On the eve of the 2nd Father’s day without my Papa as I so lovingly called my dad, I decided to post my personal, raw emotions filled with grief and sweet memories of him. I am hoping you can walk away with a few lessons from my regrets and experiences and create your road map of memories. I dedicate this post to all the caregivers out there that sit endlessly day in day out with unconditional love for their loved ones.
The whole ordeal started on Feb 23rd, 2018 in a hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa where he was airlifted from Zambia with complications from Malaria and Pneumonia. I didn’t really start writing my thoughts until my second trip back to South Africa on April 8th. I started to write as it was cathartic for my soul to express the feelings and emotions that I couldn’t express or share with anyone as I was scared, scared to the core that this could be the end. I honestly don’t know when the thoughts and the writings started or even stopped for that matter, but I do know that I abruptly stopped writing as I just couldn’t even bare to write them down anymore — I just felt numb and emotionless.
So here it goes…
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – With every step taken in the hospital, you are made aware of the stories that fill each and every crevice. As the clock ticks and the minutes turn into hours, into days, into weeks, and slowly into months, it starts becoming your second home. You start to make peace within your heart that you are in for the long haul. Each and every day as you sit the hallways, you start familiarizing yourself with faces that were once strangers. You wonder what their story is and what makes them walk these halls.
You meet people from all walks of life and when you take the time to talk to them you realize, we all cry the same tears and bleed the same blood. You see eyes that have shed a few tears and some that are barely hanging on by a tear. You start feeling emotions, and compassion for mere strangers. At the end of each day, you promise to pray for each other and start saying goodbyes like friends you have known for a long time. On some days you even catch yourself saying “see you tomorrow”. These are the people that make you smile even if for a few minutes each and every day. You start to ask about each others loved ones, praying that you don’t see them the next day and thats only because they went home and not “home”. I do believe If there were bars at hospitals, quite a few sorrows could and would be drowned amongst strangers.
Names of strangers like Robbyn/ Shenaz /Nadia/Anna/ Keith/Sophie/Colin aka Crocodile boy (this is a whole new other post) start sounding like friends. You start caring for them and their loved ones. You pray not only for your loved ones but theirs also. It is then that you realize that God is genuinely thought of and prayed upon more at hospitals than probably even places of worship. Religion is more about faith to me rather than making deals with God. Through this whole process as scared as I was, I never once made a deal with God- my mother had always taught me that praying and bargaining was never the way faith was supposed to work.
Faith and being a good person go hand in hand. God always resides in our heart regardless of if we go to our place of worship or not. When our prayers go unheard, we start to lose faith but we have to remember that maybe there is a plan in that journey also. We just are in for the ride to experience it. What does faith mean to you ?
People also come into our lives as support and angels that we never knew existed. So much goodness in the world exists all around us. People don’t always have to be connected by blood to feel like they are blood. People like Sherwin and Throsh came into our lives quite by accident the first night mom and I landed in Johannesburg. From the moment his fingers touched our carry on suitcases and his eyes met ours, he could feel our sense of helplessness and pain in a foreign country. Their hearts empathized instantaneously to know that our pain was raw and real and at that same instant we knew their hearts were real. They were with us every step of the way from day one to the day that our hearts were crushed. They became more than just air B&B owners for us, they in fact became more than even friends. They became family! Family that was connected by the strings of our heart. How can we even begin to thank them for all that they did? There is nothing we could do that would repay them for their genuine hearts.
We all know the power of the spoken words but how many times do we stop to really hear and feel the power of the unspoken words? Each and every day we read about the bad there is in the world. The bad always outweighs the good in the media in and around us. We are ingrained to watch our backs and question peoples intentions when they do something good for us. We are made to think that there has to be some ulterior motive. We are the product of our experiences that guide us thru our lives. We make the choice to believe with love or caution. The age old debate of nature vs nurture plays thru our heads but until we let go off our personal biased notions we will never be free of the negativity of people, or situations for that matter.
Doctors come into your lives as the thread that binds you and your loved ones. You quickly realize that when they talk, you not only have to hear but understand, comprehend and be able regurgitate all that you just heard to family members not there in person. Day after day as you wait the hallways for the familiar faces of the doctors, you realize you have a slew of questions ready but a huge lack of knowledge to actually understand the answers. All those pictures and words were so clear when you read Dr. Google and got your questions ready. So why is there a disconnect between what I am hearing and what my brain is comprehending? Those are the moments you wished you had been a doctor. Yes.. Maybe… Just maybe you should have listened to those Indian parents after all. (I say this in jest)
So many doctors came into our lives during those 8 weeks in RSA- from Dr.Rouitter /Dr.Moola /Dr.Naidoo /Dr.Wadi / Dr.Campbell to the last but not the least – Dr.Lowton. He came into our lives as an angel. Never have I met a doctor with so much empathy for patients and their families. He would reach out to me thru text, call me after his rounds to update me on papa. At one moment when we were debating the Relook Laparotomy, he looked into our eyes and said “before every surgery, I always ask myself the question; What would I do if they were my parents?” And he said he always bases his decisions on that answer. I remember asking him what the chances of papa making it were and he paused and tried to be as honest as he could with me but remaining human throughout his response. After a call to my doctor cousin who cautiously wore the hat of my brother but also a gastroenterologist with a fine balance, I knew that night that things weren’t looking good. The anesthesiologist even told me to tell my brother to fly out. Things were starting to slide but mom and I hoped that there would be some miracle and he would fight thru like he had been doing for the 7 weeks prior. Every doctor that we spoke to was amazed that papa was such a fighter and was still around. As hopeful as mom was, I was losing hope, and every shred of me felt guilty for losing that hope. As I sat in a corner facing the wall, hiding my tears – I prayed and listened to this song (The Prayer By David Archuleta) over and over again that brought me comfort that my papa finds his way back to us. That night after the surgery – Dr. Lowton wrote the text which I am sure was not easy for him to write- he said a lot without saying too much. I called my brother that night and suggested that he look into tickets.
Hope, faith, and prayers go hand in hand at moments when you feel broken and hopeless. Sometimes you pray and start to believe and start having faith and beliefs, hoping against all hopes that somewhere thru the big sky the message will get thru. But some messages somehow just don’t manage to tear thru those big dark skies. Maybe there’s a message in that too, it’s just gonna take a little time to hear that message loud and clear.
When you get that call, you don’t know what to feel but numb. Legs and hands feel like you are gonna pass out, that knot in your stomach, that instant wave of nausea hits you. Numbness at that instant is not physical but mental, your brain stops to function and you realize you are just going thru the motions of doing all that needs to get done. It’s an out of body experience like never before. you are on the outside looking at yourself and at moments even feeling sorry for that robotic person like you are not them.. Nothing seems real but it’s the reality that you have always dreaded.
So the dreaded call did come that Thursday (April 19th) night and we went and tried to compress the lifetime of love and memories in those few hours. Told him all that we wanted to say and so many things we couldn’t as we were scared to show our emotions as he was awake and aware but just couldn’t reciprocate his feelings. We reminded him how badly he wanted to see bhai (my big brother) and that he was on his way after a 25hr journey and was stuck in traffic from the airport to see him. I prayed he would hold on for a few more hours so my bhai could hold his hand and tell him that he loved him. We kept glancing our eyes from his face to the monitor to the clock and back- still hoping for a small miracle knowing it was fruitless yet it didn’t stop the heart from wishing and hoping. He held on, held on till bhai made it there, I think I even saw a smile as bhai clasped his hands in his … and slowly he blinked his eyes, closed his eyes and we thought he was gone, he flat lined, but within a few seconds he came back- his heart beat again – he fought, he fought really hard.
He wanted to live, he wanted to be there for mom, he wanted to get everything in order for her. I could see the fear in his eyes that one last time of leaving the love of his life after 52 years – the woman he loved more than anyone in the world but rarely expressed. Within a few seconds all that filled the room was the deafening sound of flatline and he was gone. We had all just gained an angel in the sky and I knew my brightest star had just lost its light. Through this whole process, Dr.Lowton was struggling with his on personal dilemma of losing his mother-in-law and we lost our loved ones within a few hours of each other. Even then he called me to express his condolences and asked how he could help us with the arrangements in a foreign country.
Life and death are inevitable and we all know this worldly fact. In fact this is one of the most noble and dated truths of Buddhism What comes in this world surely has to go. If only us humans could accept this fact we would learn to move on faster. But we are creatures of ignorance and choose to live in denial.
GOING “HOME” TO ZAMBIA– Knowing that we were going home from South Africa without him was heartbreaking and it was hard to convince ourselves that it was for the better and his suffering needed to end. Coming back “home” was surreal as I could feel him all around me. Is that even possible? I felt if I closed my eyes, I could just picture him walking out of his office or walking down the hall with his slow shuffle. His image of sitting on the swing on the front porch was haunting to my heart. l wanted to believe he was about to make his way out of the front door. The swing on the front porch was where he spent most evenings starting at 5pm. The other apartment complex walkers who didn’t even know him, knew this fact about him. This home was more than a rented apartment in a regular apartment complex for him. It was his pride and joy. He would write letters to the complex managers to fix the community garage lights, clean the drains and fix the road into the complex. He would work thru the red tape as much as he could, making phone calls and writing letters with follow up emails. Some of the projects he managed to get done and some he just couldn’t push thru no matter how hard he tried. He would diligently walk the complex every evening turning on the lights of the apartment blocks like he was a teenager that would be rewarded handsomely for his temporary summer job.
Even after he retired, he woke up every morning and dressed in his button down and slacks like he was still headed to his job at ZCCM (Zambia Consolidated Copper Mines) – the only thing missing was his ties and dress socks and shoes. He would meticulously sit day after day in his office working on paperwork like he had a full time job that he was about to lose if he didn’t put in his fair share of daily to-do’s. He was diligent in all that he did and was a man of his word. He knew he wouldn’t live forever so he had started planning for his absence for his wife, his kids to make the process easier and seamless. But no matter how prepared one is, the process for the people left behind is never easy.
He was known for his wisdom and words of advice. I ran Into so many people who couldn’t stop taking about all that made him… Him! Words that we heard over and over again associated with him were integrity, honest, real, man of values, man who always cared and advised like you were his own son or daughter. When others hurt, he felt the pain and would do anything to lessen their pain. He never led anyone astray and would always try his best to help in any way he could. He touched many lives far and wide. He lived his life by his rules and in his way. His words of advice and his unwavering love for people is his legacy.
Going thru something like this does make one wonder what our legacy will be? Most of what people think about us only gets “known” to us when its too late. So why wait for “that day”? Call /message the person you love, admire, need to make peace with… TODAY as tomorrow may be too late. You never know when that someone may say or send their last message to you … and it could also be us .
GOING “HOME” TO PHOENIX– As I sit here about to board my flight for the US, my heart feels empty leaving Africa. Why does it feel like it will never be the same. He is here, his heart was here and always will be. Every year as I sat in the plane on the tarmac leaving Zambia, I always counted the approximate number of times I would see him again in my life. I always wondered would it be 5, or would it be 7 but as I sat in the Shaanti Pooja and looked up and saw his smiling picture instead of his smiling face I knew my “papa seeing counter” was forever set to zero against my will.
As unreal as it seems.. its real. Unfortunately it’s a reality that I have to learn to accept and walk with hand in hand.
We are but controlled by the unpredictable threads of life . We are but mere puppets and the reigns that we thought lie within us are actually outside of us.
“TIME HEALS ALL” – Being back “home” in Phoenix is surreal as all of a sudden you question what “home” meant and means. Home to me was always where mom and dad were. I guess we, including mom are more than a little mystified with this fact now. How can the absence of one person make such an impact?? Was he the queen in the game of chess?
Also everyone says that TIME is what you need to heal… What does “heal” mean? Does it mean I slowly and gradually get him out of my system and stop thinking of him every day? Does it mean I get used to the fact that I will never ever talk to him again? Does it mean that I will stop hearing his voice saying “Ruchi didi”? Does it mean that I will eventually forget about him?…. Well if thats what it means then I don’t want any of that. Right now the only time I feel comfort and somewhat at peace is when I think of him, look at his pictures or watch his videos that bhai took of him in the hospital. Not sure why he took those, but with every beat of my heart I am so thankful that he did, because if he hadn’t I would have nothing. These short clips make me feel so ONE with him. I guess what I am saying is at this point, I don’t want the healing. Maybe I want to stay in this stage…. Yes, you may call it denial, I call it feeling safe and at home. And at this moment… It’s not about anyone else but me and the emotions that allow me to function as a human being and permit me to get out of bed every morning. Every thing I do seems so meaningless and pointless and you say ” is that what your dad would want?” – I know the answer is “NO” but all I can do is try.
Parents are our foundation to our childhood but it takes time to realize they are also the cement that binds our adulthood . Once they are gone, you feel a sense of “what now?”, yes it’s a day we all know will come but want to deny. The depth of that unconditional love light dimming is deeper than the black hole. And until one goes thru this – its not an emotion you can empathize with. You think you understand, you think you feel the loss, you think you feel their emptiness but to feel the depth of that diminishing light in your own life is a feeling that one truly understands walking down the darkened hallway rather than being told about.
When does the reality finally sink in? I don’t know that answer yet as I am still searching the hallways but for now I have managed to light up my path with light and love of my sweet memories of him so I am not stumbling in the dark hallways.
In the last few months, as I sat with tears flowing down my face at two friends’ mom’s and a friend’s funeral, I could feel the numbness that enveloped them and knew that nothing we could say or do would make the pain any bearable. The pain and loss in their eyes was raw and so hard to see. I didn’t know if I was crying because I was hurting for them or if I was still trying to come to grips with my own loss.
Thru this whole process I have realized there is no time limit on grief for the loss of a loved one. Emotions envelope you all of a sudden like an unpredicted storm, with no time frame of when it will go away. You are engulfed in the eye of the storm and you just have to ride it out. Through every tear I do believe we are healing and learning to accept the reality. This song (shared by Dr. Lowton) will hopefully help you weather the storm and help fly your kite.
I left home 33 years ago and in the last 20 years I tried to make the most of every vacation and moment that I could to be able to see my parents. Time is limited and precious and I pray and hope that when you make that dreaded walk down that hallway, it’s filled with love and light of the beautiful memories you carry in your heart.
Memories are made each and every day, for all the ones that can’t make the frequent trips to see your family- make those moments count thru face time, through those daily phone calls ( Yes I said daily). It will seem hard at first and you wonder what you will even talk about- you may say the same things every day, and may irritate them with your stories of how crazy busy life is and them with their same loving advice daily. I always say that if someone told you that I would give you a thousand dollars if you call a certain number every day ( like a lottery) – most of us would do it. Those thousand dollars would add up quickly – guess what these phone calls are worth more than a million dollars to them and in time will be to you also. One day when you wake up to make that call and you get that sinking feeling that you can’t is when all the regrets create a haboob in your head. But those precious calls and that love will carry you on days when those phone calls cease to exist. Memories are made each and every day; for all the ones that can’t make the frequent trips to see your family members – make those moments count thru face time, through those daily phone calls. It will take but 5 minutes of your day but will fill your life jar daily with with lifetime of love. So make that phone call today as you will never regret the things you DID but you may just regret the things you DID NOT DO.
Wishing all the Dads/Dads-to-be/Single Bad Ass Moms a very very Happy Daddy Day!
How are you filling your Jar of Life with Love and memories? Would love to hear your thoughts.