Time to Grieve

Umut Duygu Uzunel (+Video)


On a cold day in the winter of 2017, I landed in Toronto and told the border officer I wanted to become a refugee, even though I didn’t know what being a refugee meant. I was stateless, alone and desperate. I was arriving from Turkey because—due to the political unrest—there was a potential for me to be arrested for the volunteer work I had been doing in Africa. My husband was already in jail. I was skeptical about how to survive in this cold and snowy country as a disabled person who is unable to walk even on pavement that is not icy. But I had to prioritize. My first need was to have a country to live in. 

During the immigration process, my feelings were also frozen. I couldn’t feel any sorrow for what I had lost or left behind, including my kids, jailed husband, family, identity, and possessions. I didn’t know where to fit in. I felt like the boots that I bought in the first winter here despite the fact that I never liked boots. They are tough to get on and take off given the weakness of my feet. They increase my pain. I felt more alone than before because I noticed my disease was getting worse. 

Perhaps, you wonder who I am. I am an ophthalmologist who is passionate about helping people without access to eye treatments, including surgery. This was the volunteer work I was doing in Africa. In the specific operations I was performing, the outcome is very fast, so I did not have to be patient while waiting for the good results. That is like my personality. I was really impatient until coming to Canada. The immigration process contributed to my “patience education”, as there is no rush in this part of the world for paperwork, paperwork. What was making my life unbearable was not being allowed to bring my kids to Canada.

Today, I am studying naturopathic medicine. It does not work as quickly as surgery! Now I need time to see the outcomes of my recommendations. This process continues to teach me how to be patient in all aspects of life. 

The moment I reunited with my kids in Germany was incredible. It was eighteen months after I had left them in Turkey when they were fifteen and eight years old. When I saw them, I felt like I had everything….After a few weeks, my young daughter told me how much both she and I had changed while we were apart. Yes, she was right. I was different. I had met a lot of losses and obstacles, and she had, too. She was bigger now, and I had missed her school plays, graduation parties, sick days, and birthday parties. So, I understood it was time to grieve. But I had many more things to do before grieving. That’s why I postponed my grief again until we settled in Canada, and they started school. 

Then it was time to reveal feelings that had been waiting under the mat for years. I did it at school in front of my classmates as a demo case. The professor was looking for a volunteer to demonstrate intake procedures. Only I raised my hand. So, I became a patient for the purpose of my classmates’ learning. The professor asked many detailed questions that were necessary in order to choose the right homeopathic remedy. Someone was hearing my feelings. I hadn’t shared in this way before, and I started to cry while trying to look strong.

It was a big relief for me. I cried almost every day for a few weeks. Then it was gone. I healed myself as we are taught in naturopathic medicine and as we teach others to heal themselves. I noticed that if someone is trying to be strong, it may mean there are a lot of things to express, a lot of suppressed emotions. So, let’s grieve and be…relieved.

Watch the Performance

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