Saturday, December 22, 2012

What's left is memories

I wrote this when I lost our daughter in 2001. She was only 34, and left two lovely little girls aged 6 and
 2 1/2....

It always happens to someone else or so you think. The tragedy of death. You commiserate with those who face the irreparable loss and your heart is squeezed. Nevertheless somewhere inside is the relief that it had not happened to you, and you float on the feeling of being forever protected. Alas no one is really protected from life’s strange vicissitudes….

Without warning, in one fell swoop, the inexorable axe of death separates you from the one you love more than life itself. A slow numbness spreads starting from your brain to the rest of your body. In an incomprehensible waking dream , you are as it were, insulated from reality. You go through the motions mechanically, the last rituals, looking at the stream of people, coming over to condole you, and you listen to clichés which you expect they will mouth, and staring at them with disbelief when they don’t.  “ You have to be brave,”  “Time is the best healer.” “ If there is anything you need we are there for you.”

One part of you is touched by their kindness and caring. Another part screams hurt when people lack sensitivity. When they ask probing questions. What  really happened? How did you let her go? You who are educated and know so much? Couldn’t  the medical care have been better? How is so and so taking it? It is the Indian way of showing concern. You cannot blame them. They all mean well, every single one of them.

Every single detail that led to the ultimate end is etched so finely in your mind. What you talked about. The dreams and the future. The smiles and the tears. How you tried to keep the visitors at bay. How they would sneak into the ICU for a seemingly last look. How your insides burned to have them view the spectacle of your loved one with tubes all over her body. Did it provide them satisfaction to have a look? Was it the sight that they hankered for?  “Well meaning” relatives who had the “right” to look in, could never be put off, however much you pleaded for privacy.  However much you pleaded that in the battle for life she be left with some shreds of dignity.

Shock and disbelief surge through your being, when you are told she is gone. You can’t even cry, because it did not happen. Someone else is laid out, someone else is cremated, the loved one is there in another room, sure to come out smiling, and soon…people come in droves or so it seems.

No room  is large enough. Did one really know so many people, or are they all strangers, acting out a part in a movie? You cringe as the blackness takes over. There is no day or no night. They silently file past, and say the right things to you, as you hang your head, ashamed for being alive, for being hungry, for wanting to sleep and to go through all the motions  of life in a search for normalcy.

You freeze as they wrest the physical body from your tender clasp, and agonise to hear that her ashes are scattered over the holy rivers, into water she was always a part of, into the outdoors where she really belonged. You search desperately for her astral body. And then you break down. Your cry from the depths of your soul is never heard. Because it is soundless. Enough, enough, please don’t speak to me, let me lay my head down, let me die, let me go.

Never mind if you go in and out of hospital. You need to get back into the mainstream of life for the living. The dead are gone, it is a tribute to the living to help them get on with their lives. The  living need you. Please hang in there. Look at so and so. Her tragedy is worse than yours she how she manages. I couldn’t care less about so and so. Your grief is unique to you and you alone, and it is your pain that you care about.  How you will address it, how you will work your way through it.  Why me? You ask yourself. Why not you? Pat comes the answer. Look  around you. People have lost their entire families. What about the earthquake in Bhuj so recent? How about 9/11?

And then start the sleepless nights. If only, you tell yourself, she were here. If only we had done this. If only we had done that. If only we were there early enough. The saddest two words and the most painful…”if only”. Regret, bitterness and guilt. The emotions cascade over you like waves. Grief stabs your body in hot pain. The dam bursts. You cry till you have no tears to shed. You go through desolation and black depression. You cannot focus on things which were dear to you just months ago.

Nothing matters anymore. There is no meaning to life. You go through the motions of daily living with mechanical rigidity. The spark of life which people found so attractive to you has gone maybe forever. You lose interest in the home, in how you look or how you dress. The long line of visitors dwindle, and there is a strange emptiness, for they too have been part of your daily routine. You are finally left alone with your thoughts, and your desolation and you plod one, wondering if there is any light at the end of the tunnel.

Somewhere out of the blue you hear a voice, “ I am just here with you, though you cannot see me. I love you and want you to carry on as you always have. I am watching over you…..” You hear it again and again. The tide turns. You see the familiar smile, the mannerisms and her voice in the children, and you know it is a miracle, and it is a message from her….Petal fresh memories linger with their own brand of fragrance, of happy times. You learn to shape your lips into a smile.

Before you realize it you are looking at the first anniversary. Friends and loved ones call, write or visit you, to say they remember. Flowers fill the house. You cry unabashedly at every single memory that unfolds. Anything triggers it… a particular piece of music, a smell or evern a colour. You lean heavily on people who have been there for you, consistently, through the year. Those who have nurtured you,  tenderly, helping you hold your head aloft, motivating you  to live and not sink into abysmal gloom.

After the enormous tidal wave, calm sets in, very slowly. Not an uneasy calm but a resigned peace thanks to meditation, the solace of spirituality and submission to the inevitable. Knowing that your loved one was halted at a time when she was beautiful, robust with health and youth, and realizing she will be so eternally, at least in your memory. A calm is born out of knowledge that she is at peace and that her karma in this life is fulfilled and that she responded to a higher calling. Knowing that she is there for you , to be summoned at will, and that she continues to live in her children and the ones who loved her. The voice sounds again, this time more gentle, more persuasive.

“Move on, as you always have. Don’t let this stop you. I am there if you have eyes to see. Look upon this as one more challenge met, one more lesson to be learnt. Look after the family I have left behind. Love them as you loved me. They are in your trust. Move on…..amma.”

And yes, you move on. But you wipe your tears first, as otherwise your path is blurred.


  1. Thank you for giving expression to many silent wails.

  2. My heart is with you. Could relate to your feelings as I lost me best friend few years back. The numbness follows. Lots of love to you. Your profile is an inspiration.