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.
A letter to the future… - Tejaswee Rao