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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A Moment in Music.

Project 52 2012: 45/52 Record Player

Music has always been a big part of my life, and (good) Indian music has and will always stop me in my tracks & warm my heart. Earlier this month, my friend Paresh of the Curry Smugglers told me that I would probably enjoy a couple songs in particular on their latest release, “Chill 6.” I tuned into their Chill episode, knowing I was in for a couple hours of soothing tunes, both old & new. As Paresh predicted (dammit), an old song at the end of the Chill set took me back to a special time with my grandmother. (Check out the latest Chill episode here.)

And so, here I share with you a little glimpse into my life.

One of my earliest memories is waking up on Saturday mornings to the strains of Hindi music. My father has always loved music, and he would put on LP after LP of songs from his favorite Indian movies after he woke on the weekends. Everyone should have an alarm clock as pleasant.

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This particular song, “Teri Bindiyan” from the movie Abhimaan, was a particular favorite of my father’s, and in time, my own. The melody, and the furtive, loving glances I would see my parents exchange during the song, further cemented my love of it.

Fast forward to my late teens. After I graduated from high school, my family & I took the requisite trip to India for a couple months before I started college. We traveled, but I craved quality time with my nani (my mother’s mother). She & I would sit for hours, and as as she would play with my long, wavy locks, she would tell me stories of her childhood, her life as a young wife and mother.

One night, in particular, stands out bright as the sun. My parents were traveling, and I was enjoying spending some quiet time with my nani and a few other relatives. It was quiet, with no visitors. My nani said that she would teach me how to make roti. On the nights she cooked dinner, she would bring the wireless, battery-powered radio into the kitchen with her.

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Just as we started, the electricity went out. She lit a kerosene lamp without ceremony, but determined it wouldn’t be the best night to start a cooking lesson with me. We were chatting quietly, and then “Teri Bindyan” came on the radio. We were quiet, then both began singing along… I remember her eyes shining as we sang together. Later, I asked her if she was okay. She told me that the song made her think of my grandfather, who had passed away over 30 years prior… but that now she had a new, wonderful memory of the song. She hugged me, and we sat on the veranda eating the food she made, listening to the strains of “Tum Pukar Lo.”

While completely unexpected, I have never stopped treasuring that moment. Thanks for taking me back, guys.

Incomplete… Part III

Expectations

I remember watching the movie “Up in the Air” with a sort of fascination. This scene (scripted below) between the young, idealistic 23-year-old, Natalie, and the thirty-something career woman, Alex, struck a chord with me–it’s like the current me having a conversation with the fresh-out-of college me, which I found to be slightly disconcerting:

Natalie: I thought I’d be engaged by now. I thought by 23, I’d be married, maybe have a kid, corner office by day, entertaining at night.  
Alex: Well, life can underwhelm you that way. 
Natalie: Where did you think you’d be by now? 
Alex: It doesn’t work that way. At a certain point, you stop with the deadlines. It can be a little counter-productive. 
Natalie: Sometimes it feels like, no matter how much success I have, it’s not gonna matter until I find the right guy. I could have made it work–he really fit the bill, you know. White collar, 6’1, college grad, loves dogs, likes funny movies, brown hair, kind eyes, works in finance but is outdoorsy. I always imagined he’d have a single syllable name like Matt or John or… Dave. In a perfect world, he drives a 4-Runner and the only thing he loves more than me is his golden lab. …And a nice smile. What about you? 
Alex: You know, honestly by the time you’re 34, all the physical requirements just go out the window. You secretly pray that he’ll be taller than you. Not an asshole would be nice. Just someone who enjoys my company, comes from a good family–you don’t think about that when you’re younger. Someone who wants kids, likes kids… healthy enough to play with his kids. Please let him earn more money than I do–you might not understand that now but believe me, you will one day… otherwise that’s a recipe for disaster. And hopefully, some hair on his head. I mean, that’s not even a deal breaker these days. A nice smile… Yeah, a nice smile just might do it. 
Natalie: Wow. That was depressing. I should just date women. 
Alex: Tried it. We’re no picnic ourselves. I don’t mind being married to my career. And I don’t expect it to hold me in bed as I fall asleep. I just don’t want to settle. You’re young. Right now you see settling as some sort of a failure. It is…by definition. Yeah, but by the time someone is right for you, it won’t feel like settling. And the only person left to judge you will be the 23-year-old girl with a target on your back.

…………………………………………………..

I find that my expectations of where I’d be at my age are FAR different from where I am–I thought I’d be married in my mid-20s, have a couple kids by 30, a successful career, a loving husband. Reality: I find myself single in my mid-30s, few relationship prospects, not sure if I want to have children (I am not one of those women who would even consider single-parenthood for the sake of having a child–to each their own, but I feel like that would be unfair to me & the child), and finally, after much struggle & hard work, a successful career. One out of four ain’t bad, is it?

I’m not going to let my 20-something self (or anyone else) judge me for being single, either.

I could sit & lament about how or why my life isn’t what I expected, but why? Am I unhappy? No. Do I feel unfulfilled? No. But most importantly–what if I did have all of those things? Would I genuinely be happy? I have no idea. Why is that? Because I am not that person, I am not living that life. I don’t see the point of wondering “What if…?” because I don’t want to miss my current life… the life that I’m living. I want to appreciate what I do have in my life–whether it’s my family, friends, things, or just how it feels to sit on the beach and bask in the sun.

I refuse to sit around & blame myself or how I’ve lived my life for the fact that I’m still single in my 30s. I may not always be happy being single, I may crave a shoulder or an amorous glance or touch from a man who adores me… I can’t stop myself from wondering when I’ll find someone to go on new adventures with.

I have faith that I will continue to figure out who I am, what I want, and someone that will appreciate (most) of me. I don’t know when or where we’ll find each other, but I expect to have fun (& have more ridiculous stories) along the way!

Say “Thank You” & Shut Up.

Please. Take one.

I hate it when I give someone a compliment, and the person side-steps it and says something like, “Oh, no–I don’t look great at all.”

Listen, if I didn’t think that you look fabulous in some way, why would I go out of my way to tell you? Think about it. Accepting a compliment gracefully doesn’t mean you’re arrogant or think you’re better than anyone–it’s a skill… one you need to master.

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So, say “thank you,” blush appropriately at the wonderfulness of the random compliment, and enjoy that spring in your step, would you please? Don’t argue with the complimenter–they may rethink that lovely little tidbit that they shared with you.

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As for the infamous backhanded compliments that Indians just love to give other Indians? Feel free to borrow my knife & do what you please, but a witty lash of the tongue will usually put them in their place.

Take a minute and look at yourself in the mirror… and don’t hesitate to love what you see.

Enjoy your day–you look wonderful.

Incomplete (Part I)

I’m fast approaching the mid-thirties mark, and finding myself bewildered & anxious as the new number becomes clearer in the distance. Where has the time gone?

I have plenty of milestones to look upon–degrees, graduate degrees, getting my own place, moving cross-country to change my life & career path. I’m proud of all of my accomplishments and have worked hard to achieve the things that I have. I have messed up, I have failed–but I have done my best to learn from each and every thing that has crossed my path, whether blissful or wildly unpleasant. I have discovered new friendships, lost more than I can count (& mourned them all), I have found love, I have enjoyed lust, I have reveled in the pleasures of the tongue & the flesh. I have travelled the world, danced the night away in Spain, immersed myself in the flavors of Italy.

And yet… I feel incomplete.

I recently had a conversation with my father–the closest we’ll probably ever come to a heart-to-heart. He’s a good man, a good father. But at his core, he is a simple man, who wants the best for his only daughter, the girl that has been the apple of his eye since…forever. He loves me and is proud of everything I have accomplished, as well as the things I strive to accomplish every day. The conversation has made me think hard–with an open mind and an open heart. My defenses? Nonexistent.

My father told me about a family friend, whose daughter is a surgical nurse. She is one of the best nurses in her hospital–hard-working, compassionate, and always willing to spend time to help a patient or a colleague–and dedicated to her family. I’m proud to know this girl. My father beamed as he told me about the purchase she recently made for her mother, and I smiled at his evident joy.

“We have wonderful daughters who have accomplished so much. I’m proud of you, I just want…” He stumbled, his eyes searched my face. He was waiting for my defensive reaction to his poorly disguised reference to the fact that his darling daughter, quickly approaching the next big number, is still single. I had nothing to say… My brain was a blank slate. I chose to smile.

“I know, Dad. I know what you mean,” I said quietly, trying to keep my voice from breaking. He smiled back, visibly relieved. I held the smile as long as possible, my heart heavy. I refused to let myself think about it… but here it is, in my face.

No matter what I am able to accomplish in my life, my parents will never truly be happy unless I find someone to love, to love me as I deserve to be loved. They don’t want me to settle for a warm body (with a good biodata) by my side–they want me to find a good man that will love & care for me the same way I would for him. Someone who would complement who I am as a person, just as I would for him.

You know what? I want that, too. I just have no idea how to find that kind of love, and no idea why I have been unable to find it for so long… even though I’ve never stopped looking.

 

(It looks like this will be a series of posts, as I explore this. I’m opening myself up in a way I’m not necessarily comfortable with, but I think it’s important… I know I’m not the only person to have experienced some of these emotions.)

(Un)Settling.

My best friend called me & we caught up. She’s deep into her mid-30s, and not looking forward to her next birthday.

She had recently gone on a couple dates with a guy who was nice, smart, successful, a little nerdy, and (important to her) Indian. When she met him a couple years ago, she wasn’t interested–he’s younger than her, and at the time, he was considerably overweight. He had recently lost a lot of weight, and asked her out–and she said yes.

They went on a few dates and had a nice time together–no earth-shattering chemistry, but they enjoyed each other’s company. They kissed, they made out… and then he found out how old she is. And suddenly… She found herself in the ‘Friend Zone.’

She described her reaction, and I was shocked at how much I related to it. “I can’t believe he broke up with me–I’m definitely more attractive & dynamic–but that’s not the point,” she said. “When he said we’d be better off as friends, I was sad. And a little part of me was relieved. What is that about?”

I thought about it, and I understood. We’re getting older. We’re alone. We want to find someone (worthy) with whom to settle down. Isn’t that why we go on dates? We want to find someone that we enjoy spending time with, and spend a lot of time with them–in a relationship, in a marriage, or something a little more unstructured. As we get older, and the dating pool of eligible people gets smaller and shallower, there is an unspoken desperation that slowly creeps into our blood–we find ourselves hoping, clinging, clawing for the connection, to make it into something that, perhaps, it may never fully become. We end up staying with someone too long, clinging to a guy or girl with whom we don’t have much of a connection or chemistry (or even anything in common), all for the hope of a future together. Not necessarily with that person, but just… SOMEONE.  When that connection dissolves, we may experience sadness, but relief, as well. Why? Because we knew it wasn’t right in the first place. Realizing this can be the hardest thing of all–because we really want to find someone great, someone we adore, but we find ourselves settling, just so we don’t have to be alone.

And now we have to find someone else to date… and hope we don’t settle for the wrong reasons.

Please Hold…

This Should NOT Be How You Live Your Life...

After seeing my timeline clogged, day after day, night after night, with young girls in their twenties tweeting about lost love, trying to find love, or why they don’t have husbands, I just couldn’t f-cking handle it any more. Why are you all sitting around pining?

I went on a rant on Twitter: “Makes me sad to see young girls desperately seeking a mate. Get out there & live ur damn life! Never know where/when you’ll meet ur mate!  Don’t wait to try that new restaurant, travel to that faraway land, or buy that flashy new car until ‘after I get married’. You’re not dead.  Go live your life! You’ll be happier, have more life experiences, & be a less boring & pathetic human being. That’s NEVER attractive.” And yes, indeed–it makes me STABBY.

I see tweets like “I thought we had something good. Where did he go?”; “Where is my husband?”; “When will I finally meet my husband?”; or ‘I wish I could find a husband so I could go to Paris/Venice/outside my house without permission.’ Really, ladies? Aren’t you alive and breathing right now? Get off your computer, remove yourself from your parents’ control, get out there and live your life–quit bitching about your lack of one online. You want your life to change? YOU have the power to make it change… Don’t give that power to a man who hasn’t even materialized yet.

Go out, do the things you dream of doing, LIVE YOUR LIFE. You won’t regret it, I promise. Who knows? You just might meet the man of your dreams while pursuing your dreams…

Yep. I went there...