Today on 3rd December it is amazingly already a year since I lost my father last year. What an incredibly difficult and yet life changing year it has been.
(I am actually posting this article at almost precisely the time of his passing a year ago and I am sure that wherever he is now, with his wry sense of humour he will appreciate my perfectionism and ironic sense of timing!).
It was thanksgiving week last week, and this is the perfect time to share some of my lessons about love from the last year and how best to make the most of the limited time we have with our loved ones.
Living in the UK with an Indian background, we have never celebrated thanks giving day but if we had done so, last year would have been my last ever thanksgiving with my father.
Every day since the night he passed away, I have relived the moment at 1.10 in the morning when I received the dreaded phone call from my mother saying that my father had collapsed and the paramedics were trying to resuscitate him. She said I should drive home in the morning and come and visit my father in hospital. After all she said he was going to be okay once they put him in the ambulance and he would be in good hands.
However I knew with a sinking certainty that it was not be. I quickly began to throw a few clothes in a bag, lit an incense stick and a candle and prepared for the 95 mile drive to my parents home, and soon to be just my mother’s home.
A few minutes later the lit candle suddenly blew itself out for no reason and I knew in my heart that our father had left us. Almost immediately the phone rang again and it was my mother, hysterically crying and confirming what I somehow already knew.
Still disbelieving, I spoke on the phone to the paramedic who confirmed that we had indeed lost our father, probably due to cardiac arrest. My father had at least gone peacefully and died in his own bed surrounded by his favourite books and scriptures and in the presence of my mother, eldest brother and sister-in-law, the three people who had been around him the most for so many years. My mother and he had been together for almost 54 years.
The following few hours and indeed days are a haze and I have probably blanked out most of that time as some kind of protective shield. In fact, I remember very little of the following three months as I got into my usual auto-pilot mode – blanking out all else and focussing on the practical things – getting the funeral organised, sorting out the estate and a seemingly endless stream of other matters to resolve.
No matter what needed doing, I was there and I seemed to thrive on being the rock for my mother, siblings and nephews. Actually I suddenly felt grown up! It was as if I was now fully responsible for my mother and the household.
My eulogy speech at the funeral, pressing the furnace switch at the crematorium, meetings hundreds of relatives and friends before and after – all that is just a blurry haze amidst the driving rain on the cold and dark wintry morning of the funeral.
The “silent types” like me probably suffer more and for a longer time. So many times during the funeral and the 12 days of the grieving period. I wished I could just bawl my head off like almost everyone else around me! But I guess we all heal in our own individual ways – and I know that by writing about my experience I am actually healing myself in some way.
Over the following weeks I went into auto mode and just got on with doing things. Christmas and the New Year came and went. There were no tears but a terrible numbness which no sleep nor rest could break through. I know that even now there is a lot of grieving still to be done and maybe one day it will all hit me – and that will be the time for me to write another article.
A month after his passing, somehow I managed to write my most popular ever blog article – “Lessons in compassion from my father” and that seemed like the perfect written testimony to him.
To help us somehow understand and accept the death of a loved one, here is a wonderful quote from Kahlil Gibran:-
“For what is death, but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek god unencumbered?
Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance” – Kahlil Gibran
Looking back, I just don’t know how I have got through this year. Firstly, it is just incredible how this year has flown by. A lot has happened and yet it has seemed so empty without my father. I terribly miss talking to him on the phone and visiting him and watching televised cricket with him.
At times the loss has been gut wrenching and only now I can even talk about it. The worse has been special occasions over the last year such as his birthday, our birthdays, my parents wedding anniversary and Diwali – it is during those days that his absence has been the most painful.
I am now simply grateful for having had a father and for what he did for us and what we had and still have. It breaks my heart to know that so many people in the world have not even had any of that.
As I said, writing this article does have a selfish angle of some self-healing but my aim is also to share my key lessons from the last year and to bring home to everyone my constant message about making the most of each day and the most of this fleeting life that we are all so lucky to have.
So here are my seven key learnings from the first year of my life without my father:-
1. We are all One Family
Families can be a wonderful thing yet quite a challenge – sometimes we just can’t live with each other for long and yet when it comes to our hour of need, everyone rallies around.
I learnt soon after my father’s passing that despite all our individual quarks and nuances we are one united family and probably closer than most. Even amongst our extended family, we were shown so much love and support, it was heart wrenching to know that it took my father’s passing for all this latent love to surface.
Such closeness, such caring, and though seemingly and perversely short lived, it was and will always be there. I feel closer now to my uncles, aunts and other extended family and I realise that they too had lost a loved one in my father.
I also learnt that ultimately we are one family. Extending this learning globally, we are indeed one big family on earth and if only we could learn to live like one. If more people could witness at first hand the grief of a bereaved family, I am sure there would be a lot less violence and warfare in the world.
The most amazing thing was to discover how strong my mother really is. Despite her loss she has been a rock for us – she tried to be brave for us and rarely showed her grief. I saw her cry in anguish for the first time in my life. We tried to be as brave and strong for her as she was for us. It is remarkable just how strong the human spirit can be.
2. People are Incredibly Kind – They Share your Grief and are There for You.
People outside of your family can also be so supportive – I had phone calls, emails and text messages from people who were really strangers to me, but who knew my father and family unbeknown to me.
I discovered my father had friends in places like Norway, California and India that I didn’t even know he had. We actually know so little about our loved ones!
The lesson for us here is to share more of your life with your loved ones, especially as nowadays we all live more and more on our own. Create a community around you of like minded people, even kindred spirits.
A loss can also bring together people torn apart through past misunderstandings. An estranged friend emailed me her condolences after she heard the news from a mutual friend. It really is amazing how a tragedy or a death can bring people back together again.
3. Keep your Cool During and After the Grieving Period
During the grieving period, I learnt that it is really important to chill out as emotions can run high and even amongst loved ones misunderstandings can happen. Amongst my siblings we had a few heated discussions about what needed to be done but we quickly managed to sort things out – after all we were there for my mother and for each other.
The loss of our father indeed brought me closer to my siblings and my mother. In some ways I think I became present to them all and calmer. I am now taking time to listen more.
The lesson I learnt is not to let small things bother you – and then pretend everything is small. Reminds me of that well known book by Richard Carlson – “Don’t sweat the small stuff – and it’s all small stuff”.
4. Memories of Our Loved Ones Live on in Us and Around Us
My father left behind quite a legacy. Apart from the five children who will carry his name, we have a huge collection of his writings and books. Also, his name is held in very high esteem in our community which he served selflessly for decades.
This also leads me to pose a question at this point for you – what will be your legacy? What will your loved ones remember you by?
Though my father is no longer with us physically, he still lives on around us. I sense his essence and presence around me at all times. Physically we will always have his book collection, his published books and articles and some of his worldly belongings. I will also always recall his kind and sometimes eccentric nature and what made him my father – such as checking that all the doors were locked last thing at night and always wanting to know if I had eaten no matter what time I called, day or night.
My earliest memory of my father is him buying me a toy bus around Diwali time, a replica of what I now know must have been the London red bus, so loved by American tourists. I must have been no older than 2 or 3 years at the time. He brought me so much joy that Diwali though the toy bus lasted merely 2 weeks before my older brothers and I smashed it into oblivion. But of course the following Diwali there was another red bus from father.
Like all fathers, he also had some quirky traits – we will always remember his keenness to carry out diy jobs around the house and his improvised diy skills which usually caused more damage than before. I recall how he proudly presented me with my repaired Spanish wooden guitar after the main body panel had become unglued. He had used glue alright but had also hammered tiny nails into the wood panels to hold them together whilst the glue dried. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry as the guitar’s sound had of course been destroyed! Bless him!
So remember that what you experience as quirky about your loved ones today could become treasured memories tomorrow.
My father did the best for us and me, knowing what he did and the resources he had at that time. And I guess all fathers in the world must do the same for their children.
5. Your Loved Ones are at Peace
When I got that dreaded phone call that night, I had kind of known it was coming. Somehow I always knew deep down that’s how I would lose my father – I was not meant to be with him at the end and the last time I had seen him had been 3 weeks before.
A very strange and surreal thing happened in the half hour before I got that fateful call from my mother. I had just switched off my bedside light and as I drifted off to sleep, I had a great sense of peace and love. I got the message from somewhere or someone or something saying all is well and I was not to worry. Whatever it was, I am sure it was some kind of message from my father saying that he was at peace. I had a great sense of light and love just around the time he probably departed.
I cannot explain what happened and nor have I tried to seek any understanding – I will simply take this as a message that he is well and at peace wherever he went.
So no matter what your beliefs about spirituality, the afterlife, reincarnation, please take comfort that our deceased loved ones are at peace – and they are at peace with us.
6. Life Goes On
Only now a year later that I feel my life is back on some sort of even keel. And yet I feel I have not fully grieved yet – if one ever does!
I have recently started yoga classes and have begun to train for the London Marathon in April 2009 after having deferred my place from earlier this year. I was of course in no state to take part run then.
I feel a real lightness and new energy in my body and my mind for the first time in a year. I have just published my latest book “Personal Social Responsibility”, a project that has taken me 18 months to complete.
In his last year, my father kept asking me when I was publishing my next book. So here it is father – this book about personal social responsibility is especially for you. Symbolically enough, the press release for the new book has just been sent out today to various journalists. Kind of seems very appropriate.
The point is that life has to go on though at times it can be excruciatingly painful and a slow process. I have been quoted numerous times the cliché about time being a great healer and I really hope it is true.
7. Appreciate Your Loved Ones Now in Their Lifetime
In the last few months, I have gone through my father’s books, his printed articles and his collection of ancient books and magazines. I am working my way through 50 years of memories, memoirs, records and cuttings from myriad magazines. One thing about my father – he was meticulous and super organised and had an incredible thirst for spiritual knowledge.
We never really truly appreciated what my father stood for nor what he had done for us. Going through his ancient files and learning how he had worked so hard so that we could all have a better life than his generation did was quite a humbling experience. I now lament that if only we could have shown our appreciation in his lifetime.
Recently I attended the funeral of an elderly relative where I cried copious tears as I remembered once again the loss of my father. My tears were for my father and also all my past losses – lost dreams, lost hopes, time gone, friends gone separate ways, relationships broken, people let down, hurts forgotten – indeed a juicy cocktail of feelings of grief. And most of all, I cried tears for love not shared, expressed, recognised or reciprocated.
So during this time of Thanksgiving, Christmas, Eid and Hanukkah, it is my request that you go and spend some valuable time with your loved ones. Do contact your family and friends. Visit / call / email / text them whatever works for you – just do something.
Finally, for this festive period and for all time, I would like to leave you with my favourite quote about love from my friend Shore Slocum:-
“The love you fail to share today is the only pain you live with right now in your life”