Every day my love is new.

All those years ago, when we were kids, we attended medical school together. The Batch of 1983 had its 3rd re-union at Cochin, the capital of Kerala in South India over the last 3 days. I travelled from snow-bound Wiltshire to lush green tropics. Many of my classmates came together from all over the globe. Some brought their families. Others brought videos of their kids doing this and that. I brought memories. We shared stories of our teachers and colleagues from our time as adolescents and young doctors at our alma mater. We felt close to each other, reminiscing our naivety, vulnerability and innocence. Nostalgia of our ‘good old days’ of simplicity, like silk threads knitted us close.

We went sari shopping. My friend chose a pale blue sari with a gold border. Her 15 year old daughter commented, “it’s as bland as playing tennis without a net.” It was exactly the kind of thing Saagar would say. He would also take great pleasure in imitating the way I say, “So pretty. No?”. Aaaaaaaaargh!!!

Looking back:

2014: Saagar went.
2015: Longing
2016: Longing
2017: Longing

If I told my plight to a river, it would stop flowing. If I told it to a tree it would shed all its leaves. I burn in this fire of longing, again and again, every day. I have become a boat of compassion filled with the gold of nothing, riding the waves in search of my beloved. I weather the tides of sorrow and happiness while my longing lives in me. I find my beloved in my longing. There is no destination no more.

An ancient parable goes like this: Once a forest caught fire and all the birds and animals of that forest started to leave. There was a bright little parrot who decided to stay. The tree that housed it said, ”You have wings. Go. Fly away.”
“I ate your fruit, I soiled your leaves, I played from branch to branch. You burn and I fly away? You love but once.”
The utterly foolish parrot goes and plunges herself in a nearby lake, comes back and flaps her wings over the blazing forest fire. Two drops of water fall. She goes back into the lake and come back with another couple of drops of water and sprinkles them over the humungous fire. The other fleeing birds and animals start scoffing and laughing at her.
“What do you think you are doing?”, they say.
The parrot turns around and says “I am doing what I can.”
Just then the Gods pass by and see this bird. They take the form of an eagle and watch her closely. They are incredible moved to see her do what needed to be done, be in the here and now and her passionate endeavours to quench the fire in and around her. The Gods wept and the clouds burst into a heavy down pour of milk.

Everyday my love is new.
I wish you the same.

“Whatever happens in your life, no matter how troubling things might seem, do not enter the neighbourhood of despair. Even when all doors remain closed, God will open-up a new path only for you. Be thankful when all is well. A Sufi is thankful not only for what he has been given but also for all that has been denied.” – From ‘Forty rules of love’ by Elif Shafak.

The sun has risen.

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The longest night of the year is behind us. The sun is rising. We are sitting by the log-fire swapping stories of Christmas’s past, Si’s and his sister’s childhood, drinking pots of tea, mainly to carry with it slabs of brandy-soaked Christmas cake.

We recount our holidays from a few years ago when Saagar had the pleasure (not) of dressing his first pheasant with the help of an aunt from the country.  We all took turns at being beaten by him at table tennis. He looked gorgeous in a navy blue shirt and dark-rimmed spectacles. He had just been prescribed glasses. He was getting used to wearing them and I was getting used to seeing him wearing them.

Until he was 10, we religiously left a glass of wine and an orange for Santa on the mantle-piece. He wrote a letter to him every year. I remember he always started with “Dear Santa and Mrs Santa, …” 🙂 We took pictures with him. We watched his films and we found him to be cool and cuddly.

That year his gift was wrapped in a deep blue paper with glittery stars and snow-flakes in various shapes and sizes. He found just what he wanted inside. He jumped up and down for a bit and then sat down, visibly thinking.

“I saw a roll of this identical wrapping paper in the corner of the boiler cup-board.” He said. I sat on the sofa, over-smiling, as though I had nothing to hide. The mechanics of his brain clicked away as he figured out how the roll might have got there. I made feeble counter arguments.

“Maybe he had too many things to carry so he left some things here.”
“Maybe he wanted you to keep some of his favourite paper.”
“Maybe he has kept it for next year.”
“He left that paper there last year.”

He wasn’t fooled. That was the end of innocence.

Have a good one my darling, wherever you are. Lucky are the angels that are with you.
You are loved and cherished more than you know, Christmas or no Christmas.
Love you sweetheart! xxx

 

Confidentiality versus Life

Three years back I joined a club no one wants to be a member of. I became a parent who lost their beautiful child to suicide. He was 20. I didn’t think it was possible. I trusted his doctors to take good care of him. I trusted they would tell me if there was a real risk of him dying, given I am his mother and was his prime carer. I thought they had the expertise to identify and address ‘crisis’ when they saw it. Suicide was not in the script. It was not supposed to happen. I turn the fact of his sudden traumatic death over and over in my head and it makes no sense.

There are hundreds of distraught and bewildered members of this club. Common themes emerge from their stories. The commonest one is:

“They knew our child wanted to end his/her life but they didn’t tell us anything about it.”

Who are they?
Decision makers – Medics. Universities.

Why?
Because he/she is over 18, hence, technically an adult.
Their ‘confidentiality’ is paramount.

Is it?
Is it more important than helping them stay alive?

The Hippocratic oath states:
“I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous.”

According to experts[1], these are the essential components of an effective suicide prevention safety plan:

  1. Discussing the reasons for living
  2. Safe environment
  3. Identify distress triggers
  4. Removing ways to harm yourself
  5. Activities to calm/lift mood or distract
  6. Contacts for general support
  7. Specific suicide prevention support
  8. Professional support
  9. Emergency contact details
  10. Personal commitment to follow safety plan

Most of the above cannot be implemented without the help of carers and families if the person in question is seriously unwell. This has been recognised by the Department of Health, Royal Colleges of Psychiatrists, GPs and Nursing along with The British Association of Social Workers and The British Psychological Society. Together they published a consensus statement entitled[2] “Information Sharing and Suicide Prevention” in 2014, the same year that my son, Saagar Naresh[3] passed away. It clearly states that practitioners should disclose information to an appropriate person or authority if this is necessary to protect a child or young person from risk of death or serious harm.

“If the purpose of the disclosure is to prevent a person who lacks capacity from serious harm, there is an expectation that practitioners will disclose relevant confidential information, if it is considered to be in the person’s best interest to do so.”

This is still not being practised. The world of medicine is a conservative and defensive one. Until the regulatory bodies, NHS Trusts and the Government come forward to reassure practitioners that their decision to share information appropriately will be supported by them, nothing will change.

While the world carries on, innocent youngsters die from lack of support and understanding from the very people who are best placed to help them. PAPYRUS, a UK charity dedicated to prevention of young suicides[4] demands that information be appropriately shared with carers and families by all who take care of vulnerable young people at risk of suicide.

Confidentiality versus Life. It’s a no-brainer.

References:

[1] https://www.healthcareconferencesuk.co.uk/news/newsfiles/alys-cole-king_1219.pdf

[2] https://www.bl.uk/britishlibrary/~/media/bl/global/social-welfare/pdfs/non-secure/i/n/f/information-sharing-and-suicide-prevention-consensus-statement.pdf

[3] www.kidsaregifts.org

[4] PAPYRUS (https://www.papyrus-uk.org/)

Small talk saves lives.

It’s a dry winter morning. I am in my favourite red jumper and floral denims, on my way to the therapist. I have seen him for 3 years and I remain completely unfinished. My train will arrive at this platform, Platform number 1, West Norwood Station in 4 minutes. There are only 2 tracks and only 2 platforms here. The sun is in hiding and all trains are delayed, allegedly due to bad weather. Despite 2 people ahead of me in the queue there is enough time for me to get a cappuccino with one and a half sugars from the newly-opened kiosk, the Blackbird Bakery. The pair of sweet,  smiley girls behind the counter have a way of making things work while maintaining an environment of relaxed, chatty friendliness.

A toddler in a pram doesn’t want her half-eaten kitkat anymore. She wants to feed it to the birds. Her mum takes it from her and lovingly puts it in her own mouth. She gets a quizzical look from her daughter. She beams a gentle smile back on to her baby.

Just as the train pulls up behind me, my order is ready. In the here and now, the yellowness of the foliage on the ground and on trees is bright as stippled sunshine. My drink smells like the warmth of Brazil. Grateful for no rain, I turn around and step onto the train holding my hand-warming  and heart-warming treat.

I look for a forward-facing window seat with a table. The one I find seats an unclaimed blue knitted scarf, coiled up like a snake. An overweight elderly lady sits with a smile opposite me.

‘Is this your’s?’ I ask.
The train starts to move.
‘No.’ says she.
‘How are you?’
‘I am ok’, she says in a strong Spanish accent.
‘Doing anything nice today?’
‘Going to see a friend in Victoria. We don’t talk much. We meet once a week. We go for hot-chocolate.’
‘That’s nice.’
She looks down at a picture of 3 pretty young women in her magazine.
‘I always wanted daughters but I got 2 sons and1 grandson. No girls.’
‘Boys are lovely too.’
‘Yes. But I would have liked a girl.’
I smile.
West Norwood station is well behind us by now.
Saagar, my son comes alive in my mind.
Platform 1 was where he spent his last couple of hours. That was 3 years ago. He was more than I could have dreamt of. All I wanted was him, his happiness. Nothing else.

He was there for at least two whole hours. No one spoke with him. Small talk saves lives. For every life lost on the railway, 6 are saved by those around them. Only if someone had interrupted his train of thoughts. Only if someone had trusted their instincts enough, to act. Only if someone had cared enough to ask if he was ok. Only if everyone had the basic tools of suicide prevention, just like they do for choking and drowning. Who knows?

Now, all I want is for him to come back to me.

Free on-line training for all, in Suicide prevention, launched by the Zero Suicide Alliance. 20 minutes of life-saving skills : https://www.relias.co.uk/zero-suicide-alliance/form.

 

Silk resembles love.

Rose petals

Couple of years before he died, Saagar thought I needed to see a therapist. He didn’t explain why. At the time I couldn’t figure out what he meant. I guess he could see that I did not know how to access the sweetness of life. I allowed preoccupations of work and practicalities of life to fill my time, leaving little room for love.

Painfully delicate and surprisingly strong, silk resembles love. The silkworms destroy the silk they produce as they emerge from their cocoons. That is why farmers have to make a choice between silk and silkworms. Often they kill the silkworm while it is inside the cocoon so as to pull the silk out intact. It takes the lives of hundreds of silkworms to make as scarf. But for the silk to survive, the silkworm has to die.*

At a small and sweet ceremony, in the middle of nowhere, in the presence of twenty people, holding the holy fire as witness, Si and I tied the knot yesterday. It was a joyous day, a celebration of love.

On the previous night the moon was full. Saagar was with us.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” – Rumi

*Ref: ‘Forty rules of love’ by Elif Shafak.

 

Three years of nothing

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One morning as I set off to work on my bike, my neighbour bundled up her chatty 6 years old son in her car and drove him to school. In the evening when I got back home, huffing and puffing, she was there again, putting the bins out with her son. I unlocked our front door and walked in with the biggest lump in my throat.

A few months ago, a notice arrived from the Council saying that the rubbish collection day would change from Tuesdays to Fridays. My first thought was, “Must let Saagar know.” It’s not the fancy things, but silly, mundane, ordinary, everyday things that make up the essential fabric of life.

Yesterday was three years since we spent a whole day together, going to the GP, then to the green-grocer and bank, then for a walk and then for an afternoon nap. When he was upstairs in his room, I phoned my brother in India and shared my sadness and helplessness about Saagar’s illness. He said he would come over as soon as his Visa came through, most likely within the next couple of days. I felt re-assured. I cooked a nice meal. We ate and watched TV together. We kissed good-night and went to bed.

3 years ago, today was the last time I drove him to the gym and back. He didn’t spend much time there. I noticed but didn’t make much of it. I asked him if he met any of his friends in the gym. He said no. He did his best to carry on. Today was the last time I gave him a cuddle and kissed him good night.

Last week I happened to walk past the GP surgery where Saagar was treated (or not). It has closed. The GP has retired. A barrage of mixed feelings emerged out of nowhere. It felt good to read that sign. Yet, it marked the end of a career, a vocation. God knows how many people found help and comfort there. God knows how many got lost. God knows how many such practices still exist where GPs work single-handedly and in isolation, hiring locums on occasion.

Walking along the Thames a few days ago, a stream of bubbles glided across my field of vision with the majestic, unshakable St Paul’s cathedral standing solidly in the background. The bubbles captured all the colours of the rainbow hidden in the autumn sun. The breeze sculpted subtle shifts in the shapes of the bubbles as they floated along the river. They danced and smiled as they moved with the wind. They added immense beauty to the world even though they lasted less than a few seconds.

Billions of people have lived and died before Saagar and I. Hopefully, billions will live and die after us. We are like bubbles in the ocean of life, capturing all the colourful emotions and being the best we can for as long as we are here, however long or short.

Saagar’s best friend Hugo shares his thoughts and memories. He also sings a beautiful song for Saagar. We love you and miss you darling Saagar. May peace be upon you!

 

 

 

 

A life sentence.

The best part of being human is to be able to feel stuff. All kinds of stuff. The world seems to be forever in pursuit of happiness in more money, more holidays, more clothes, more children and so on. The elusive ‘happiness’ is put on hold until the ‘more’ arrives, soon to be followed by more ‘more’.

In a week, it will be 3 years since Saagar died. For days I have been feeling this day approaching like a huge oil tanker which is going to squash my dinky little boat. This inauspicious day should be removed from all calendars everywhere for all the years ahead. It should be obliterated, erased, deleted and destroyed.

I think back on this time three years ago, trying to understand how Saagar must have felt. I try to find words for the thoughts and feeling that he could not verbalise. I lament the fact that no one could read his body language. I admire him for coping with his state of mind with patience and dignity. I look at his face-book post from this night. It was a full moon. He said ‘big ass moooooon innit”. I marvel at his ability to appreciate beauty. I remember how funny he was. I get a smile on my face. I promise myself never to take one moment of those 20 years for granted. Each of them was a blessing. Yes. It’s true that this feels like a life-sentence sometimes. Yet, I know I am blessed.

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“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace