Grief

My father passed on Sep 3rd. The same day my US Passport was issued. It has been tradition that my life progresses when he visits me in the US. The first time he came, I bought my first house and got my green card. The second time he came, I bought my second home, a dream home. The third time he was here, I got my citizenship, and got divorced. The last page was getting my passport and that happened right before he passed. Thinking back, it is strange that my passport was issued on a Saturday.

3 Saturdays later I sit here on my couch watching an SPB concert on YouTube. My younger kiddo is playing on his PC upstairs. A Saturday I have longed for this entire year. There is nowhere I have to be, there is nothing I have to get done today. Even if I do nothing today, its okay. I don’t like roller coasters, I am shit scared, yet this year has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. A job change, my elder son graduation high school, researched and visited colleges for him, got divorced, cared for my younger son through his wisdom teeth extraction, sold my house, moved to another house, convinced my dad to come to the US for the third time, vacationed with my boys at Mexico, got COVID, appeared for my citizenship interview, saw off my son to college in another state, nursed my father during his last two weeks of life, held his hand as he passed, cremated him. And I am here on the other side, strong enough to tell the story.

The week my father fell ill and the week after his passing were the worst. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would google ‘signs of death’ for my father. But I read each one of them and recollected what my aunts or uncles or mom had mentioned when others in the family passed. It all started on Aug 27th when he started throwing up only to discover on Aug 28th that the endoleak from his aneurysm repair had caused an aneurysm rupture. Almost lost him on Aug 27th and Aug 29th but I guess he was not ready. He woke up like nothing had happened. Nursing him for the one week before he finally passed on Sep 3rd is what I consider as one of my biggest blessings. The last few days of a parent is the absolute last ask they have of their children. There is nothing after that. Absolutely nothing.

I have had some really strong eye openers these past 3 weeks. After he passed, the funeral home tied him in a white sheet, transferred him onto a gurney, strapped him and covered him with a fitted blanket. They loaded him onto the back of a minivan and took him away. Everything one does in a lifetime ends in the back of a minivan. How much we emote, stress our asses off, hold grudges, push and pull in relationships, things we want to buy, positions we want to achieve, the egos we manifest, everything seemed so meaningless in that moment.
I am a believer of the concept, where the soul lives on and the body is merely a cloth that the soul sheds when someone passes. I also believe in signs. Three days after he passed, I saw the brightest light, lighting up my garage as I opened the door in the morning to drop my son to school. I knew he was going. I have never seen that light before or after. The funeral home director placed the bag with his box of ashes in the front seat and fastened the seat belt around the bag. It appeared like he was sitting right there, I spoke him on the ride home. When I got home, there were 4 birds, I have never seen them before waiting on the trees around my driveway. Like they were there to welcome him home. That first night, deers from the neighborhood sat vigil next to the wall where I kept his ashes. So many signs he has shown me, strengthening my belief in the soul.

I have been perusing a lot these last two weeks after his passing, and I realized that two roles of my life that I had been playing for years, ended in a matter of months, that of a wife of 19 years and of a daughter for 43 years. I may be a wife again, but I will never have to be a daughter again. And that has been the strangest feeling. We get so used to the multiple roles we play, that of a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend, and we think these roles stay until the end. They do, but the realization that we stop being them is strange.

Suddenly I am not so sure what I should grieve for. My son leaving the nest or my father passing or my divorce. Walking into my son’s room and trying to organize his room is the most painful thing. I cannot bring myself to moving his clothes or looking for something in his closet. It is easier to hold my father’s phone or see his shoes outside the door or his glasses on the coffee table. Bringing a life to this world, giving that little human everything you have, taking every chance because there is no rule book and then letting them go is by far the most unfair transaction in this world. In the end parents are just bridges for the first 18 years of their life. When I left him in his dorm room briefly and walked out, I felt something leaving my body, maybe the umbilical cord? Weird.

Then seeing your parents pass and doing everything for their physical being, is just so unfair. And you go through that twice. It takes years to overcome (if you ever overcome) to push the sadness of one, that the other one goes and creates another layer of sadness that you have to push through one day at a time.

All said and done, I am not quite sure what I should grieve for or just let it be. As my therapist says put one foot in front of the other and take one day at a time.

How do you decide?

It’s quite a known fact now that I am getting a divorce. I have been thinking of writing about this for a few months now. Never knew when the time was right. Be assured, I am not going to reveal the details of my divorce, I don’t believe the reasons for a divorce is public material. Since I am in the middle of one, I think I can get into the minds of others who have crossed this path before me. One thing I know for sure is many (if not most) women think of getting a divorce at some point in their marriage. Maybe men too. And many of these many women find a reason to stay or justify to themselves why they should stay. It is usually because as nurturers it is woven into our fabric to put the happiness of others in front of ours. We (read as most women born in the 70s and prior), will prioritize to sacrifice our happiness for the sake of our parents, or children or security or money or whatever reasons. Note that I don’t mention the spouse, yeah of course, that’s why I am writing this and you are reading this.

Like how water fills up the dam, we build our resentment at our circumstance one drop at a time. When it is too overwhelming we release some water in the form of tears, or anger, or lashing out or any which way. Gives some solace and then the cycle starts again. This goes on and on till one fine day, something snaps. Looking back, I don’t think anyone can pinpoint what actually broke the camel’s back. All the pent up water, comes gushing out as energy or some force to get yourself out of the situation. At this moment, nothing matters, all the lies you told yourself, all the reasons you formed in your head to stay, all the people you thought would matter, nothing, absolutely nothing. You spread your wings and decide to soar. For the first time, in a long time, you decide to listen to your inner voice that has been screaming in your head to set yourself free. You flap and flap and flap. Is it scary? OH HELL IT IS!! The longer you’ve been in the marriage the scarier it is. Will you get stuck in a thunderstorm, what if there is lightning, what if you hit a plane, what if your wings get tired.. Now that you have taken that step, all these what-ifs start circling around your head.

It is confusing. All your justification devils popup like moles asking you, was it necessary? Then your soaring self tells the justification devil, you remember this, you remember that? Isn’t this more peaceful? At the end of the day, are you at peace. The soaring self wins. You go to bed.

Once you find that tiny strength to overcome the devils in your head, or that last bone snaps, that strength builds onto itself. Each day, it builds a new skin. Over the days, weeks and months, you are surrounded by a shell built entirely of your strength. It is not easy! It takes time. It takes patience, with yourself. The new mental health lingo is – be kind to yourself. It is exactly that. Through the little kindness you show yourself day after day after day, the strength builds. I don’t know if the justification devils ever die, I know they phase out. Like another saying, time heals everything, which I strongly believe in after my mother passed, I think the devils in my mind will die too.

The first day you find yourself alone is euphoric. It almost unreal. The surroundings – did they really change, yourself – did I really do it, devils – why are you happy? Sometimes, actually most times, it feels like a dream. Like somebody could wave a wand and reverse your strength, cut through the layers you’ve built so painstakingly, shushing the devils. Even after months it feels unreal. I guess this is also directly proportional to the longevity of the marriage.

Then there are the nightmares. Gosh those devils. They creep into your mind in the darkness, and they flip the switch on you, what the devils tell you during the day, becomes real at night. You wake up, scared; only to realize that it was a dream. It is hard. I don’t think anyone has said divorce was easy.

I don’t know how many stages there is to this thing. I think I am somewhere in between. After initial stages of bitterness, why me, how could i, why did i, and all those sanity check questions, you get into the path of accepting the reality. Another mental health jargon – owning your journey. You tell yourself, yes this happened, what did I gain out of it? Maybe there are too many losses, but there are some good things, there is always something good, even if a miniscule. You start owning your journey. Accepting where you stand, looking into the horizon and thinking now what? The answers start coming to you, not of the past, but of the future. You start asking the right questions, where do you want to go from here? There is a lot of help available on the internet, in the form of facebook groups, support groups, videos. One such interesting video tells you to set boundaries. That is essentially the first step. Not just with that one person, but with everyone. Because now you want to guard yourself and not be vulnerable. Again, I have no clue what stage I am in, but this just seems right. You want to be sure of yourself, the justification devils have played in your mind for way too long. So it is about time, you set yourself right, by realigning your beliefs, your priorities, your soaring self.

At the end of the day, you grieve, I don’t know for how long. Yes, it is hurtful, it is sad. The best thing I have read so far is, what you grieve, is the image of the life you thought you would have had. In this grief, you learn to let go. Of the past.. of the bitterness.. of the whys..

There is no recipe, life doesn’t come with a book of instructions, and the least of all for a divorce. It is unexpected. It is sad, yet happy, it is confusing, yet brings clarity, it is a bold step, and takes so much of your strength. But then..life.. it goes on.. one day at a time. The happiness at the end of the day is worth it.

Its real

Depression is real but it’s not sadness. Sadness is more mentally or lasts a finite time but depression manifests itself in different layers and stays a longer time. It is difficult to explain how depression feels and and that is why it is left untreated for longer periods of time. Depression and normalcy are so similar that it takes you time to realize that you possibly could be in depression. You could be fooling yourself that everything happening around you is the way it is so you convince yourself that nothing is wrong, and you need to adapt to your surroundings. If you think someone else can tell you that you are in depression then know that it will never happen. You need to assess yourself or get a person with a medical degree to assess it for you. 

You have probably read that it is difficult to explain how depression feels, like labour pains. It comes in cycles, the labour pain and depression. There are periods of self-confidence followed by  a phase of self-doubt. During the high wave, you are up for any challenge, you want to overcome the obstacles, you want to move ahead. It is a false sense of optimism, because it is short-lived. A truly confident person will stay confident for a longer period of time and have fewer bouts of self-doubt. So I feel, it is an act, or a way your mind plays tricks with you. Very soon, usually there is a trigger, that this false persona falls. You withdraw into yourself and stop yourself from doing anything. Yes, getting up from bed every morning is a Herculean task. All you want to do is curl up somewhere, not talk to anyone and sit in your hiding spot. It is very easy to go from a high wave to a low wave, a small trigger questioning you and you will fall flat. But that’s not true about moving from a low to a high. It takes a lot of effort and support to get back up there. It is a state where you are waddling in the water supported by a few hands around you, most definitely your therapist.

There is no answer to what depression feels like, but there is an answer to how one feels when going through depression. Life goes about between these bouts of high and low waves. There is rarely a middle layer. Even if you find the middle ground, it is hard to establish yourself there because you are used to being at the high or low wave. This middle ground is new. However, starting to find the middle ground is like starting to discover yourself, the real you, not the one clouded by judgement all the time. So how does one feel? Not very happy, not very sad, not content, its a blank state of the mind. It is easy to not react instinctively to something or anything. You will seem calmer on the outside, but inside there is a constant churning. It is confusing, yes, very much. Your focus is elsewhere. You are sitting with your friend listening to his/her story, but you are not registering anything. You will not be able to ask a follow-up question tomorrow, because almost everything they said did not register in your mind. You are in your own world, a world you cannot define for yourself. 

When depression occupies most of the space in your mind, focus is what you lose first. Focus on yourself, your job, your friends, your family, your children. There is a basic functioning, you live from moment to moment, however, you are absent from the moment. You may seem very normal on the exterior, but you know there is a storm inside you. You want to burst into tears, you want to sit and cry for hours, in the hope that maybe then, this turmoil will leave you. Unfortunately, you cannot cry. Your mind knows you want to cry, but every cell of yours does not support it. You want to laugh continuously for hours, but the most hilarious joke doesn’t seem funny anymore. At the most you will let out a smile. You want to sleep for hours, and this is probably you will be able to do, for hours and hours, because this is an escape from your otherwise turbulent mind. Watch television for hours and hours, because you are in an alternate world away from the mess inside your head.

I have thought hard about does one incident start depression? And my conclusion is no. Every experience in life manifests onto itself and leaves behind a memory. Either a strong one or a weak one, but it exists. Some are good and some are bad. When the bad memories accumulate and if you have a lot of these, over time your mind weakens over this accumulation and makes you vulnerable. Your mind is prone to attacks easily. So when a person comes by who stays in your life for a long time and punches you in your soft spot, your mind caves. It could be anybody. A friend, a spouse, a parent, a sibling. The hard part is you don’t realize while the bad memory is accumulating until much later when you have become completely vulnerable. Actually most people don’t realize when they have become vulnerable, but much later when they feel trapped. Some get help, seek out therapy, swallow a concoction of chemicals to balance the mess up in your brain. It is unfortunate that most people live their life in this vulnerability because either they don’t know they need help or are too scared to seek help. What will everyone think. This is the year 2020 and even today mental health is a taboo. It should be given equal or more importance than physical health. It is easy to heal someone physically and extremely difficult to heal someone emotionally. 

Employees cannot speak freely of therapist appointments with their employer. Spouses cannot talk about it in their family. The immediate reaction is that there is something wrong with you. Yes, there is something wrong, but it is not with me, it’s with my environment. And the counseling I am seeking is to help me cope with my environment. My environment has become so toxic that it is impossible for me to navigate through the toxicity without an alteration of chemicals in my body or without being able to talk to someone about how I feel. Nobody in my environment wants to listen to me or understands my position or wants to understand my state of mind. They are biased by their own opinion of the situation. In this situation the only person who can help is a therapist who is outside this environment and can see clearly and provide a neutral perspective. A therapist primarily allows you to feel how you want to feel and tells you its okay. That you can get through this. You will not be here all the time. That the sun will rise tomorrow and it will be a new day. Rejuvenate your hope.

There are extreme cases who try to take their life. Either they are successful or end up in a psychiatric evaluation center with others who are either in the same situation as yours or worse. I have thought about what makes them take that extreme step and I believe its their lack of faith in anything or anyone. They don’t believe they can come out of their situation or environment and there is no one to lend them a hand and pull them up. It is sad, in this world of billions of people there is not one person who can extend their hand. So it becomes all the more important to seek help early on. The only person you need to listen to in this situation is you. Depression is real and it is not sadness.

Dont fix them..

Parenting a teenager has been and still is the my most challenging yet rewarding experience of these sixteen years of being a mom. This time I am taking baby steps, almost like I am the baby and he is the parent. By the time my second one becomes a teenager, I will probably be sitting up. As I’ve said like many others, there is no golden book. You fall, you get up, again stumble, again rise, you get the idea. There is some method to the madness, but each child is different. The most important lesson being, don’t try to fix them.

As parents we think our primary responsibility is to make them the best, in academics, in behavior, in manners, in their career, their family. In this process we take the leader role and the child is the follower. This is the primary mistake. They lead and we follow. The simple logic being, they are teaching you to be the parent, so let them lead. Of course, few essential things need to be taught by example, but by and large they show you the way. This trying-to-fix syndrome does not work with a teenager. Their mindset is that they are almost adults, as much as we are, so they don’t need any fixing. The more you try, the more they get away from you, emotionally and sooner than later, physically.

So as they start thinking that they are almost adults, you need to treat them like one. Make it real. Tell them one thing about your day, everyday. Don’t bring the work home, but bring the people you work with, home. It’s not about you dressing up and leaving in the car and getting back in the evening. There is more to it, and open those doors to them. They want a taste of the real world, this is when they want to race to their twenties, missing the fact that pre-twenties are the best years.

Remember, what your pre-twenties looked like? No phone, if you didn’t live on the same street, you didn’t see your friend till the next day at school. We live in an age and time that by the time they are 15, they have a phone. They are constantly texting their friends, looking up anything on the internet. Their pressure is greater and I know that fomo is real. If they don’t check their phones every now and then, they think there will be a hundred messages that they will miss responding to. If they don’t respond, they are left out. Nobody has time to wait for someone to catch up. Everyone is running, running towards what nobody knows..

Phone is not something you take away from a teenager. It is the new stuffed toy they probably carried around when they were a baby to drive away some fear. That small elephant or teddy bear stuffed toy they hugged to sleep and walked around with, which was their security blanket. Well, as shocking as it is, that 6 inch of radiation causing non-sensical gadget is that teddy bear now. When it’s taken away, it’s like they have lost oxygen. And don’t even get me started on, if you look at the phone, yes, just look, not unlock, not actually read anything. It’s an invasion of privacy. I think when we gen-x were in our teens, we wanted to tell our parents almost everything, but now privacy prevails.

With all this mess and nonsense that the internet feeds into their brains, they need an avenue to vent. I don’t think it is even venting, it is a release of unwanted energy. This is where your follower vs leader trait is put to the test. If you are a follower, they will vent to you. If you are the leader, they don’t want to get anywhere close to you. You need to give them the room to vent. They are almost adults, remember, so they get angry, and they need to release the anger. This the the age when every emotion is distinct. They are figuring it out, so follow their lead.

When you follow their lead, you also need to lead by example. You cannot tell them to spend less time on their phones while you are glued to your phone. You cannot expect them to pick up after them, if you don’t. They will make the bed as much as you do. You don’t realize much when they are young, that they are observing your every move. Well, fast forward ten years and your teenager will show you exactly who you are. This is when you are shocked, feel like you are a miserable parent, like you’ve lost this race, you’ve ruined it, and your first impulse is to fix it, without fixing yourself. A tween will point out hypocrisy before you see it.

A friend of mine posted a beautiful picture of her daughter and said ‘when parenting seems perfect’. The keyword here is ‘seems’. When there is no hypocrisy, when there is no fixing, when you follow, you will get a few moments of when you feel like you’ve won, it ‘seems’ perfect and you give yourself a perfect score. Just then they will flip and wander off to a direction. So you just have to see where they go, take a few steps further and be ready for them. As individuals we grow within ourselves, but as parents we grow in two directions. Individual growth is so different from parental growth. You have to grow as your child grows, gain strength from your individual learnings and be there for them.

And in closing all I have to say is ‘no one got it right’. Everyone aims for perfection, but nobody is. We need to understand that we are not perfect and should not expect it from our children, specially from teenagers. If you have missed the boat on something before they became a teenager, then don’t try to catch the boat and get in, its sailed away. In time, your fella will catch it.

Why Marriages fail?

Marriages are made in heaven, aren’t they? Then why do they fail? Let’s first define what a failed marriage is. It is one where there is no companionship. Period. When there is nothing left of made for each other. When there is no happily ever after. This is when one starts thinking, was this really made in heaven?

Marriages have a link to your previous lives. There is no doubt about this. The person you end up marrying, because often it is not who you think you chose, by some play of the stars you are pushed to that threshold of your life. Otherwise how can two people be there at the same time, same place thinking that they can spend their entire life with each other. So yes marriages are made in heaven and everything is good about this fantasy, but what comes after is something that happens on earth, in its entirety.

Now go back to the first day after you got married. You probably woke up next to the man /woman you love (at that point in time), thinking you are the queen/king oHf the world. You shower and wear something he/she likes.. If you are cooking, you will cook something that suit his/her taste buds. If you are hanging out with friends, you know what he/she prefers to drink, to eat, to do. You (both) train your mind to create common favorites, a restaurant, a vacation destination, a movie and what not. If there is something he/she absolutely detests, either you will stop doing it or find other like-minded people to please yourself. In all these situations you are thinking of the other person before you think of yourself.

The longevity of this thought is the measure of one’s successful marriage.

I have been applying this to many couples I know, to validate my understanding. My friend’s parents, who have been married for many many years, now in their sixties. Even today, they ensure the other has eaten every meal of the day. It doesn’t matter who ate first, its the thought to check that your partner has eaten. When in the cold, checking if your partner is warm enough. When you are in the sun, ensuring your partner is hydrated. There are a hundred things like this that I see them doing for each other. When you think of it, its very simple, but that is the success of their marriage. Even today, they think of the other person before thinking of themself.

The above is the ideal scenario. Let us look like some variations. There are some couples I know where this feeling is partial. Partial could mean two things. a. It exists in both people but occasionally there are lapses. b. It exists in one, but not in the other. The first category are most millennials. The indulgence of Internet and thereby acquired knowledge from the internet sways them to think of themselves under certain circumstances. If they have seen a strong bond between their parents then they will survive these intermittent lapses. 

When it doesn’t exist in one or in both then that is an abusive relationship. One you need to reach for the nearest exit door.

So what is fair time period to ascertain, if you will go old together? Five years? Seven years? I would place my bet on seven years. Even after seven years of marriage if two people in a relationship are able to carry on the feeling of putting the other person first, then it is possible it will last their lifetime. 

Starting all over again…

The nineteen inch, nine pound bundle that sat cozily wrapped up in my arms many years ago, today stands next to me, towering over me, looking down to look into my eyes, grinning from ear to ear at his towering achievement. I stand there in my five foot yardstick looking up thinking, well, blank actually.

My teenager turns fifteen tomorrow and I can’t help but pen down the emotions being a teenager’s mom. When I became a mom, now what seems like in another lifetime, I thought been there done that. But that ‘becoming mom’ is just for the first phase when you help the teeny tiny thing in your arms learn basic skills. You feed the baby, rejoice when he starts crawling and then walking, go ooh and aah at his first words, play with him, give him hugs and make him feel loved. Fast forward about fourteen years and you will find yourself doing all of this all over again. Yes, everyone of this, in different ways.

Your teenager will now put into his mouth anything he likes, just like as a baby he picked anything from the floor. When he was a baby you took care to buy organic, or home prep baby food and what not. Now he dunks down soda and burgers and hot dogs what you can group as J-U-N-K. You are not feeding him now, but still have to silently watch what goes down his gut. You cannot say no (not too much coz then it becomes an issue about his freedom), but start learning to explain to him the harmful effects of too much chemicals in his body.

He can run now. He will sit in his friends cars and go to Whataburger or McDonalds and where not. Its your job to know where he is, just to be sure he is safe. As a toddler if he ran into the hallways, you pick him up and bring him right inside. Now, you can ask nicely, ‘where will you be buddy?’, ‘in whose car are you riding?’… You have to magically become smart enough to not cross into his ‘friends’ territory.

He can talk, never ending, he can go on and on and on. You don’t have to teach him the words, but now you have to ensure he is using the right words. Remember at the end of this, you want to give yourself that invisible trophy titled ‘best parent of the year’ award. You dont want him to evolve into a saint, but be able to maneuver his way in the world. He will learn cuss words, and use it. Making him aware of minding his language in appropriate situations is what you should talk to him about.

As a baby you protected him from practically everything. As a teenager, it is time to allow him to expand his territory and test the waters while you are around. Let him make a mistake, let him fall, so you are there to give him a hand while he will take it and you are there. From this whole re-learning to be a parent, my biggest learning has been to keep the communication channel open, both ways. If you want to keep it real, it is important to open up some of your emotions to them so they get an on the job exposure to adult world feelings. He is not a friend from your age group, so use your judgement at what you let him into. The biggest win at this stage is that he wants to talk to you. Encourage conversations and give him some space. In your mind, he is a baby and will always be. My 70+ father thinks of me 40+ as a kid who needs to watch out while chopping vegetables. But giving this space and having those conversations are so important for their emotional growth. Few pointers –

  • What really stands out to me is if you are disagreeing with something they say, be open to hear their perspective. The time when you talk and they listen blindly is over, because now their minds think too and at that age they think ‘they know’.
  • When you ask them to do a chore, don’t order them to do it, work with them. They have a schedule and plans. On one hand when you are encouraging them to make a plan, help them stick to it.
  • Encourage them to plan on their own, not just school work but non-school work.
  • Give them chores at home – loading the dishwasher, unloading, doing their laundry, putting it away, cleaning the toilets, putting the trash out, dusting, mopping, cooking. These are basic skills that every person should learn.
  • Give them real life experiences based on their age – how to board a flight, how to shop for grocery, how to fill gas, how to work your way at the bank, how to get an uber, how to use public transport… etc, the list is endless. These are essential skills that no school teaches.

I have not listed values on purpose. To me values cannot be taught, they should be portrayed. Based on what parents portray, children will imbibe the values.

There is no fool-proof method and everyone parent learns in the class of parenting at their own speed. It cannot be taught and only comes through experience and your unique situation. It has been the best learning school, where sometimes I fail and sometimes I pass. Every small win feels like a leap in faith that you are doing something right. Every fall doesn’t put me down but encourages me and teaches me to do better the next time.

So here’s wishing my first guru in parenthood a very happy fifteenth year of teaching ! I love you, forever and forever…