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.

Family

We are taught, right from the day we have some understanding of our surroundings, that family is your parents and your siblings. Then you have an extended family which is your aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins. For many years I believed this. Family to me was always father, mother, children. It was an etched-in-stone kind of definition.

The world as we know it as moved away from this definition. There are many women who choose to be single mothers, there are many men who choose to be single fathers. Then there is the gay community, where family is either father, father and children or mother, mother and children. Families now come in all shapes and sizes. Not every family fits into the age-old definition of father, mother and children.

I grew up in a middle class nuclear family. Aunts, Uncles, cousins, grandparents were people we interacted with during the summer vacation. My core was my father, mother, brother and paternal uncle who lived with us. This was my space in the universe. In this space, I was allowed to feel, I was allowed to talk, I was allowed to be me. If I said something out of disrespect, I was corrected. If I said something out of anger, I was given the space to calm down. If I did something wrong, I was told why it was wrong and I was given the opportunity to apologize. My family had a lot of friends and we called them family friends. These were people who lent a hand financially when my parents were struggling to pay my school fees or were short handed at the end of the month. They were there with us emotionally, by encouraging us to push a little higher and have some success in the print world. We participated whole heartedly in each others family events, marriages, death, birth, etc. I have seen more of my parents friends come to our house, have a meal of simple chapathi and curry or whatever was there, than my aunts and uncles.

My concept of family developed through these people. They were family to me, not just family friends, because they were there for us. They didn’t tell my parents that they were trying to do something impossible by trying to set up a print shop. They didn’t judge my parents and say why are you sending your children to the best and most expensive school when you know you cannot afford it. They didn’t comment on the clothes we wore, or the humble living quarters. They sat cross legged on the floor and ate what my mother served. Without asking they brought money and handed it over to my parents. I owe these people a lot and remember them fondly. Many of them have passed, but they were placed in our lives for a reason.

I am a movie buff. A few movies have left a lasting impact on me. One such movie is English Vinglish. After learning English, at the end of the movie, the protagonist defines what a family is, and those words have stuck with me. She says, ‘a family is not judgmental’. That’s precisely how I was raised. My family and everyone around my family, our support systems, never judged us. So that is my definition of a family. A group of people who do not judge you and with whom you can be you.

As I go through my divorce, I have been re-drafting my age-old family definition of father, mother, children. Now my family is mother and children. And that is okay, because for single moms, mom and children is family. My son recently asked me what is family. I told him from my experience this is what I have learnt – a group of people who don’t judge you and let you be you. He said, you took the words out of my mouth. I am glad, rather proud, that my child is not stuck to age old family definitions. That he understands, family is not judgmental.

Happiness

I am a subscriber of positivity pages on social media. Most of them tell me to find happiness within. Honestly, this concept never made sense to me. How can I find happiness within me when everyone around me was pouring sadness over me, making me sad in the process? Everyone has problems and thats what they want to talk about first. As a listener you can be easily swayed into that direction. So what is finding happiness? And how do you do it?

I just exited my forty first year of life. Maybe half-way or more than half-way through and finally I learnt what this means. It is not happiness that one should seek, but stability or equilibrium with yourself and your thoughts. Happiness simply follows. The first step is to know yourself and draw a boundary around yourself. You will not sway outside this boundary, give yourself enough room to feel your emotions, but don’t let anyone else’s emotion cross the boundary and mingle with yours. It took me a long time to know myself. I am still not there, but I know I am on my way. This path of self-identification is helping me understand who I really am.

When you don’t know yourself, you build these walls of sand around you thinking they are your boundary, but the slightest wind will crumble them. You can never be happy within these fake walls. Its days and days of pretense which you want to believe is the real thing. You cannot wake up one day and say, yes, I have no more fake walls. It takes time effort and people around you to help you get there.

Finally when you find happiness within, nobody can touch it and change its baseline. It is a state of enlightenment, maybe the first step to enlightenment. It’s been a year since I wrote the first part of this blog. At 42 I feel I have come closer to myself and found happiness sitting there warm and cozy. It’s not an easy find, it’s not an easy journey to yourself. Once found, your thoughts are elevated. Do I really need to say something here? Maybe not. Does this really impact me? Maybe not. Does anyone need my opinion? Probably not. Before saying anything you put your happiness first subconsciously and determine the course of action that doesn’t meddle with your inner equilibrium.

You finally know what you want actually let me take that back, you finally know what you don’t want. You can clearly delineate between the negative energies in your life and can manage them. You finally see that door you’ve been looking for and it’s within reach. You can run. You can be free. You can be happy.

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…

Choices..

As a mom, nurturing my babies has been a learning. Just as I was getting the hang of it, it was time to start cutting the cord. Yes start cutting the cord and not cut the cord because the cord is never cut. It stays intact in a virtual form for all of your children’s life. There is only thing you cannot replace and that’s your parents.

The strands starting withering away when my younger one just around ten started making choices about his clothes. He knew exactly what he wanted to wear, including his socks and innerwear. It is funny but he started developing his individuality very young, let’s leave it there.

I was talking to some colleagues yesterday, one of them is the father of two young children in their ones and fours. The other is a mom of two college graduates working in different parts of the county. Me with my middle and high schooler was somewhere in between. The lady colleague has been an inspiration for me in the context of letting go or loosening the reigns. She was telling us how there is no one shoe fits all kind of parenting. When she is asked by other parents how she does something, she says, it’s your child, figure it out.. that is absolutely true, when you start cutting the cords and which cord depends only on you and your child.

Since a few years ago, when I bring my boys to the saloon, we google for “boys hair cuts” and start browsing. They have the choice to pick their own hairstyle. To me, giving them the choice to decide how they look, whether it’s their hair or clothes or shoes helps them develop their individuality and confidence.

As my older one sits at the hairdressers chair and gets his first out of the way hairdo I sit here smiling…

The cords are going away one by one, there are more opinions he forms and decisions he makes. It won’t be too long before I take a step back and watch him pick up the baton and tread forward on his lane. From all the children I have seen and parents I have met, I realize that Parenting is an art which nobody masters. There is always something that you will not do and which is fine.. it’s okay. What is important is to let them make choices while you are around to tell them to get up when they fall. I am what I am because of all the choices my parents gave me, good or bad.

I’m learning.. each day.. it’s the toughest yet most fulfilling thing to be – a parent!