Happy birthday to me. I want to write this to document how thankful I am to be here today – with mental health. If I look back to the last 15 months since my mother died, I’m thankful that I’m cognizant of how much I have because I valued none of it last year. I hated my life, my friends, my family and my reality because I couldn’t deal with my mothers death. Nobody could get me out of my funk. Nobody could show my life was worth enjoying. I’ve never known to want to die and I know what that feels like.
I’m thankful to many people and many things along the way. Many were hard knocks. Some were nurturing and shoulders to cry on. But everything contributed to feeling like I’ve come through the worst of it. Have I learned all my lessons? Probably not. I’ve learned some though. One hard one was I can’t ever trust how i feel. So i should stop thinking about it so much. And just, fucking let it go. Everything. Let it go. Letting go never felt better. Holding onto so much rage was exhausting. I still have it. That anger won’t die. But it is there for good reason now so i don’t forget the lessons. And I do almost everyday.
So from my last birthday till now it’s been a long year. A long year of rage and sadness. Where will I be next year?
Kicked off the week with a cold run on what was actually an unseasonably warm day in Pittsburgh in February. Haven’t been in the throes of winter for a while during the bday week. Last year we had gorgeous weather in Texas and I took the day off for a hike with the hubs. This year no such luck though, we did get in a snow tubing fun day out on Saturday. I wanted to go skiing but it didn’t work out. So I was itching to go out and run. Well, the weekend progresses like it usually does. And the earliest I could get out was Monday morning. A balmy 38F, with a fog lifting from the sudden onset of heat, and the snow melting but not yet. The ice not wanting to run off into the earth. The fog fighting with the sun and losing out. It was a beautiful morning for a run in Pittsburgh.
My mother’s death turned 15 months old today. And I am grateful I am so much better than I was a year ago on this day. Dreading my looming birthday and not knowing how I’d face the day I was born in the face of her death. I’m still throttling at the thought of my birthday. How can my birthday still roll around when she’s not around? Some things in my head still don’t compute. It just doesn’t make sense.
“The embers are here to make us remember the fire”
– Arhan, 5
This weekend I thought about Ma a lot. It wasn’t anything in particular other than after a really long time it felt like a normal weekend at home. A weekend that had semblances of how things were with my family before she died. I woke up without feeling angry for a change. Or with undue anxiety. It was a weekend unlike any other, without any commitments after a long time. But somehow because it felt like a time long ago, the first thing I thought about inadvertently was that I had to call her. I hadn’t made that mistake in a long time. I used to a lot soon after she died. But then over time I became so angry and bitter that I was ever cognizant, yeah she’s not there. And that made me more angry.
I’ve been so angry for what it feels like such a long time that I’m an ember inside of myself. And I was about to flicker out.
But then I got tired of it. I got tired of feeling angry with everything. And it was a relief. I felt like I’d been waiting to exhale. It’s not like it’s behind me. But I’ll take this respite.
So several times this weekend I felt the urge to call her. To tell her about the snow that was coming. To tell her how we were preparing. How much her grandson was enjoying. Some inane stuff only she cared about. Ironically I never did feel that urge when I was angry. She would have just been upset. But today, I just wanted to talk. I wanted to talk to her so badly that I needed to get out. I went for a walk in the freezing temps. It was in the low teens. Cold and barren, I thought the freeze would help with the rage inside. And I wished she was there. And for what it’s worth, I saw her through what I’d been through in the last year or so. How close I’d come to losing my mind. And how I didn’t. Something that walked me off the ledge. That made me exhale. Must have been her. It was for her that I’d come close to give it all up. But something pulled me back. And I cried. I cried hot tears down my aching, frozen cheeks. I hadn’t cried like that in months just for her. Not for all the shit in my life but just for her.
So I exhale. And I inhale. And I keep moving on. But I move more easily. Not as heavy and leaden like before. I accept things as they are. And Simple Song by Passenger held me steady till I made it back home from my walk.
….”Well, I know it’s not been easy
But easy ain’t worth singin’ about
Yeah, I know, I know
The time goes slow
But it’s always running out…”
I came home to warmth, a fire and love. All of which have been here waiting for me. And so is she.
I’m stuck in a bad movie
That never ends
In which, the mother dies
and it never feels the same again.
2019 could be the year of annihilation. Or it can be the year of redemption. Or it can be the storm before the calm. Or it could be more of the same. Yet somehow it feels like I’m on the brink of disaster. I can’t say. I can’t trust anything anymore. Reality feels distorted. How can I be painfully cognizant of how much things have changed over the last 14 months and yet also be painfully tired of the sameness of the desolation inside my head. I’m unable to pull myself out of the monotony of a dutiful life and I’m unable to find the joy in the larger direction of my life.
So then perhaps 2019 is the year to look at the small stuff. To find peace in the moments between the ruckus and disquiet. That it won’t come easy is obviously and painfully apparent.
Perhaps 2019 is the year to not make any big decisions. Because nothing seems to be based on rational thought. There is only the wilderness of an emotionally bereft, winter-shorn forest inside. I feel strongly about one irrational idea and catapult to another, equally crazy, life-altering idea at the next instant. Anything seems like a possibility to remove the absolute sense of barrenness I feel. But it’s also filled with a sense of dread of oncoming desolation after. So no, 2019 is not about those decisions. It’s about breaking each component apart and seeing within and what meaning that brings to life. And how to rebuild it within those shards of meaning that may emerge out of the fractions that remain. So that’s what it’s about. The deconstruction and reconstruction of all that matters. Restitution.
Starting the second year of Ma’s loss. There’s nothing as desolate as solo air travel. I do it all the time for work but that’s driven by a purpose. Over the last 15 years after i migrated to the US, I’ve made multitudes of long air trips back home. I feel like if I could make a movie of the moments of my life as captured by those journeys it would say an awful lot about the circularity of my life. The seemingly straight line of life took me a long winding way back to where I felt I started. Life seems like a sum zero of nothing lost and nothing gained. Shunya.
I used to think life traveled in a straight line. I mean we age chronologically but nothing prepared me for the circularity I experienced with my life after my mother’s death. The first flight I took into independence from my family, moving to a new country unraveled in my head when I landed in Newark this time, back from my mother’s first death anniversary. As I walked from the plane towards immigration I was overwhelmed by the thoughts of my old Baba, looking lost and sad to see me off. I thought about the countless times they both saw me off at BOM, especially that last time in June of 2017 when she wanted to drop me. I thought about the first flight and landing in Chicago feeling lost and why i felt the same even though i was purportedly coming home. The sense and the lure of home still prevailed then. But this time I felt like I was walking on shifting sands. There was no home in India anymore. My mother is dead. My father lives in a room of a rented (but beautiful) apartment with my sister. There is no sense of familiarity in those streets. I got lost repeatedly when trying to return to the apartment during my trip. It frustrated me no end.
I feel without context. I feel like my past is enveloping me yet it cannot be further from where I am. Yet i feel like I’m moving in convoluted circles. I have vivid memories of old feelings that feel alien in my life today. That I had suppressed deep inside of me. The feeling I have towards my city of birth – the pain of loss of the city as it was, the thrill and headiness and the thrum of life that ebbs there and is so removed from my quiet life here. I chose this life. I chose the quiet and the predictable. But my mother’s death has opened up questions in my head about these choices I have made. I find myself asking why. What would the alternative have been. Would I have been less unhappy? Would I have been less at peace? What is it that I am seeking? Is it peace or is it the disquiet that was familiar? I don’t know. I have a perfect life. Beautiful family, a deeply loving husband, a successful career etc etc. Why does it all seem so transient?
It’s been a year since she left. One year since the dreadful night after many dreadful nights in a dreadful hospital where we counted down her last days and breaths and watched her slowly ebb out of our touch forever. One year of absolute horror and trauma and incomprehensible sadness that enveloped my life. But also one year of a heavy move, and renewing some promises to oneself and loved ones. Of trying to do better than this year has been. Of starting a new life in a new city and keeping expectations in line with what life may have to offer and trying to find the joys hidden in small, everyday things like a child.
My father has been with me for the last few weeks. We will be together during this day and tomorrow we will together visit the temple in Pittsburgh. We visited the temple together with Ma in 2008, on her birthday on August 10. We will go back there to remember the wonderful trip we had ten years ago, just the three of us.
This was a difficult week. I felt surrounded by death. Many loved ones were lost in a mindless act of violence in Pittsburgh. Older adults who were gunned down. Someone’s dad, mom, uncle, grandmom. I understand and feel their enormous pain of that loss. I know it will not go away anytime soon. I know that deep sadness that will engulf them for a long time and over time they will find grace in that pang of despair that will hit them. A coworker also lost her husband to illness. He was my age.
Yet another dear friend gave birth. And we are overjoyed to see that too. We mustn’t forget that death surrounds us. We are arrogant and foolish only when we believe we have nothing to lose to death. Death is humbling. It is benevolent. It will teach the living how to live with grace and humility. Death is profoundly human and I seriously believe our behavior towards life would be much more tempered if we were cognizant that we too will die. That the ones we strife against will also no longer be there. That this place we call home will one day be as alien as the next. There must be something more than this. I’m not an atheist nor am I religious. But we have limited time with our loved ones. And that in itself should give life meaning. We don’t need to solve the big questions to realize that.