Nobody.

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Image by CarbonNYC on Flickr

My friend Paresh G. recently lost his mother to cancer. It’s a loss that many people endure, but can rarely put into words. As I read his words, the tears flowed & my heart broke for him…and every person who loses someone they love to cancer or any illness. Please take a few minutes to read his  raw, heart-wrenching piece below. 

 

 

I’m preparing you for the fact that this a long read. It’s very raw & and uncharacteristically for me, very emotional. I’m sorry if this note upsets anybody but there is a message I want to convey. I just cannot convey it without context. So thank you if you read this. More thanks if you share this – please just tag me so that I know it’s been shared. 

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Nobody prepares you for loss. I’m not talking about losing a bet, or your phone, or your car keys. I’m talking about gut punching, heart ripping, soul tearing loss. Everyone says it’s inevitable but there’s not one single experience in any one person’s life that can possibly prepare them for the loss of a loved one. Especially if that loved one is a parent. Ever more so if it is your mother.

I’m typing this on her birthday. It has also been one month, 2 hours and 53 minutes since she died 8 feet away from me with a team of doctors and nurses attempting to revive her after she went into cardiac arrest. My mother had just passed from complications caused by advanced ovarian cancer & chemotherapy. This was her second (technically third) bout with cancer. She went from diagnosed to dead in 32 days. Count them – 32.

When we are all children, we have at least one memory of us being helpless & our mothers being the first person to scoop us into their arms to protect us; to shield us from the feeling of dire despair. To shield us from the inevitable pain that will come from the inability of being unable to change that one situation we found ourselves in.  

In my case, I will now have two. The first one was when I was a kid in Bahrain & hurt myself messing around on the front steps of our home. I remember gouging my knee on some rocks as I fell face first. Before I could even react, I remember Maa picking me up & holding me. Then the tears flowed but I was safe. 

On February 15th, my world came crashing down when the ICU attending doctor pulled me in & in a flat tone told me that Maa had gone into cardiac arrest & that they were trying to revive her. They worked on her for 18 minutes. She died at 7:45 am. The tears flowed. I couldn’t breathe. I had to hold myself up against a wall. And as I fell to the ground, there was nobody there to pick me up. The one person who could have was 8 feet away from me. Gone. I can tell you that this specific moment will be the most helpless I will ever feel in my life ever; not because she wasn’t around to console me but because I couldn’t do anything to save her.

I spent around 40 minutes by her bedside holding her hand while crying & waiting for my sister & father to make it to the hospital. When my sister walked into the room where we were, I couldn’t see her face. I had been crying that hard. She asked me what happened & when I shook my head, I fell into her arms because I had failed at the one thing I had gone to India to do – take care of my mother while she was ill. 

Then I had to go tell my father. I’ve given him many reasons to be ashamed of me in my life. Lord knows I’ve done gloriously bad things where he had to deal with me. But I will never live down the shame of having to walk up to him & tell him that she was gone. I will never be able to forget the look in his face when I told him. I will never forget his body shaking as I held him when I told him.

Nobody prepares you to plan your mother’s funeral. Nobody explains to you how hard it is to store your mother’s body in a safe, enclosed space where rodents won’t get to her while your family is flying in from around the world. Nobody prepares you to make that call to your brother while he’s at the airport & half way home to tell him that she’s gone. Nobody prepares you for the hour and a half ride behind the hearse carrying your mother to the mortuary so you can give her a proper good bye the next day. 

Certainly, nobody prepares you for the question ‘Do you want to use ghee or kerosene when you cremate her?’. Nobody prepares you for the moment where you go from being 33 to feeling like you’re 63 in the blink of an eye & are forced to go from the baby of the family to the one carrying the load of the logistics so that the rest of the family can just grieve when they arrive. Nobody prepares you for a Facebook conversation where you have to tell your older brother that he doesn’t have to be strong because you got him. There’s no guide for telling your sister that she did everything she could have done & more while you’re holding her on a set of steps on a hospital landing as she bawls into your shirt. 

Nobody prepares you for carrying your mother half a mile to the cremation grounds. There is no manual for the colossal feeling of loss, guilt, grief, anger, resentment & hate you feel when you see your mother’s body burning & how it was too soon.  

Then it gets worse. From that moment on, for every waking moment, every moment between sleep & waking, every empty moment at a traffic light or elevator ride – you have two things in your head. The moment she died. And every other decision you made that led to that moment. It consumes you. It shapes you. Frankly, it changes you. You pretend that things are fine; but they’re not. They never will be because your mother won’t see your kids. You mother won’t be around to show your children the things she taught you. She won’t be around to be stern but kind; firm but gentle; elegant but prone to giggle fits.

She won’t be around when your dad subconciously reaches out for her hand while he’s sitting on the couch. She won’t be around to tell you, unequivocally, that you’re being an idiot for not calling your family back home because they never call anyway. She won’t be there to crinkle her nose at you when you tell her that she looks gorgeous in that one sari she’s wearing. She won’t around to cut you in half with a look from across the room because you’re being an idiot. She won’t be around to gently shake awake as she’s passed out on the couch, laptop open, playing Freecell because that’s totally her scene man!

 

She won’t be around to tell you that she loves you.

You won’t be able to tell her that you love her.

Ever. 

 

Her last words to me were ‘How much more are you going to do?’ My last words to my mother were ‘No matter how much I do, it will never be enough for you. I love you. Please get better but for now go to sleep. I’ll be right here. We’re going home in the morning.’ She never left the hospital. She never opened her eyes again.

Legally, I was supposed to be the family member who took her of the ventilator. I struggled with my ability to make that call when the family would have assembled. So what does she do? She pulls a typical Gajria move – Do it yourself because someone will totally screw it up if you don’t. 

My goals in going home were simple. 1) Get mummy through some chemo sessions 2) Help my sister & father in the running around that India always requires families to do for medical patients. I was supposed to get her through two mini chemo sessions then hand her off to my brother. I was supposed to get her ready for a risky hysterectomy that was coming in the summer by navigating her through the first set of chemotherapy sessions. I kept watch on her in an old dining room chair by her bed side so my father & sister could sleep to recover their energy. I had 12 straight 22 hour days to help my mother & she died on day 15. 

This is not the easiest thing to write about but it’s important because this is a terrible disease that has taken the ultimate toll on my family. You’re seeing one person’s point of view here. If you ask my brother, his pain & coping mechanism is different. My sister’s too. My dad is heartbroken but not broken. My sister in law is the beacon of positivity & my wife will always be my rock.

My mother has built a strong family, and I won’t speak for them but I will confess to being an utter shit show & train wreck. Nobody prepares you for the guilt of having made decisions that potentially cost your mother her life. Nobody. Everyone has been kind & told me that I did what I could. They tell me that she would be proud of me & that they are proud of me. I’ll never believe that because I truly believe that if I had done all that I could have done, I wouldn’t be writing this. Nobody prepares you for the emotional turmoil you go through & how you take it out on yourself & your loved ones because you cannot bottle the rage that you have at yourself & the situation. 

Nobody tells you how to deal with yourself on the flight home. Nobody prepares you for that first hug on the other side when a good friend picks you up two years to the day of losing his own mother & you know exactly how he felt. Nobody prepares you for the tears as you write a note to the world about why this sucks. Nobody prepares you for the month of grief that comes pouring out at 1210 am. 

On the plus side – nobody prepares you for the unconditional love & support you’ll get from your friends and family. Those who were there during the two longest days of my life – you know who you are. The support even outside of that has made me a hesitant but rather strong believer in humanity. Mummy, as usual, was right – people are usually good & want to help… if you just let them. Just don’t forget to return the favor.

This is what I want you to do – Talk about cancer. Get screened for cancer. Desi culture tends to stigmatize cancer as an unspeakable disease. This is not the flu. This shit doesn’t just go away. Cancer patients deserve to have an educated & armed support system around them to help them heal & get them to the finish line.

Ladies – Please get those Mammograms. Please find out if you can get screened for ovarian cancer & then do it. Especially if cancer has occured in your family.  The test is to look for protein level markers of the protein CA125. Ovaraian cancer is called the silent killer because it’s almost invariably found too late to do anything about. 

Guys – Talk to your mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, wives & significant others about getting screened. You have just as much invested in their lives as much as they do. 

My sister in law found this site: http://www.ocrf.org/ for Ovarian Cancer Research. 

Find out what the cancer can do & how it can be treated:http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/ovarian|| http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/ovarian-cancer/DS00293

 

Do something. Do anything. Because this isn’t the first time a son has lost his mother to this & it certainly won’t be the last. 

 

Happy Birthday Maa. I love you. I miss you. I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough but I promise to do my damndest from here on out. I won’t forget when you asked me how much more I was going to do. 

The answer will always be never enough. 

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Why Your Crappy English Makes Me Stabby

Yes. I win ALL the time.

I’m known for my obsession with grammar & spelling, both in person & online. People in my Twitter feed often get pissed at me, telling me to get a hobby or simply to f-ck off.

You know what? I’m not going anywhere, people.

Lamest reason EVER for being single & lonely.

Here’s the thing: With the vast majority of you, the only way I know you is through Twitter, or maybe my Facebook page. My first impression of you is the way you spell & structure your sentences. Remember the old adage, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”? Yeah, that applies here. If you type/tweet/post like a moron, chances are high that I’m going to think you’re a moron… If the majority of your interactions with people are via text/tweet/Facebook post, some of those people may judge you on your atrocious grammar, too.

You could say I’m an a$$hole, which I very well could be–but I’m not. I see these stupid errors that people make–an unnecessary apostrophe, using “to” instead of “too,” or yet another FOB asking to “make phraansheep” with me–and I find them rather excruciating. For the majority of us (excluding the FOBs), English is our primary (or only) language. Why, then, is it so hard to master? Perhaps it’s not a priority for you, which is understandable; after all, there are so many other things to be concerned with in our daily lives, like what nail polish color you should choose or if your car is as cool as everyone else’s.

If you can’t spell or master basic English grammar, please realize that people may (and probably will) judge you for it. How will you ever apply for a job with a cover letter customized to that position? What about a dating profile? In both of these situations, your writing is your first impression. Don’t screw it up.

This may be your best course of action.

I hope you think of me as you type out your next tweet or send a message on shaadi.com to that sweet honey you’ve been eyeing for the last couple days. Who knows? That sweet little honey could be me.

Make me proud. Don’t look like an idiot.

The Sikh Shooting in Milwaukee: Didn’t Know? Or Didn’t Care?

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There has been so much violence in our world lately: Aurora, Syria, Oak Creek, Texas A&M… I wonder & fear if we may be becoming immune to the violence, or if we pick & choose where our sympathies lay. I hope I’m wrong on both counts.  

On the morning of Sunday, August 5, I jumped onto Twitter to see what everyone was drinking with brunch, & instead saw tweets about a shooting at a Gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. My blood ran cold. I turned on the TV, and flipped through channel after channel, desperately seeking coverage. CNN was the only station that was covering the tragedy, & the ‘facts’ they were spouting about Sikhism were so completely wrong, off-base, that my eyes filled with tears of frustration. Where was all the coverage? The local news covered it with 2 lines of copy, 20 minutes into that evening’s broadcast. My social media streams were silent, with the exception of my South Asian friends.

Why was it that the only people who were talking about the shooting on my Twitter & Facebook feeds were South Asian? Why did it seem like no one cared? Yes, they were Sikhs who were killed in their place of worship, but above all, they were innocent humans… innocent Americans. I’m not Sikh, nor Punjabi, but I am Indian. Do we not factor into the American consciousness?

My Twitter friend Paresh (@pareshg) wrote a post on Facebook that summed up my thoughts, my questions, about the seeming lack of concern & media coverage over the shooting. I asked him if I could share this on my blog, & he agreed. Please, read on. I would love to know your thoughts on the matter.

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Photo by my talented Twitter friend Karaminder Ghuman. Link: http://karaminderghuman.com/

I’ve been sitting on this because I don’t want to seem incendiary, knee jerking or instigate anything negatively but I’m disappointed in that nobody on my FB ‘friends’ list who is not of South Asian descent even mentioned the shootings in Milwaukee this weekend. Less than 3 weeks ago, I couldn’t get through a single FB Feed page without postings about Aurora where a movie theater got shot up by an idiot who thought he was in a movie. People kept posting “Pray for the victims! God help us all! What kind of a madman does this kind of thing?’ etc.  

However, when a place of worship that isn’t a church gets violated by a known alcoholic who got kicked out of the service, was involved with white supremacists & kills 6 people, there’s not a peep. This appalls me. Like the victims in Aurora, the victims in Milwaukee were people who believed in the right to practice their own religion in the safety and sanctity of their own religious building. If you can’t be safe when you pray, what’s the point?

I’m also finding that nobody gave two craps about the mosque arson in Joplin, MO the next day aside from the South Asians who are in my circles. Also note that this mosque was used by the EMS to stage relief efforts when the tornadoes ripped that town to shreds. The Imam volunteered that building as part of the community the congregation lived in. So what is this? Lack of exposure? Lack of empathy? Or a simple matter of – “well, they’re not White or Christian or [insert stereotype here] so it’s not important.”

Interesting social dynamic don’t you think?   

CNN – not the most shining beacon of reporting in the world – was the only channel that carried the Milwaukee shootings live on Sunday (poorly). Fox didn’t even bother to flip out except for a ticker. However, ALL channels went live during Aurora and the mass hysteria & overload of emotions in the social networks was apparent & palpable.  

So is it that people don’t care? People don’t know? Or people don’t care to know because it’s outside their comfort zone & realm of understanding to appreciate other cultures and religions. But what do I know right? It’s only in the First Amendment of the Constitution of a country I’m yet to be naturalized into. If that’s the case, it’s xenophobic, ethnocentric & feel free to remove me from your friends list. 

For the record – my opinion is that it’s not that people have to be White, Black, Brown, Christian, Hindu, or Muslim or any other faith – NOBODY deserves to get shot at (close range, point blank or in the face) by anyone in a civilian setting. Period.    

 

UPDATED about an HOUR LATER – I understand that this will be shared and people will comment. I also understand that this is a very broad looking statement. I’m not one to point fingers because a friend rightly pointed that this crap happens the world over – everyday. And while that makes me feel powerless to do anything, I can control one thing:   The ability to question MY social circle. The people I’ve encountered, worked with, hung out with, broken bread with and spent time with. All I want to do with this post is understand how and why people – normal every day people – can prioritize one tragedy over another based on demographical markers.  

 

UPDATED: 8/13/2012 

First of all, thank you for the shares/likes on Facebook (that are visible to me) and the discussion this has created. I want to come out & admit that it’s humbling that I was able to reach a lot of people who don’t know me. But I also had to edit this post to add some color/context based on positive & negative feedback I received in terms of comments + private messaging since this was posted. It’s been a week since the shootings so I wanted to let the original piece breathe & then add the following, so here goes –   

1)   I am not a Sikh. I do not practice Sikhism. I am not Punjabi. I’m a mutt of some Gujarati, Sindhi something that has roots in the Jaisalmer area of Rajasthan pre-partition and from the mid 1800s. I’m a Hindu of convenience which means I’ll do the poojas at Diwali but hardly ever go to the temple. 

2)   No. I’m not bandwagon jumping to show outrage for ‘my fellow desis’ [Which is justified by the way]. My outrage is at the general apathy situations like these (minority targeted crimes) have been shown in the United States. I cannot speak for Canada, Mexico or any other country simply because I do not live there.  

3)   Yes. I fully acknowledge that things like this happen every day, all across the world. No doubt. So while the original post is me standing on a soap box; I stood on it in front of my social network. I never expected it to be shared as much it has been which is why I added the ‘broad statement’ line on the original writing as an addendum. 

4)   Of course, The Atlantic came out with a very interesting take on this shooting: http://bit.ly/OUHj9M – that ends with a very telling thought. Since the shooter was white – normal white folk didn’t know what to do because it flew in the face of the conditioned messaging since 9/11 of ‘Anyone but white folk could be terrorists’ & then they looked away. Totally unsure as to what to do with themselves. 

5)   Is that a racist statement? You tell me. Because I sure as hell don’t know simply because I’m confused as to exactly what is going in this country anymore. 

6)   Is the media to blame for uneven coverage? Yes. Absolutely. It’s an election year. We can’t have too much controversy. 

7)   Did I write this post to call out the white people in MY social circle? You bet I did. But I also should point out that I’m calling out the media and everybody else too. This is a HUMAN tragedy. Regardless of the victim set, the crux of my post was to point out the disparity in a) coverage and b) general lack of reaction from non South Asians 

8)   Some people, very intelligently I must say, added that it’s a question of relatability. That somehow imagining oneself in a movie theater just hits home with more people than a victim set practicing a foreign religion & being in its house of worship. To which I say – fair enough. I’m not sold on this idea but I do see the logic there so I’ll acknowledge it. 

9)   Other people right fully said that people are desensitized to violence. If that’s the case, we REALLY need to sort out our priorities. 

10) One bright spark said people should be allowed to own guns to protect themselves and that if someone was armed in the Gurdwara, this would have been averted. Let that sink in for a second… Come on man. For real? 

11) Someone commented that I shouldn’t be questioning people on social networks. Are you kidding me? I find out about births, deaths, pregnancies, marriages, divorces, re-marriages, circumscions and hysterectomies, earthquakes & tornadoes etc on Facebook and Twitter. This is our world now. I can’t exactly gather 450+ plus people on a Skype call & tell them all what I think now can I? These mediums use the word SOCIAL – which automatically implies that I want to see social interaction about things. If you choose to not comment on anything of this sort on your social networks, then fine. But if you’re picking and choosing tragedies to talk about and rage over, let’s rethink that stance a bit.  

12) To the people who said I made a good point, or that the original post was a good read – Thank you. 

Look. I’m not a civil rights authority. I’m not even actively involved in the desi scene in my own city. Hell, I’m not EVEN going to pretend that I’m sort of righteous holier than thou desi because, quite honestly, I’m kind of an asshole. And a pretty big one at that. 

So what is my problem? My problem is this:  

We are the most evolved species on this planet. We are all, each of us, genetically marked to be human. Our genetic mutations allow each of us to evolve with differing skin tones, eye color, bodies etc. Our ability to communicate with words, art, music & the languages makes us far superior than 99.99% of all species here on this rock. So we’re evolved right? And here we are in 2012 – A random dude who has no business owning a gun kills 6 other random strangers when they were getting ready to perform a service to the community they lived in. Why? Simply because they weren’t White/ Caucasian.

Then what did most people do? Quietly acknowledge it in their heads, feel a moment of sadness & then moved on. Because ‘Well. I don’t know anybody who died there. And since the victims were not Caucasian, it’s not that important. And I really don’t get why they wear those turbans? Isn’t the turban what the Taliban wears? Didn’t the Taliban try to bomb us and kill us all multiple times?’ That’s the example we want to set for our kids, our siblings, and the people around us? Look the other way because the reality of the situation does not conform to our prejudices & social comfort zones? 

That’s the best the human race can do? 

Shame on us. All of us. 

Maybe Not Fair, but Lovely.

Don't Do This At Home...

This is a post for my Indian brethren… the ladies, more specifically.

Put. It. DOWN.

Why don’t you buy foundation that MATCHES your skin? Seriously. Throw the effing ‘Fair and Lovely’ out the window, and buy foundation that MATCHES. Not a shade or two lighter… no, no, PUT THAT DOWN. Lighter foundation is NOT going to make you look lighter. It’s going to make you look like an idiot who doesn’t know how to pick out makeup.

Please, go to a makeup counter or Sephora and ask for help–that’s what they’re there for. Otherwise, you just might end up looking like this…

WHAT happened here??

(That is the scariest thing I have ever seen. I have no idea who sent this to me, but it just makes me sad.)