(Check out this updated post about the loss of my father and coping with grief:- Why the Loss of a Loved One is Not the End of the World: How to Start Living Again )
Today on 3rd December it is amazingly already a year since I lost my father last year. What an incredibly difficult and 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 Thanksgiving 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. 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 breakthrough. 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 parent’s 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 the 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 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 the 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, the time that has passed, 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, I 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”
(Check out this updated post about the loss of my father and coping with grief:- Why the Loss of a Loved One is Not the End of the World: How to Start Living Again )
That was beautifully written and very well expressed. I felt the sentiment of your words. I travelled with you on your journey, I cried with you and laughed with you, felt your happiness , and shared the agony of your pain.
With your words, you breathed life into your fathers spirit and he came alive before my eyes. Stood before me was a great man, with generous lashings of wisdom, spirituality, knowledge and courage; balanced with a dash of humour, a sense of fun and a flavour of innocence.
Ir you remember Arvind, I spoke to you shortly after your father had passed away and advised you to take time and not to rush the grieving proccess. It will happen when you least expect it.
One day when you are alone, and the sun may be shinning , you will feel a sudden sadness, tears will race down your cheeks and will cry like you have never cried before. The pain you will feel
will be like no other. You will feel like your insides are being ripped out. That is when you will start the grieving process and begin to truly feel alive again.
The pain you have will never truly disappear. You will bear the scars like a soldier wounded in battle. Embrace the pain Arvind, and wear your scars with pride, for it symbolises your father’s life. Every jolt of pain ingnites the presence of his memory in your mind. Through you he lives on.
Arvind, your hurt is your badge of experience , wear it with pride and honour. It has granted you the gift of wisdom and an insight into life that others you have not loved a lost one, cannot have or understand.
My prayers are with your father, you, your mother, and the rest of your family.
May your father’s soul be at peace.
OM Shanti, Shanti.
All my love Honey x
Thank you so much for your wonderful words and also for all your kindness over the last year – you have been a rock!
I look forward to that sunny day when I literally cry my heart out.
What a beautiful tribute to him in sharing about him and yourself and what you have learned. I hope that you allow yourself to feel during this anniversary and holiday time…grieving is good. It sucks, but it is good. My thought and prayers are with you.
That was a truly heartfelt story. Grieving is important and don’t deny yourself tears, and all the time it takes. Grieving is a healthy process you need to go through in order to survive. It’s all a part of the universal process.
Brought tears to my eyes. I feel the same about my father so I don’t know how you have coped over the past year. Well done you for turning a tragedy and sadness into something so positive and thank you for all your support with Shivia.
Your words are indeed very touching and I can relate to your journey as I lost my Dad this year.
I agree our mothers are very strong however our protective or rather overprotective nature shields their strength. I talk to my Mom everyday, the last 2 weeks is the first time she is experiencing being on her own. Since 7th July, the day Dad passed away, she has been with my brother and sister in NYC or with me. It is hard but we are letting her go through her emotions. She was married at 16 years of age and spent 52 years with my Dad. Living alone is a far away concept for her – an Indian woman who has never had to eat her dinner alone or spend evening or nights alone. It brings to light the reality we come alone into this world and so shall we leave alone!
I miss my father – first thing in the morning when I wake up I think of him. It seems surreal – at times the last few months seem like a blip. But then, how can I be selfish in wanting more of him when for the last few years he struggled and suffered with his health, his last days, 17 of them, were spent in the ICU on life support, against his wishes. To prove his point, his dearest friend and his heart surgeon paid him a visit in the hospital and as he walked away from my Dad’s bed, my Dad pulled out his ventilator tubes as if telling him – let me go.
I can only appreciate and thank my father for all he has given me and my siblings – the endless love which I still experience feel him showering it on our family, the wisdom; knowledge through which we are empowered, the comfort; many opportunities; doors he opened for us, the sacrifices he made for us, the encouragement when we felt all was lost, the inspiration to live life to the fullest and his contribution to the community and the country – he will always be remembered for his passionate drive against corruption and the right to information in Maharashtra India.
Anyway, Arvind remember your Dad is with you, he lives in your heart and he is looking after you and upon you.
Love and many good wishes.
Beautifully written, Arvind it brought tears to my eyes.
Love Aruna auntie
This is an enduring and endearing post, for everyone. I lost my mother in July. These are my first Holidays without her. Parents make everything special.
The other day, after “asking” many times “what happened?” (she collapsed suddenly and that was it), I too finally became peaceful as I got my answer – She was simply lifted away. It too was a surreal message.
Thanks Arvind – thank you so very much.
I lost my father when I was about 4 and that was in 1991. It was a moment when I didn’t realised his non-existence until when I grew older.
Wounder and touching words. I shall forever remember your father for his undying affection for all and be amazed by his wisdom and knowledge and his love for life and culture.
What a beautiful tribute. He would be so proud of you –
Its all a circle of life. Our loved ones never really leave us and at time when we are at cross roads, we get their guidance in mysterious ways.
God bless u and ur family
Thanks Krishna for your kind words and sympathy.
Since my father passed away 20 months ago (how the time has flown by!) there have been many moments when I have felt he was with me.
I recently took part in a panel at the Brahma Kumaries where I spoke for about 20 minutes about following a spiritual path. He would have been so proud to see me up there in front of around 80 people.
And I am sure he was in the audience that day:-)
Love and best wishes
What a beautiful tribute to your father. It really hit a nerve (or two) for me as my father died 5 months ago and I am still coming to turns with my loss and processing exactly that it all means. We also had tributes from all over the world and people emailed us anecdotes about my father that we had never heard. It was so nice (and sad) to see a different side to him in death. I think about him every day and talk to him as often as I can. The day he died, at 4pm, I had a really strong urge to call him at 2pm but he was a fan of the siesta and always had a nap after lunch so I didn’t call knowing he would be having his nap and that he would be cranky if I woke him up.
My father died at 3am on May 3rd 2012 five weeks ago, suddenly of cardiac arrest in his bedroom when he got up to go to the toilet. My mother phoned me at 3.15am. I was at their house at 4am. He was lying on his back on his bedroom floor, the paramedics had been unable to revive him. But even with whatever the thing was in his mouth and under a medical sheet covering his naked body, he looked magnificent. At 84 I had spent the past 12 years working with him and the last sounds I heard him utter was him singing at the top of his voice as he left the office, darting off into Brixton to meet some one he had been advising and supporting for years. Your account of your father’s death Arvind resonates so closely with mine and what you have written about the first year and the growth you have gone through in that time really supported me, particularly I am at such an early stage of getting used to my father’s passing. My mother, my dear dear wonderful mother is still here and I love her so. What a great man, what a great woman. Life is precious, oh so precious.
Arvind — that is so beautifully written. My father passed away about 16mths ago and I still couldnt bring myself to write about it. Thank you so much. I enjoyed reading it.
Nor, i am sorry to hear of the passing of your father. It does get easier over the years but it’s something that perhaps you never get over.
Today is the 5th anniversary of my father’s passing and it feels like it was only yesterday that I last saw him.
Nor, I wish you all the best on your life journey:-)