case of the winter flu turned to pneumonia, a collapsed lung, and just like that he was gone. The light at the heart of his being extinguished before it even had the chance to blaze. It sometimes seems strange to me, the intensity with which I mourn, for during his brief life I couldn’t claim to know Jai well. Yet somehow it makes perfect sense. To all those lucky enough to know him, Jai embodied joy. When he passed on, in some way he took that joy with him. It was near impossible to understand how the universe could be so cruel as to take a life so bright, so kind, and so incredibly young.

Reckoning with this triggered a maelstrom of feelings I couldn’t fully identify, let alone articulate. Grief is confusing in this way. It’s an odd dichotomy of the universal and the personal, always messy and never linear. Some days, when I think about Jai I’m overwhelmed by anguish, fury, and every emotion which lies between. On others, the pain is lesser. As though I’m under anaesthetic, the raw edges seem dulled and numbed. Of course, I am able to identify this now — as with all things, distance helps heal even the deepest of wounds. However, for a long time, help seemed impossible to find. It wasn’t until I turned to music that I found solace.

“In music I found the means to express and understand my grief”

Although written more as an ode to the power of literature, Victor Hugo’s 1864 essay William Shakespeare describes music as an expression of “that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” In many ways my experience shows this to be profoundly true. Music is one of the oldest forms of creativity and interconnection. It too is contradictory; a space of self-expression and self-understanding in which we can be at our most vulnerable, yet also derive our greatest strength. This complexity and incongruity made sense to me in ways formal therapy never did.


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In music I found the means to express and understand my grief. Bill Withers’ crooning tones express the hollowness of a life wherein there Ain’t No Sunshine in a way I never can. Coldplay takes me away to a blissful Eden, but REM reminds me that there is courage in facing up to the trials and tribulations of this flawed and imperfect life. Led Zeppelin waded me through a whirlwind of futility, melancholy, and mysticism. Then, as I listen to Stevie Wonder’s These Three Words and U2’s Ordinary Love, I am comforted by the knowledge that while his soul has shed its mortal shell, little pieces of my cousin live on within those of us whose lives he touched, treasured, and immortalised. Quite literally, I might add; Jai’s donated organs helped save the lives of several children since he passed away and a JustGiving page setup in his honour has raised almost £20,000 to date.

Like most children these days, Jai was obsessed with superheroes. Tony Stark was his favourite: the coolest, smartest and, although Jai never got to see it, ultimately the bravest of them all. To commemorate Jai, every year on his birthday we watch every film in the Marvel franchise. Of course, like Jai, Stark’s story has now drawn to a close. In the final scenes of Avengers: Endgame, Earth’s mightiest heroes say their bittersweet and sorrowful farewell to the “genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” It is oddly fitting that, to the dying strains of Alan Silvestri’s haunting yet uplifting orchestral score, I too was finally able to say my goodbyes to Jai.

When my little cousin died, I didn’t know how to seek help. Luckily, music was and always will be there to answer my unspoken clarion call.