“He loved me in the purest sense and I loved him. That’s how he kept me alive.” says Marsha about Ted, a catholic priest.
This relationship taught her two important things that she applied to her work as a therapist for seriously suicidal people. She wrote about these things and taught them to her students, the future generation of therapists.
‘I was unable to say thank-you then. Now I can.’
If you’re giving unconditional love to help someone cope with the hell they are in, if you’re holding them emotionally and physically, don’t interpret their absence of ‘thanks’ as a sign that you are not giving them what they need. You probably are.
2. ‘Keep loving them.’
When someone sees no point in living, they are like someone walking in a mist. They don’t see the mist. They don’t see that they are getting wet. If you’re walking with them, you may not see it either. But if they have a pail of water, you can collect the water that was mist, in it. Each moment of love adds to the mist, which adds to the water in the pail. By itself, each moment of love may not be enough. But ultimately, the pail fills up and the person in hell can drink that water of love and be transformed.
Like Marsha, I know this to be true. I’ve been there and drunk from that pail.
(Inspired by Marsha M Linehans’s book: ‘Building a life worth living’.)
I didn’t light his candle today. Not because I forgot. But I just couldn’t be bothered. He left without saying bye. I know it’s silly to bring this up now, after so many years. He needed to do whatever it was he needed to do. He needed to go. I understand. But the missing makes my heart crumble again and yet again. How is it possible to keep going after its smashed so many times? It feels like the old yellow rubber duck in his bath, being stamped heavily upon, by a topless angry Arnold Swarzenegger wearing big black military trousers and boots. What is this thing that pretends to drum in my chest, tattered and torn?
He broke the rule. Saying good-night was our ritual for many years. After settling him in his bed, I religiously kissed him on his chin, both his cheeks, first left and then the right, his closed eyes, first the left and then the right and then, once on his forehead. He put his little arms around my neck and we both held each other for a short while before I switched off the light and went to my room. We loved it and slept peacefully.
He didn’t respect our little rule. Maybe he couldn’t. But, I deserved at least, a proper good bye. But then, can anyone truly know who deserves what?
“Suppose we look deeply at a rose. With some concentration and mindfulness we can see that the rose is made of only non-rose elements.
What do we see in the rose?
We see a cloud, because we know, without the cloud, there wouldn’t be rain and without the rain, the rose couldn’t grow. So, a cloud is a non-rose element that we can recognise if we look deep into the rose. Next, we can see sunshine, which is also crucial for the rose to grow. The sunshine is another non-rose element present in the rose. If you took the sunshine and cloud out of the rose, there would be no rose left.
If we continue like this we see many non-rose elements within the rose, including the minerals, the soil, the farmer, the gardener and so on. The whole cosmos has come together to produce the wonder we call rose. A rose cannot be by herself alone. A rose has to inter-be with the whole cosmos. This is the insight we call Interbeing.
When looking at a rose, if we can see all the non-rose elements that make up the rose, then we can truly touch the reality of the rose. No matter what we look at, if we can see that it is made up of everything in the Universe that is not itself, then we touch the true reality of that thing, its non-self nature.”
His words brought light. His voice, peace. His presence, compassion. He said, “No coming, no going. No after, no before. I hold you close to me. I release you to be free. Because I am in you and you are in me.” I will always hold you close to me, dear Father of Mindfulness.
“Hi. I am Dr SM. I will be anaesthetising you for your procedure today. Could I ask you to please remove your mask so I can take a quick look at your teeth and airway? Thank you.”
My guess of how their whole face looks is often completely off the mark. They look more beautiful than I imagine especially if they remember to wear their smiles. I have missed smiles exchanged with random strangers walking around random shops and street corners. I have missed hugs from friends even more.
Countless nuclear fissions on the surface of the sun translate into radiation that hits the Earth’s atmosphere and creates an electro-magnetic field, some of which converts to heat and light. The green plants picks it up along with CO2 and through photosynthesis convert the sun’s energy to carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Our food takes these to the mitochondria in our cells. These little power-houses create fuel, energy and warmth through the process of cell-respiration. This solar event carries on within us at a molecular level.
Two of the best things about being human are, smiles and hugs. They bring us into the sunshine of another human being. We are beings of light. Our design makes us heal spontaneously when our energy is high. The two things that deeply damage human energy are – fear and guilt, both of which have been ramped up in myopic and manipulative ways.
This is the time for us to find each other and our state of harmony. To know that we are alive right now and sing it out loud. The present humanity is an unfinished symphony and I feel some of the best bits are yet to be created.
“We have travelled past the longest night.
Now treading into the return of light.
In the stillness of mid-winter, may we dream into existence a magical new world,
most kind and bright.”
Wishing you, me and humanity, many songs, smiles and hugs. xxx
Nineteen months passed before I could travel again. The uncertainty in the air for all this time meant no one knew when they would see their close family that lived in far-off countries. The news relayed the horrendousness of the situation in India and the 6700 kilometers between them and me made me feel utterly powerless. I would have flown to India at least thrice in this time but I waited for it to become possible.
Then, it did. Si booked my tickets and I felt like I was flying already but coming up to the date of travel, the extra layer of bureaucracy turned me into a tight knot of nerves. This test, that certificate, the other QR code, the timing of this, the reference number of that, one on-line form to be filled on the way out and another on the way back and so on and so forth. I had 2 close friends on speed dial, one in India and the other, a frequent flyer in the UK.
Yet, in the run up to the date of departure, my antacid consumption seriously shot up. In my awful dreams, the faceless uniforms looked at my paper work and shook their heads from side to side. They sent me back home from the airport. They told me I would have to quarantine at the other end in a seedy hotel for 10 days. That would eat up more than half my holiday. I woke up in a bath of sweat.
My two suitcases were mostly packed with chocolates, cheeses, cheese-crackers, sheep’s wool, woolly jumpers, bamboo socks and other such goodies for my folks. I got on the plane at Heathrow and landed at New Delhi safely, utterly grateful to be united with all my loved ones back home. How much I take for granted!
I immersed myself in the everyday life back home- boiling milk, making chapattis, creating rangolis at Diwali, indiscriminately consuming sweets dripping in desi ghee, singing, praying, chatting and overeating at every meal. I set aside my concerns about pending jobs, deadlines for writing assignments, hacked e-mail accounts, consciously locked them away in a clanking steel Godrej cup-board.
Yes, there was pollution and poverty. There was religious and political bigotry. There was the Right and the Left and the Middle, the Farmer’s protest, the choked Press and the Covid dictats. There was my mind, noticing that Saagar was not physically present in the room. His cousins were messing about, grandma was cooking his favourite chicken curry, Olivia Rodrigo was singing ‘Jealousy Jealousy’ on the Bose speaker, his uncles and aunts were drinking beer and chomping on roasted, salted cashew nuts, talking about the joys of driving on the new highways network and the high price of petrol. We were celebrating our togetherness but he was not here.
In that thought, he became present to me. His essence appeared in the room, as me, my presence, my noticing, my love and my longing. It was subtle, only perceptible at a certain frequency that in now accessible to me. This nameless, formless realm that makes itself known when I pay attention. My real home. Its doors always open.
Before I knew it was time to come home. My two suitcases filled with silk and cotton fabrics, saris ‘borrowed’ from my mother, home-made carrot halwa, cashews and almonds and proper Darjeeling tea.
I am back home from back home now. Rested and reconnected. Refreshed and reassured.
Every child or young person who dies by suicide is precious. These deaths are a devastating loss for families and can impact future generations and the wider community. There is a strong need to understand what happened and why, in every case. We must ensure that we learn the lessons we need to, to stop future suicides.
-Services should be aware that child suicide is not limited to certain groups; rates of suicide were similar across all areas, and regions in England, including urban and rural environments, and across deprived and affluent neighbourhoods.
(No one is immune.)
-62% of children or young people reviewed had suffered a significant personal loss in their life prior to their death, this includes bereavement and “living losses” such as loss of friendships and routine due to moving home or school or other close relationship breakdown.
(Saagar was unable to return to his life at University due to a new diagnosis of a mental illness.)
-Over one third of the children and young people reviewed had never been in contact with mental health services. This suggests that mental health needs or risks were not identified prior to the child or young person’s death.
(Saagar had been in contact with Mental Health Services but they discharged him as soon as he showed signs of improvement. They did not follow him up. His GP was unable to identify his high risk of suicide despite his Depression scores being the worse they could be for at least 4 weeks.)
-16% of children or young people reviewed had a confirmed diagnosis of a neurodevelopmental condition at the time of their death. For example, autism spectrum disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This appears higher than found in the general population.
(Saagar did not.)
-Almost a quarter of children and young people reviewed had experienced bullying either face to face or cyber bullying. The majority of reported bullying occurred in school, highlighting the need for clear anti-bullying policies in schools.
(At his Primary school in Belfast, his peers called him ‘Catholic’. He didn’t know what it meant but he knew it was not right. This went on for more than a year before I found out. When I spoke to his class teacher about it, she denied any problem.)
The film ‘1000 days’ tells us about Saagar and what we have learnt from his life and death. I am not sure what or how much the policy makers and service providers have learnt or changed but we have learnt and changed a lot and here we talk about that. The film is presently available on-line at the Waterford Film Festival (Short Programe 6), till the 15th of November at the link below. Please take 20 minutes to watch it if you can. You will learn something too. Each one of us can make a difference.
Once upon a time there was an ordinary person. Making a living, being honest, spending time with the family, having a few friends and simple pleasures. Nothing special. Just ordinary.
Then they lost their child to the monster of unbearable pain. They carried on breathing and giving and receiving love. There was nothing ordinary about that. They couldn’t bear the thought of the same thing happening to anyone else. So, they went out to tell the stories of their angels to everyone. To exhibit the smithereens of their bleeding hearts. That was not easy or normal but they did it anyway. To say that there were other options that they wish their kids had been encouraged to explore. To give out the phone numbers of the good people out there who can help. To remind everyone that there was hope. There is hope.
These 3 dads were ordinary people. Now they are walking together for 300 miles over 2 weeks, making waves all over the country, connecting with people, smashing the stigma and sharing the stories of their lovely girls. Ordinary and beautiful. Just like you.
Please listen and take a look at what’s possible when love speaks and acts.
It has been a dream to be face-to-face, talking about Saagar with the Psychiatric community. In the past 7 years that has not really happened. On Wednesday, the 15th of September, I got as up close as possible with an entire department of roughly 100 psychiatrists and Therapists at differing levels of experience and practice. They were in New York and I was here, in London. The Grand Round was organised by a colleague, Prof Mike Myers, who gave it the title:
‘Losing a Son to Suicide: How One Mother is Opening Hearts and Minds Around the World’
After a cordial ‘meet and greet’, the film ‘1000 days’ was screened. It was followed by complete silence. Same as the previous time it was screened. And the time before. Each time the audience was left speechless.
After a long minute I gently stepped in with the assurance that this was a normal response. I invited questions and comments. I thanked them for the work they do and acknowledged how difficult it is for the profession to deal with such losses. I shared my hope that the film will deepen their insights into the human element of such deaths and the value of forging partnerships with bereaved families.
What followed was a fulsome, creative and holistic exchange of ideas.
“What led you to make this film and share your life in this way?” one young Resident asked me.
“I could only work with what I had and do what was in front of me. When I could write, I wrote. When I could speak, I spoke. When I could learn, I learnt. From the moment I heard the news of Saagar’s death, my only intention was that this must stop. No one should have to suffer the way Saagar did or the way I and his friends do. This film came about because it’s time we recognize that these lives are worth talking about, that the desire to end one’s suffering is a normal human desire and that we all have a role to play.”
Winner – BEST DOCUMENTARY – Swindon Independent International Film Festival Winner – Brighton Rocks Film Festival – Spirit Award Winner – Compassion Film Festival Colorado – Reflections of Love People’s Choice Award Nominee – Morehouse College Human Rights Festival Atlanta (winners yet to be announced) Semi Finalist – Gold Coast International Film Festival – New York Nominee – Long Story Shorts International Film Festival
Upcoming festivals where the film can be watched starting 23rd September 2021. Tickets available now.
The day after he died, our door-bell went berserk. This time the same young woman from the local florist, who had been here thrice already, stood at the door again. She had arrived with yet another bouquet of pure white lilies and roses. She stood just outside our front-door with tears rolling down her cheeks. Had this stranger accessed her own sadness or was she feeling mine? I thanked her and tried to console her, wordlessly holding her hands in mine, not believing any of that was happening.
Our eyes met through the fresh white flowers and films of salt water. She didn’t know me or the young man who had died and I didn’t even know her name. But we were flowing in the same river of humanity. Of loss.
For weeks, every room in our house reeked of the sickly-sweet stink of white lilies. I used to like that fragrance before all this but now it screamed ‘DEATH’. It crept into every empty space, crevice and corner. It sneaked under tables and inside locked cup-boards. It suffused my clothes and hair and got into my body like poison.
All these years later, that smell can still hit like an axe on top of my head when I walk past an innocent flower shop.
On my birthday last week, a bunch of Freddie’s flowers arrived unexpectedly. I thought I had cancelled that delivery but it seems I hadn’t. Roses, lilies and gladioli – but this time, they are a pretty pretty pink. Six days on, they are open and smiling and guess what … no heart-breaking fragrance.
Our long-distance relationship is working. Thank you, sweetheart.