Day 838

“How are you?”
There is no short answer. Often, there is no answer.
This question comes up walking past friends and acquaintances in corridors. All I can say in the given time is, “Fine. Thanks. And you?” All I can do is acknowledge the question, smile and nod. It’s like saying ‘Hello’. No one actually finds out how anyone is doing or feeling.

It’s been 2 years 3 months and 3 weeks. It could be said ‘enough’ time has passed. For who? Who decides how much time is enough? Traditionally bereavement has been a personal and private process. Does it mean that as a society we would generally prefer it to be personal and private? Other’s sadness can make us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, not knowing what to say or do. The path of least resistance is to not mention death or the deceased at all. There is a fervent desire that the bereaved will adjust and move on per a set timetable, not only for their own sake but also that of others.

The Bible says:

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

  • Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Never assume someone’s mourning is over and done with. It takes its own time.

Day 830

16387290_1223236211093081_7092133132352048931_n

Now, I belong to a network of mums and dads who share the same loss. We exchange stories, everyday struggles and our little achievements. Sometimes it is something as small as getting through an hour, a day. But then, fighting to get through the night, an all too familiar scenario. We know. We understand. We listen.

Sometimes, it is an inspirational piece of craft, a moving piece of music, a long walk or a rant. All of us desperately trying to hold on to who we were and make sense of who we now are, hanging on to the shreds of our being with all our might, seeing ourselves in each other, watching our helplessness and grief spill across the screen over and over again only to gather it all up and see it as nothing but love. All the rags weave together to form a mesh that strengthens each one of us. We recognise our reflections in each other and feel our little angels sending us collective blessings. All that is inside of us is alive even if it feels like it isn’t. It’s the purest form of love.

Day 825

“But, you have the rest of your life in front of you.”
‘That is a terrible thing to say! That is such a terrible thing to say.’
(A conversation between Jackie Kennedy and her friend a few days after JFK’s assassination, in the film ‘Jackie’)

These days I randomly find myself standing in queue at ticket-counters at random cinema halls looking for a ticket for the next show, whatever it may be. Last week it happened to be ‘Manchester by the sea’ and today, just by chance, it was ‘Jackie’, both portrayals of death, devastation and dignity. Is this Universe’s way of letting me know that I am not alone?

Many, who have survived violent deaths of their loved ones.
Many, who have struggled to keep their legacy alive.
Many, who have shown great dignity despite housing a volcano of anger inside them.
Many, who have silently hidden and nurtured their incessantly weeping wounds.
Many, who have wished for their own death every night while staring into the darkness.
Come morning, many who have put on a ‘brave’ face.
Many, who have thought, ‘I could have saved him.’
Many, who have insisted the world witnesses the aftermath.
Many, who have held the bodies of those they love, in disbelief.
Many, who have not even had the chance to do that.

Well, I guess I am not alone.

Day 792

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.
Nothing is hurt, nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!

Henry Scott Holland, Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford. Early 20th century.

Wish you were in this room or the next. Wish I could have filled a stocking with goodies for you. Wish we could have shared this day with those we love. Wish I could have heard you call out to me, “Mamma!” Wish we could have cooked and cleared up together talking about silly things. Wish we could have played a game of table-tennis or charades or carom. You were so good at them! And such fun! I did play, pray, smile and think of you a lot. I missed you every minute of the day but I was ‘normal’. Went mountain biking for the first time. I remembered how you loved stamping your little feet in puddles on the footpath when you walked to and from your primary school. I enjoyed cycling through similar muddy puddles and felt how you must have felt. Si was amused by the squeals. Your name was spoken many times with love and pride as if you are here. And you are, in our hearts. Utterly unforgettable. Till we meet again…

Day 776

unnamed

The best  part of getting a hair cut is the repeated minuscule warm contact between the finger tips and scalp. My hair-dresser is an old friend. She knows how much I value her loving head massages. Shortly following Saagar’s leaving, a few minutes of massage would bring forth floods of tears. Now, it is an immersive experience that makes everything else disappear, including me. What remain are the nerve endings gently firing away on both sides of the points of contact. It is a welcome interference in the body’s bio-magnetic energy field.

Sights, smells, tastes and sounds grab our attention easily. It’s impossible to ignore a loud conversation on a bus, a song I loved to dance to, the aroma of red onions and cumin seeds spluttering in butter and the accompanying nostalgia. Touch is like a shy cousin of the other senses. It requires nurturing and careful attention.

Brockwell park was graced by a hazy sun this afternoon. I walked past the logs of wood where Saagar and I used to sit when he was unwell. My mind started to somersault. I closed my eyes, leaned against a nearby tree and brushed my hand over the bark.It felt like emery paper magnified a hundred times. I stayed there for a while. In the herb-garden, the sage leaves felt soft and fuzzy. The silkiness of the purple and yellow petals of pansy on my face was like butterfly wings.

The wooden bench I sat on felt smooth as marble but warm and welcoming.The metal plaque on it said that it was there in memory of some one who died in 2013 at the age of 50. My age. I wondered what their story was. “Thank you. Sorry.” I said silently.

As I touched all these things, I allowed them to gently touch and settle my heart.

 

Day 770

The Last Time 

The last time we had dinner together in a restaurant
with white tablecloths, he leaned forward
and took my two hands in his hands and said,
I’m going to die soon. I want you to know that.

And I said, I think I do know.
And he said, What surprises me is that you don’t
And I said, I do. And he said, What?
And I said, Know that you’re going to die.

And he said, No, I mean know that you are.

– by Marie Howe whose brother John died of an AIDS-related illness in 1989. She published her best-known book of poems, What the Living Do. The title poem in the collection is a haunting lament for her brother with the plain last line: “I am living. I remember you.”

What the Living Do

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days,
some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won’t work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up.

Waiting for the plumber I still haven’t called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It’s winter again: the sky’s a deep, headstrong blue, and then the sunlight passes through

the open living room windows because the heat’s on too high in here
and I can’t turn it off.

For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I’ve been thinking now: This is what the living do.
And yesterday, hurrying along those wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk,
spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

When you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass.
We want whoever to call or not to call, a letter, a kiss- we want more and more and more of it.

But there are moments, when walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself
in the window glass, say, the window of the corner of the video store,
and I’m gripped by a cherishing so deep

For my own blown hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I’m speechless:
I am living. I remember you.

Day 767

For months I have been noticing that more often than not, whenever I randomly turn on the radio in the car or at home, I hear something closely related to what’s going on in my mind.

‘Stand by me’ was the first episode of a series called ‘We need to talk about death’ on BBC Radio 4. Given that death and dying are an essential part of the stream of human existence, many of us shy away from the subject. In this series Joan Bakewell explores the choices open to us and other questions on the subject that are most feared. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083pd1p

Last Sunday, on the long drive home, between Bollywood and Jazz music, we tuned into the radio to check what was on. We were introduced to an enigmatic Welsh word, ‘Hiraeth’ (pronounced Here-eyeth with a rolling ‘r’). There is no exact English word for it. The best we can do is ‘homesickness’ but that doesn’t do it any justice. Hiraeth is a feeling of something lost a long time ago. To feel hiraeth is to feel a deep sense of incompleteness, a yearning for something better, a grief for something left behind, an aspect of impossibility, pining for a home or a person. It can push the nostalgia button and bring on the belief that things were better in the past. It is the signature tune of loss. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b083m307

I think I know what that feels like.