Focusing more on the small stuff, and trying to parse through the crap and trying to find the nuggets of happiness in the little things is probably the way to go.
Pittsburgh is beautiful no matter the time of the year. There have been some awe-inspiring moments of beauty that have taken me by surprise and actually distracted me from whatever brooding I was stewing in at that time. From the fall colors to the stark beauty of the leaf-shorn trees in the winter and melting snow, I’ve taken sometime to pause and it’s worth journaling so I don’t forget about those moments too within the fog. Not the hours grueling through “work”, or frustrations of parenting or the sheer desolation in marital strain. But those moments of wonder when all I could say was, I’m lucky to be here.
So continuing on that theme in the new year, resolution around restitution of all that has frayed away, I start with a commemoration to the way I feel in Frick Park and every other park I’ve hiked in. I used to hike in Bull creek in Austin for its seclusion within the city, where you could hike a mile into the park and be surrounded by quiet. And now at Frick Park, where I can run a mile up into the hills in the park on a cold, crisp day – barely breaking a sweat and hear nothing but the birds. With soft music and a steady heartbeat again I felt today, I’m lucky to be here. I’d like to piece together more moments like this in this new year, looking not outside into my job, marriage, child, parent, parental loss and family, to live more within these moments when I just want to feel lucky to be here.
On one of my last trips home when Ma was still alive, they had moved to a new place. She was still lugging around some of my stuff – old books, certificates, gold medals from the old place. I brought some of it back with me after she died, but I didn’t get the medals. Those medals gave her more joy than they gave me.
The last few weeks have been really hard for some reason. She is ever present and her memories come hit me when I’m least expecting it. It’s been raining and I miss her more in the rains. All of my childhood comes alive when it rains. We started packing lunches for Arhan for his school and it brought back memories when she was counting down the days to my US departure, verbally rejoicing the end of the days when she would have to pack my lunch. She packed me lunch as a 22 year old graduate student at the university of Mumbai. That was her way of coping with my imminent departure.
I was a diligent student. I woke early to study and I worked hard at my studies with classes, coaching classes, study groups etc. She was a huge support system for that. They both were. My dad would drive me places when i was younger but when I could drive his duties dropped off. She didn’t let off. She would wake up shortly after me, make me tea and sometimes hang out drinking tea while I studied. She would show up randomly at my classes with food. And she always packed me food if she could help it.
When I got the PHD she took a tacky photocopy and had it framed and hung it up in her living room. The horror! She was too cheap to get a color copy! I should have just given her the real degree which I kept buried somewhere with my papers. The other day I found the degree and my old degrees and certificates while cleaning up and unpacking. My first thought without registering was – I should just give this to Ma to hold on to. And then i remembered that she wasn’t there. And Baba didn’t have a place of his anymore – a room in Didi’s new rented flat since they moved in. Nobody had space for my accolades (junk) anymore and I’d just have to hold onto them myself. Ironically that evening at a dinner party, a guest was talking about how her son left all his important stuff with mom and I felt a stab of sorrow having just come to terms with that sad reality that very morning. People with young and alive mothers were so lucky and fortunate to have them save their junk and even treasure it for them.
Sep 2 PST 11.45 am is Sep 3 IST 12.15 am. Precisely 10 months since my mother breathed her last. I wasn’t there to count down to the last few breaths as i waited outside with Baba. Didi and Kedar did that. Ironically I was in the bathroom with stress related belly ache.
I summited Mt Eddy in California on Sep 2 at that hour. Huffing and panting those last ten or so switchbacks under the glaring sun and wind at 9000 feet above sea level, I thought back to the breaths she took. I thought about the impact of her death on my life. How it had shut out the sun, driven me to a mad frenzy of grief and rage against people who I love dearly. How it has left me feeling lost and confused about what matters to my life. How I’m living mostly still in pain and oblivion, just trapped in my head. Did the altitude clear my head? Probably not. I still had my stress related belly ache and went to the bathroom atop Mt Eddy facing the indomitable Mt Shasta and inhaling the fire smoke from miles away where the forest fire raged outside like my own internal rage. Ironically the same thing I was doing when she died. I can’t help the anger and feel helpless against it at times. I don’t know to whom i should direct it and perhaps it really is towards me. So many months later, most folks have moved on. But my internal state has adapted to an external veneer that sometimes doesn’t hide what’s beneath. I think it does but probably doesn’t. Sometimes the pain feels old, sometimes fresh. But it’s always there and it was very much alive atop that mountain 10 months later. Just like Shasta, in the backdrop, hazy, waiting to explode.
I heard a beautiful podcast on NPR on grief and loss. A journalist interviewed her mother after her father passed away. Her mother couldn’t understand herself anymore in the absence of a 51 year partnership. A bee keeper and his wife that lost their livelihood overnight. Loss can by many. It can be varied. And our reaction to the loss can be many and varied. But fundamental to loss is a narrative about ourselves. With that loss, we are unable to resurrect from a different narrative. We spin around and around in ways in which we try to rationalize how we could have saved ourselves from this pain had we acted differently. Blame others. Blame ourselves. But the podcast ends saying that it’s still necessary despite what experts say to go through this in order to construct a different narrative.
The story was beautiful. A wife struggling to make sense of her life after her healthy, vital husband was suddenly taken away from her. They shared everything together. But it was only when she was able to shift the narrative from her loss to what he loved and lived for, she made an exponential jump. Literally, she parachuted out of a plane to remind herself and share with him the experience of jumping out of an airplane. He was a paratrooper during the war and it was a wonder that he came back alive. It was her way of sharing what they hadn’t shared and she wanted to “meet him in the skies”. I’ve been thinking about the story ever since. I’m not ready yet for that plunge. Neither is my dad. He is really struggling now more than ever with her loss. Living alone amidst a thousand things that remind him of her daily. “Sriti bhulte parchina” he says. It breaks my heart into a million pieces. But after that story I know he has to do it. He has to go through the pain of re-narrating the story again and again. Of kicking himself for not taking a second opinion earlier. Ironically this morning before I talked to him that’s exactly what I was ruminating over. On the flight to India when she was in ICU, I read Being Mortal by Atul Gawande. I was armed with all kinds of end-of-life questions for the doctors and my family. I feel it was so naive now. How clueless I was about how I would reel from this loss. How unprepared I was for the aftermath. And we had such little control. She was at the mercy of those doctors who without admitting had such little control either. They were in the medical equivalence of throwing a thousand darts at her body, disregarding her as a human being and us as a grieving family. I too have profound rage for each one of those doctors whose callous responses and inability to see the larger picture condemned my mother to a despairing end. I cannot live down the trauma of those last days. I cannot forget her helplessness. Or our futility. How pointless it all seems – the reading of those medical journals and discussions on minutiae of her vitals. How stupid it all seems in the face of this gaping hole. I, like my father cannot spin any different narrative. I too cannot get on with it. I slip back into the funk. Just like he does. I have complete empathy for my dear old Baba. And while Baba’s loss is singular and profound, I find my own grief just reflected in everything else, like a cracked mirror. I tell myself that I need to also go through this if I want to patch back up what I hold dear. For another loss I couldn’t stomach.
Picking up this blog is like picking up a dusty old book from the back of your bookshelf. I haven’t been here in a while. Looking through the posts, it chronicles my journey since I moved to Austin as I navigated becoming a runner, a traveler, a mother. I’ve come back here to now chronicle my journey as a motherless daughter.
My world changed forever on November 3, 2017 when my mother passed away with multiple organ failure precipitated by her end-stage liver disease, that we, ironically as her family never knew was at the end-stage. She died after battling with lung infections, kidney failure and arrhythmia. She died from fluid building up in her body when her kidneys were no longer able to create urine. Acidosis, it was called. The lungs still had empyema and bacterial fluid. The liver had shrunk to a third of its size from a 35 year old battle with hep-C. All this and more – way too much that I know about end-stage liver disease. Way more than I could care to know anymore because none of it can bring my mother back. And because she is not coming back, I, her daughter have forever been changed. Altered. Distended. Wrought with grief. Bent out of shape. Clueless about what matters anymore.
Today marks five months since she began the process of dying. Of all the interesting experiences chronicled in this blog before, watching my mother slowly slip away to oblivion is not something that will be enjoyable, pretty or exhilarating. No, there is nothing pretty, enjoyable or exhilarating about death. Yet it is a fundamental human experience. More fundamental than learning a new hobby or becoming a parent. All human experiences are optional, except for death. Nothing optional there. Death is the great leveler. No matter how great or awful life is, it ends at the same door. Once you see that, like really see that, everything is altered. Nothing can be the same anymore.
Also, I restarted this blog because the blog we started to commemorate her overflowed with too much of my own grief to really commemorate her. The blog began to cause pain to some of those who wanted to move on quickly or who saw no purpose in reminiscing what it was like to be with her or what a gnawing hole she left. And that’s OK.
This one is my space. It’s where I want to chronicle my journey through grief and questions on life and death and what lies between. I say journey as if there’s a destination, but there really isn’t. All those who have known grief and loss, know it comes and goes but the sense of loss is here to stay, replete with its trappings in pain and sorrow, sometimes happy memories and constant reminder of the eventuality of death. Maybe someday it will feel better. But now it continues to haunt and hurt. And that’s OK.