Dr Indu was broken inside out. She felt like a big black boulder and could barely hold her weight. After all these years of marching on alone and doing the ‘right’ things, this was her reward. Most of her friends had no clue what to say or do. After a few days it was clear that many of them could only stand by her for a week or 10 days max. This is when Indu remembered a passing acquaintance, Ruhi, a girl who wore long flouncy colourful skirts and big dangling ear-rings made of feathers and other dreamy things. She thought of her as a girl even though Ruhi had silvery grey hair and was seven years older than her.
Indu wanted to see Ruhi again. She didn’t know why but it had to be done. Indu posted her an invitation and as back-up, sent her a text with details.
The clear bright day was trying to cover-up the immensity of this death. Ruhi came in a flowing black dress with multiple strings of black wooden beads in various lengths cascading down, from her slender neck to her shapely waist. The ends of her long black sleeves opening-up like flowers to reveal her delicate hands. Not only did she have a pink lip-gloss on but also a serene smile. On this tearful day, she smiled on as if that was the most natural thing to do. No defiance or disrespect. A subtle involuntary smile, puzzling and misplaced.
She walked up to Indu and held both her hands in hers for a few frozen moments. She went on to open her arms and enclose Indu in them like a baby. “One day you’ll be grateful for this”, she whispered in her ear. By now Indu was used to hearing non-sense like “be brave”, “you’re so strong”, “such is life” and so on. She had learnt to ignore a lot. It took too much out of her to do anything more than that. “You have no idea what this is like” she thought to herself, feeling like a duplicate of herself amongst all these people. She drew back from Ruhi and looked into her dark brown eyes through her tearful ones. “Believe me. You will” Ruhi said softly.
Seven years have passed. Now Indu is as old as Ruhi was then.
And she remembers her horror at what Ruhi had whispered in her ear that day. The chains are falling off. Her vision is clearing. She notices more, within and without. She wants to live the truth. Be it. She knows it now. It’s all a ‘seeming’. All of this. It’s so clever. It fools us into believing it’s real. She has felt the presence of the divine in her broken heart. The blessings of a few fleeting golden moments of absolute grace have left her charmed with life and thirsty for more.
Indu and Ruhi meet up at the café that plays Bossa Nova jazz all day. They catch-up over large mugs of cappucino, sing and dance and take long walks together. They laugh and cry with abandon. Both wear pink lip-gloss and without knowing, they smile. Light as dust.
Si was flummoxed by the ‘<3’ sign appearing repeatedly in the chat box on a zoom call with friends. Sometimes all by itself, without context, without a before or after. It took him a while to realise what it was. I suppose you know already. Don’t you?
“Love thy neighbour as thyself” implies that respect for one’s own uniqueness and integrity is inseparable from the understanding of anothers. Yet, it is widely believed that it is virtuous to love others. But to offer that same love to yourself is somewhat indulgent. In fact, this misconception goes as far as to say that the degree to which I love myself, I do not love others. Self-love is commonly understood to be synonymous with selfishness or narcissism. The French theologian, John Calvin speaks of self-love as ‘a pest’. Self-love bad, hence, unselfishness good.
Selfishness and self-love are opposites. When selfish, one is incapable of loving others and incapable of loving oneself.
Only recently have I come to know this to be the truth – I am deserving of my love. In fact, I cannot fully love and respect another, until I love and respect myself a hundred percent. I don’t need to buy expensive gifts for me to experience it. Sitting quietly with myself is an act of love. It does not need evidence. It is free of all obligatory burdens. It is freedom itself.
On this day, I hope you can be your own Valentine. Happy Valentine’s day! Today and every day.
“If you love yourself, you love everybody else as you do yourself. As long as you love another person less than you love yourself, you will not really succeed in loving yourself, but if you love all alike, including yourself, you will love them as one person and that person is both God and man. Thus, he is a great and righteous person, who, loving himself, loves all others equally.”
2 days since we landed in Portugal and 2 days of feeling like I’ve been hit by a tonne of bricks. Great weather, lovely company, fabulous food and still this strange feeling of heaviness. Maybe it has something to do with the lunar cycle. May be it’s the accumulated tiredness of the past few months finding an outlet. Unsure of what to make of it, I speak to my friend about it and she tells me about ‘saudade’. It’s the Portuguese name for an emotion that lives in this land, its people, music and culture.
It is a wistful longing, drenched in sorrow, for something that can never be had again. It is nostalgia, but melancholic. It is longing, but knowing it cannot be. A type of self-delusion. So, “saudade” is a feeling of lost connection with the most important feeling or thing you ever had, a desire for something that you lost – a country, a grandmother, youth, a son, a lover.
In English, it means ‘to miss’. It is a verb.
In Portuguese, it is a thing. A noun. Saudade.
In the USA, the number of suicides in 2014 was 42,773. Of these, deaths by firearms were 21,334. So, approximately one-half of suicides are completed by firearm, accounting for two-thirds of all firearms deaths.
In the UK, the most common method used in the United Kingdom is hanging. Suicide using firearms accounts for only a very small fraction, possibly due to tight gun control. Only 4% of households in the UK possess them. Self poisoning and overdosing are the common methods used by women.
Removal of methods is one of the basic strategies for suicide prevention.
Details of suicide methods in the media have been shown to prompt vulnerable individuals to imitate suicidal behaviour. With this in mind, Samaritans recommend these media guidelines:
Avoid giving too much detail.
While saying someone hanged themselves or took an overdose is acceptable, detail about the type of ligature or type and quantity of tablets used is not. Avoid any mention of the method in headlines as this inadvertently promotes and perpetuates common methods of suicide.
Extra care must be taken when reporting the facts of cases where an unusual or previously unknown method has been used. Incidences of people using unusual or new methods of suicide have been known to increase rapidly after being reported widely. Reporting may also drive people to the internet to search for more information about these methods.
Remember that there is a risk of imitational behaviour due to ‘over-identification’.
Vulnerable individuals may identify with a person who has died, or with the circumstances in which a person took their own life. Never say a method is quick, easy, painless or certain to result in death. Try to avoid portraying anything that is immediate or easy to imitate – especially where the ingredients or tools involved are readily available.
The Golden Gate Bridge is identified as the scene of the most suicides in the world. Today a ceremony in San Francisco launched the building of a net to prevent suicides from occurring on the bridge. Excellent leadership has led this effort. Eduardo Vega explains beautifully how this leadership has impacted the decision to move toward a prevention of suicide on this world famous landmark in this video: https://youtu.be/bUSpiGOwoMk
The morning was spent on the phone with another Mum preparing herself for her son’s upcoming inquest.
The afternoon was spent watching 3 short documentary films at the BBC Arabic festival. One of the films was co-directed by one of Saagar’s friends. All 3 films were about the struggles of young men and their ways of dealing with them. Saagar would have loved them. He wouldn’t have required subtitles.
The evening was spent watching moving images of Saagar on the videos that were sent across electronically by one of his friends, over yesterday and today. The headphones on which I heard him play the Djembe solo is a present from another friend of Saagar’s. The eyes and ears made my broken heart overflow with pure love.
The sun shone brightly all day and for longer than normal.
All of the above are gifts from Saagar.
It was a happy day. Everyday is Mother’s day.
Love can’t be fully expressed, described or defined.
Trying to do so only touches the surface.
Love can only be experienced.
Divine love is beyond attributes.
Love for someone just because they are.
Divine love grows with every moment.
It doesn’t break.
Love is self-evident. No proof is required.
Life is an expression of the inexpressible.
“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.
When I found out about the passing of Saagar Naresh, I had very little time to process my thoughts. Sitting on a train to Munich several days later, I was alone with my thoughts for the first time, and a memory of Saagar popped into my head. We were in the music room at Aidan’s, having one of our last-minute band rehearsals. At the end of a song, we realised that one of the porters had been standing outside the room, listening to us. He came in, and he said “I’m loving the music, but could you possibly play a little more quietly?” Assuming that he could hear us from his desk upstairs, we weren’t all that surprised that we were being a bit loud. What we hadn’t realised was that the porter had come from a conference in the Lindisfarne Centre at the other side of college. He had come to tell us that Saagar was drumming so loudly that everyone in the conference could hear him. By extension, Saagar was probably interrupting the whole of college. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the other Hill colleges could hear him. Nobody drummed as loudly as Saagar.
This is a song I wrote for Saagar that day on the train. Even if Saagar and I sometimes had a different approach to life, he is such an important part of some of my best memories of Durham. He had a joke for every situation, a great awareness of the world, and the most powerful drumming style I have ever seen on a man.
RIP Saagar, this one’s for you.
Here is a song for someone who will bang the drums so loudly that we’ll always be able to hear him, no matter where he is. R.I.P. big man.
The boundaries between ‘sanity’ and ‘insanity’ are elastic. Each one of us has a place on the spectrum and it constantly shifts and shuffles depending upon the changes in our outer and inner landscapes. Each of us with our own fears, anxieties, sadnesses, communication problems and struggles to fit in move up and down that range.
“The world is but a great Bedlam, where those that are more mad, lock up those who are less.” -Thomas Tryon (1689)
“Surely we’re all mad people, and they, whom we think are, are not.” -Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy (1606)
Some days are impossible. I have to roll as a stone on the road, slither on sharp stairs, climb up through a lift shaft, squeeze under the door to the room and then at the end, to finally assemble myself on a chair to make a complete feeling. Today, the feeling is of nothingness. All I feel are my empty arms. The air between them is painful. The arms ache. They stretch out, crying, wanting to hold him. They hate it but they are… empty.
My heart and soul are empty. This house is empty. This whole world is empty. Reality is not what it seems to be. Nor is it otherwise. Am I now bordering on the insane? Am I always like this, but covering it up? Who is to decide what is what? No one knows. No one has ever known. A rock is just a rock. A river is just a river. Misfortune is just bad luck! It is just what it is – the experience of being human. It is absolute. It does not need validation. It does not need a name.
(Inspired by an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection: Bedlam- the asylum and beyond)
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…