On 19th Jan 2013.

On 19th Jan 2013 she would have been 22 and we did nothing…  what we each did try, in our own ways, was to try to pretend that it was just another day. It was a mistake.

A mother (and now a friend) who lost her 23 year old son in an accident said she could not even think of adopting, even if she wanted to, because her son would not have liked to see her hug or shower affection on anyone other than himself. I understood what she meant. There are many things I can or cannot do because I know Tejaswee would have been glad to see them done or not done. I feel warmer towards people she liked, a favourite cousin,  a dear friend…  and the cat whose life she saved and the dog she brought home are like precious bits of her we have with us.

I also want to watch the movies she thought were worth watching, support the causes she supported or read the books she had been asking me to read (Everybody Loves a Good Drought, Shantaram… ) Most of the time it is easy because what she loved I loved too. But sometimes, even with all the common interests, it’s impossible to read something she liked and not think, “She read these words.” And then begins the same cycle of wondering why any parent had to accept this, and then the resignation and the realisation of our own insignificance. We did not matter.

One of the mothers I got in touch with through this blog lost her 24 year old daughter in 2011. She spoke aloud some of the things I said to myself and she sounded like a lost child. “Why did she die? How could she die? How will I live now?” Same questions repeated hundreds of time. Sometimes I put her on speaker and cycled on a stationery bike or made a cup of tea. Sometimes I felt like shaking her and telling her to stop, which I am sure is why those who are grieving are asked to, “Try to focus on something else.” Not because it helps the person who is trying to make sense of something that can never make sense to them, but because the person who is trying to help doesn’t know what to do (Just listen). Sometimes I joined her.

After having said this to herself every day for around an year and a half, one day she said, and I heard my own thoughts in her words, “I think I am beginning to accept that she is gone… “ and then she asked, “But how could I!? Am I forgetting her? Didn’t she matter? She was my life!! I thought I would go mad or die, but I am talking about how I am feeling!” So this person, I have never met and someone I never completely agree with (she thinks it’s okay that women are not allowed to read the vedas) – recently said, “This evening I was coming home from the gym and I realised I was feeling alright… Are our lives getting back to ‘normal’?”

I asked, “You tell me? Is this how you were before your daughter died?” The ‘normal’ today means for me to learn to avoid triggers that cause more pain. It’s the way all animals (or life forms) behave, we avoid what hurts.

But what if what hurts is something the child we are grieving would have loved for us to do? Tejaswee would have wanted me to remember her on her birthdays – to do something to mark the day.

Grieving parents receive a lot of advice, mostly it is  either to cry or to not cry; either to talk about the pain or to ‘not dwell upon it’. In the beginning it is not possible to control any of this. In the beginning I sat staring at her photographs and repeating (to myself) a million times, “She died. She just died. She really died. How could she die? How could this happen? There is only one way this can be undone, I should wake up and find this a nightmare.” While brushing teeth, while walking to the door to answer the door bell, while being shocked to find that I cry in exactly the same way she did (as an adult I had never before cried aloud, she never heard so this must be something that genes decided not environment), while conversing normally with visitors, while living an increasingly ‘normal’ life.

Someone we recently met insisted that we visit them. Meeting those  who do not know about Tejaswee can be difficult because they might ask how many kids we have, and, it’s not possible to simply and honestly say, “Three. 22, 21 and the youngest is 9.”  And I can never say two. But I think she knew, because she  told us about her brother, who had died in an accident. She said her mother had found it helped her to connect with other parents coping with child loss. And this was more than thirty years ago. I was grateful for the conversation and will be meeting her mother, in her seventies now, when she visits her this winter.

Why does meeting other parents help? One of the things it does is, I think, it lets you know that you are not alone in feeling the way you do.

I had attempted to push my son to get closer to those who were sure to take good care of him because I was sure the grief would kill me or make me take my own life. The guilt and confusion became easier to deal with after learning I wasn’t the first mother to feel this way. One of the mothers I met asked her sister to adopt her child, and yet another mother attempted suicide thrice, and only stopped when the surviving child, (then 25) pleaded she waits until this child of hers was married. Another friend lost her only child (18) and also wished for death but has no idea (like me) why she didn’t actually attempt it. Amit Sharma has blogged about suicide – and I want to thank him, I would have never had the courage to admit this if it was not for his courageous post here. But not talking about these issues means those who have these thoughts have no way to find out they are not alone.

At first staring at Tejaswee’s photos was all I could do, then once I chanced upon a picture [shared here] I had not seen for a long time… why do we take pictures? It brought back that morning – it was her seventeenth birthday. I had told her no matter how cute babies were, it was awesome to have grown up kids. Now seeing that picture I didn’t want to remember that morning. And I didn’t ever want to forget even a moment of that morning. But I wanted to remember it with her which was not possible. And so, feeling slightly short of breath, I understood for the first time why the mother in ‘Rabbit Hole’ put away their son’s photographs.

Another mother in ‘Beyond Tears‘ couldn’t listen to music, specially celebratory music. I was glad I wasn’t alone. Music came back to our house with Brat Three – she brought back dancing too. She has no idea we can say ‘Thank you’, or ‘I love you’ or ‘I like mango’ without actually singing and dancing to say that :D 

A friend tells me she would not complain if her child (who is coping with a medical condition) ‘finds peace’ and that ‘maybe Tejaswee is at a better place’. But Tejaswee was where she wanted to be, she loved her life, she had a lot to look forward to and she always said she wanted to live a long, long life [On Growing Old and Dying Early…]

Another suggestion that never works for me is, “Atleast you had these nineteen and a half years with her.” I have tried telling this to myself but I am very sure that the pain (for me) is not worth it, or worth anything. What would Tejaswee have chosen? My son says he is not sure what he would have chosen.

Together some of us have reached a point where we can (mostly) choose to focus our thoughts on what keeps us busy. But now I also understand that grief cannot be run away from. It’s there just below the surface and if the minds denies it space, it takes over the body. 

On 19th January this year it had seemed improbable that the difficulty in breathing while trying to find photographs from Tejaswee’s 19 birthdays (to create a collage) could have been caused because it was her 22nd birthday and she was not there. It didn’t make sense because the pain now was nothing compared to the initial months. Also now there was control over what one thought – enough to simply have locked a part of the brain – and to go on like there never was a young woman called Tejaswee Rao who would have been aghast that her mother was not doing anything special on her 22nd birthday. Just because she had died. The breathing became laboured again, though only momentarily, on mother’s day, but we were in Kufri and it was cold, so there were other explanations.

But the wheezing this morning was undeniable. I had been ill these past few days but there had been no wheezing and it was frustrating to think that this day might end in a hospital again. But then, if the mind could make the body sick, maybe the mind could fight back too? So I snuggled up to Brat Three and told we were going to light a green candle today and we were going to talk about how much we missed her older sister, and that if I cried it would only mean that I was sad because I was missing her. But what does Brat Three know about Tejaswee? Son spoke about the books she would have read to Brat Three, the cakes they would have baked together, the clowning, dancing, stories, movies, outings and hair dos they would have done together. I wish they had met. Husband joined on the phone and Brat Three saw an opportunity to ask if she could watch Chak de India a second time. Later while I wrote this post and son was reading, suddenly we heard clapping from the TV area.  Her sister would have put her laptop aside and joined her in cheering for Team India.

For now the wheezing has stopped and it feels like there was no illness ever, if it comes back by evening or tomorrow, then it was not caused by stress.

Photograph by Divesh Idnani, June 2009

And here’s an email I received this morning, in answer to: “Is this how you were before your daughter died?”

Date: Sunday, 11 August, 2013, 6:25 AM
> I am fed up of telling people I am
> ok.Why should I tell anyone I am ok when I am not?Yet,I look
> ok to all and sundry.I smile with them,I greet them,laugh at
> their jokes,listen to their talks…
> But how am I?Ammu,I am not the amma you knew.I am living
> without you.I never thought I could.I still cant believe.So
> many days I wish to wake up and find you.
> I spend each day thinking let today be over fast.I avoid so
> many people.I miss talking to you.How many times I have told
> you not to tell so many things at the same time.You used to
> tell me about so many things.How much I miss your
> chatter.About your friends.I knew more about them than their
> parents.Your kindness.How much I learnt from you.How do you
> think I am now?Do you think of me?Only afterwards,I knew you
> have touched so many hearts.*** called up to say how you
> used to give him your notes as he had to miss college to
> work to support his family.He told me you never told
> anybody.I told him you are like that.
> Why did you have to go?Was it your time?We had lot of things
> to do.Is it all over?You wanted to do so many things.So many
> small things.So many big things. How much should I think
> and cry?That is all I can do now.I see your things,dust them
> and keep it as it was.You love new gadgets.I cry when I see
> something new.Who will explain it to me?
> …
> Cant write anymore da.There is so much to tell you.

Related Posts:

A letter to the future… – Tejaswee Rao

Weekly Photo Challenge: Thankful

Helping a family coping with child loss.

In loving memory of Tejaswee Rao ♥

We can’t change what we would give anything to change, but we can control how we deal with it.

59 thoughts on “On 19th Jan 2013.

  1. It is like a heavy brick in your pocket , The weight remains in the pocket but you learn to walk with it….I wish you peace.I hope something happens I dont know what but something that simply makes it easier for you in the way you want…infact the way it is best … peace.

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  2. Hugs. I think it is impossible for anyone to tell anyone else going through such pain what they should do, especially, when the person who is in pain is often not in a position to consciously “decide” that they should do or not do certain things. Grief doesn’t come with a time limit on it. I once spoke to someone who had lost a child as to how she was faring, and she said, “It gets harder for me, not easier.” I can only wish for you IHM that you find whatever it is that helps you carry your grief more easily, because grief of this nature doesn’t go away, perhaps some things (and some people, like the presence of your son and brat 3) only make it easier to carry along.

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  3. In preparation for a blog entry, I have been doing some reading on complicated grief. One article talks about how we process memory as implicit (intuitive; procedural; rules, expectations or future projections based on our experiences) and explicit (narrative or fact-based). With the death of a child, we know that it is a fact that our child has died, and are processing that fact through our explicit memory. It takes a shorter time (“shorter” time; not “short” time) to process the explicit (factual) memory than the implicit. The implicit memory is where we have stored our experiences with and expectations for our child. That memory is rich and deep, filled with everything we have experienced with our child, along with our expectations for our child for the future. We have created a future path and expectations based on our past with our child. We expect our child to grow up, to go to college, to marry, to have children, to…whatever expectations, hopes and dreams we build on the history and memories of our child since they were born. When our child dies, we simply can’t throw out the experiences and expectations we had with and for our child. Therein lies the struggle between our implicit (intuitive; procedural; rules or expectations based on our experiences) and explicit (narrative or fact-based) memories in processing the death of a child. That’s why grief following the death of a child takes so long and is so hard. We tend to override the fact-based memories with the experience-based memories. We know our child has died; we just can’t believe it. We don’t want to let them go. We don’t want them to be gone. We had such hopes and dreams for them.

    I am so very sorry for your loss. Your daughter is so beautiful and is such an amazing writer. I, too, pass along hugs…

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  4. Listening to you and sending a warm hug . When you read about a child’s passing a little bit dies in each parent but memories stay on though they sting most painfully . If we were in the same town I would go across and hold you tight but I cant , therefore a virtual hug , a squeeze of your hand and much love .

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  5. Thanks for the mention IHM.
    You are an inspiration. There is no trauma bigger than losing a child. I understand this now more than before, being a father myself now. I can’t even bear the thought of it. And I find my own reasons to take the extreme step so utterly foolish after reading your post.
    Take care IHM.

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  6. Actually no advise works. One just gets used to living with loss, death is so final. And we are not programmed to cope with it. I am just a phone call away. Hugs, you are a survivor

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  7. IHM

    Sending you big warm hugs. I am a 23 year old woman and if anything happened to me, I would not want my mother to feel guilty about moving on. I would want my parents to not cry every time they think about me, I would want them to smile and be happy for the 23 years we shared together on my birthday and not think of the “what ifs”.
    I absolutely cannot comprehend the pain you feel as I have not been in your place. But, Im sure Tejaswee is looking at your family with love and excited you are making her dreams of adopting a girl come true by treating Brat 3 with all the love she would have given her.

    Take care!

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  8. IHM, I was told that I should ‘let time take its course’ and that I’ll ‘move on’ and get used to the absence.
    I don’t know if it’s just me or some cosmic conspiracy, but the ‘moving on and growing up’ doesn’t happen so easy.
    I still feel uneasy when I hear people talk about best friends and school times, college, sleepovers and all those things I would associate TJ with.
    People think it’s easier for ‘non-family’ to move on, but it’s been equally hard for me, having been taken for granted as someone who wouldn’t really need the talking and the heartfelt let-outs, and having to always hold back.
    I miss her like crazy, and not a day goes by, without me wondering what life would’ve been like, had she still been here.
    A part of my life went with her, but I still manage to find a part of her in even the smallest things around me. She may not be around, but she will always make her presence felt.

    A big hug to you, IHM, she means as much to me as she did to you.
    I know how hard it is for you, but I know you are strong.
    And well, there’s me, whenever you need, I will always be there to fill in for her, even though I’d be privileged to be even half the person that TJ was.

    Lots of love and big hugs to you and my little brother,
    Arushi.

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  9. take care dear IHM…when you mention …”But not talking about these issues means those who have these thoughts have no way to find out they are not alone” this is so true….

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  10. Breaks my heart and brings a huge lump in my throat that refuses to go away for a long time, every time I read these specific posts from you. Recently came across this piece about how people might feel pressurized to get over trauma and grief quickly and expect to rush towards being ‘normal': http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/opinion/sunday/the-trauma-of-being-alive.html.
    Lots of virtual hugs to you. Take care.

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  11. Hugs to you. It is a loss I cannot imagine and I do not know what would make you feel better. Thank you for sharing this. I am sure somebody would read this and feel they are not alone in this. Isn’t that why we often write. To look for people who are feeling like us and hoping to make other people feel better.

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  12. my heart aches for you, as it did 3 years back on this day, IHM. I have never met you or Tejaswee as you know. I hope you get over this painful day in your way. Your wide eyed, ever smiling angel is looking down on you and family..today and always. much love and lots of hugs.

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  13. Hi IHM
    The finality of it is so painful. Knowing fully well that whether you coped with the pain as gracefully as you do or whether you brought the world down with you screams, whether you endure it with a smile and show strength or whether you cry your heart out, it won’t change a thing. It must be really humbling to know that you can do everything you can and still not reverse what has happened. It is extremely difficult to grapple with this finality as a friend and well-wisher. What can I give you if I can’t even give you hope in a way that I’d like to.
    The only thing that gives me comfort when I think about the unfairness of it all is, we all have to die, you, me, each and everyone of our loved ones. She’d have died eventually. So it just happened way sooner than it was supposed to be but it had to happen some day. In the short time she had, she made a huge difference to all of us and still is. I come to your blog and my troubles pale in comparison. You give me strength. You make me feel ashamed of wanting to give up. You make me ask myself why do I feel that the world owes me my peace and happiness. In the end, I am powerless and can’t have my way by throwing tantrums (the adult way). I need to find my peace from within. And if you can work towards it so can I.

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  14. I came across your blog when a friend of mine had shared Tejaswee’s letter to the future on her facebook page. Since then I have followed your blog and even though I don’t have a child of my own I can somehow comprehend and feel the pain and loss you felt through your words.

    Everytime I see Tejaswee’s picture on your blog and see her eyes shining I realize what a bright girl she was and I can totally see her fighting for lost causes which she learned from her level headed mother.

    And she would have totally loved her little sister and gotten upset if her mother did not celebrate her birthday. Hugs to you IHM, I am sure Tejaswee is watching over and smiling everytime she sees you smile.

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  15. Grief knows its own notes, played subtly in the mundane or in the chorus amid the world. Every time that I have read about Tejaswee through your inks, the lump in the throat chokes me. I can’t fathom the pain of the loss but what I believe for sure is Neverland and believe me lady, along with the furry friends she saved, she smiles there looking at this and world of ours from a safe distance. The kind deeds she did at such a young age shall always inspire this dog.

    The answer lies perhaps in not forgetting but in reveling the past that once was. A warm woofy hug to you dear IHM:)

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  16. The very first time i came across your blog and spent some more time exploring it, something struck me to it and i explored even more and more. i couldn`t hold back my tears as i read on and on.. i dint want to share what i wanted to coz i knew i would bring back the grieve and guilt which u are already coping with.. but i want to now.. dono y… August 1st and 2nd week of 2010 was the same time when my dear lil brother(he is also ’91 born) fell ill with high fever and dengue.. each day we were so anxious and in extreme fear as the blood count decreased everyday but we only hoped as you wrote in on of your blogs tht ‘we will walk out of the ICU and the hospital hand in hand’.. and one of those days when one of the ward boys told mom about a boy who dint survive tht morning, again due to dengue, mom was just inconsolable that day, we dint leave her side for a second. And then, i dont know if this is what saved my bro but we do think so,as we got an info that papaya leaves n amla juice would increase the blood count.. and slowly after reaching the danger mark, we did see some improvement and after almost 2 and a half weeks of anxiety, our ordeal did come to an end and the ‘we will walk out of the ICU and the hospital hand in hand’ did come true.. I am so thankful to god even to this day… coz its just unimaginable to even think of a single day without him in our lives.. I understand how hard it is IHM..hats off for your spirit to still live on and to find a meaning to your life witout your daughter.. brat two and three are very lucky to have you.. :) I wish them all the best for their future and to you too…:) :)

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  17. This post really touched me. Grief and loss are the emotions that we try so hard to lock away, because we are never encouraged to just let it out, but no matter how much time passes, it always remains, ready to flow at the most random moments, at the memory of a fleeting moment that we know we’ll never get back.

    More than anything, I got the part about meeting new people, and each time having to reveal something so personal. My mom died 13 years ago, but I still feel awkward when I meet new people and I have to tell them that my mother isn’t alive. Now, I’ve gotten it down to saying “It’s just my Dad” but I take pause in my own brain.

    On every Jan 21 (the day she died) April 13 (the day she was born) and Mother’s Day, I always post a Facebook status, or share a picture of me with her. Sometimes I feel silly for my outward display of emotion, as I really did not grow up that way, but I feel I cannot ignore these days. I fully accept now that they will never be “normal” days for me.

    My mom was here. I know it, and she was special enough that I feel the rest of my world should know that too.

    Light your candles, IHM. Bake a cake. Sing. Do whatever feels right to you in the moment. Tejaswee was here. She was real, and taking a moment to remember that is in no way an indicator of you “not moving on” but acknowledging that even though she’s no longer here on earth, she will always remain special to you.

    All of my love and hugs.

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  18. Reading your post, tears came to my eyes. I have stayed away from my parents since 7-8 years, first for studies, then for work and now because I am married and am a mother myself. At occasions, I have found my mother utterly sad because she misses me dearly. I miss her too. I worry about her growing old and her arthritis and her blood pressure and she worries about me, my husband, my child and my life in general. That is fine with me. But sometimes it is overwhelmingly uncomfortable to think that she is missing me. During a telephone conversation last month, she told me when she reads any incidents in the newspaper about little girls, she imagines me as the little girl (and cries). Though I have a younger sister too. It is very upsetting that the reason behind her sadness is her affection for me. I wish life was simpler and I could stay with her as much as I (and she) wanted. I also wish she remembers me but does not miss me. How could I bear that my mom is sad because of me?
    Your loss is huge. But you have resources to cope up. You are a strong woman.
    I hope you find the best way to remember her.
    Warm hugs to you…

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  19. I really never know what to say when I read about Tejaswee. Today, for some reason, I thought about my grandmother. My uncle died in his 30’s and I know how my grandmother carried that grief with her till the end. Occasionally, we’d be flipping through a photo album and we would see a picture of him which would trigger another wave of pain for her. How could it not? The only thing I could do for her was to give her a hug and listen. I wish I could do the same for you in real time. Virtual hugs till then…

    Thank you for sharing such private thoughts. You’re an incredibly strong woman and an inspiration to so many. Sending lots of positive vibes to you and your family.

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  20. I read this beautiful poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye. She had penned down this poem while conveying her thoughts on life and death. Sharing it here:

    Do not stand at my grave and weep
    I am not there. I do not sleep.
    I am a thousand winds that blow.
    I am the diamond glints on snow.
    I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
    I am the gentle autumn rain.
    When you awaken in the morning’s hush
    I am the swift uplifting rush
    Of quiet birds in circled flight.
    I am the soft stars that shine at night.
    Do not stand at my grave and cry;
    I am not there. I did not die.

    -Mary Elizabeth Frye

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  21. Hugs! Sometimes I day dream that if I have children, what tales would I tell them about my dad, their grandfather, and end up teary-eyed and break the thought process. See I can’t even begin to imagine what you guys are going through without breaking.

    I wrote this ages ago. I guess it really doesn’t matter how you’re related to a loved one when it comes to sorrow. The sorrow is too dense to differ…

    http://celestialrays.wordpress.com/2010/01/14/loss/

    Hugs again!

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  22. Dear IHM,

    My life is too complicated in itself to suggest/advice anything which might soothe your pain. All I can do having faced a almost similar traumatic phase in life like yours is empathise, rest I know you are strong enough and only time can heal the pain if u have proper chanellised distraction to keep you busy/engaged to, which I guess you already have.
    Life is never certain and predictable. When I was a kid my mom used to tell me that there are two kinds of people in the world just like the stars, ones who shine little but stay there for a long time making you feel their presence, and then there are those who outshine others by their bright glow making their presence felt to a much larger section of society but unfortunately stay here for a short while like as if they were some ambassadors of god who came to earth just to convey some important messege to some or all of human kind. I believe Tejaswee was one of the second kind of people. She was a star and inspiration to you and many others.
    I’ve known about Tejaswee only after reading thru the net and your blogs and Im sure that she would have never liked to see you in pain while remembering her. So, smile and try to accept whatever comes your way in life. You still have a long way to go and loads of work to do.

    Wish you all the best and may god bless u with peace of mind & soul.

    Luv you, respect you!!

    Deep.

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  23. Hugs, IHM dear. I know. I hardly knew my son for 6 short days after he was born, and 14 years later…the pain still hits hard. 19 years of TJ’s bright beautiful life….hugs, hugs, hugs.

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