If we could see the future…

My daughter, when she was ten, once got me this doll as a gift. When I teased her and told her I was going to gift her sarees and perfumes, she had looked taken aback. She hadn’t liked the joke.

She really did think I would love the doll (and I did of course!), “It has chubby cheeks like me, I thought you could hug it when you missed me.

And I had hugged her and teased her further asking why won’t I just hug her instead…

Why I liked ‘Rabbit Hole’.

I don’t know how I would have found this movie if I had seen it before August 2010.  A scene I found heart rending was described by a reviewer as so hilarious that it ‘left the audience snickering’. In the scene, Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Ekhart) who have lost their four year old son in a car accident eight months ago, are meeting other grieving parents at a ‘Bereavement Support Group’. A couple talks about how they were fine with their child being with god. I have tried to believe this too. I felt the parents were struggling to find solace in an impossible, senseless  painful situation . Nicole Kidman couldn’t bear to hear it – she felt god was all powerful, and could have created as many angels as he needed.

Her anger wasn’t funny, it was sad. It really is difficult to understand why the entire universe did not conspire to help you the one time you really wanted something.

And then there’s her relationship with her mother,  the one person who hopes to, and is expected to, magically comfort you, and to always know exactly what the child needs.

During one of the worst and the most painful moments two months after my daughter died, I told my mother I just couldn’t bear the pain. She stood up, looking lost and  uncomfortable and said, slowly, “This is something you have to learn to accept.” I tried to explain what I was feeling, but she looked still more uncomfortable. She stood staring for a while and then went out of the room, and returned with a glass of water. She had the same look on her face that I saw on Becca’s mother’s face (Dianne Wiest). My mother, like Nat, had looked frightened, even guilty, just how could she as a mother, not know how to make it better? It took me sometime to understand. Maybe I too had stood and stared at my daughter in the ICU with the same expression on my face.

Another scene that struck a strong cord was at the store, when Becca sees this child asking for something and the mother refusing it.

We were at Om Book Stores and I saw this little boy asking his father for some books which his father refused. The child continued to ask and it really troubled me. Tejaswee did the same in book shops and I didn’t always buy everything she asked for. But watching this child, I wanted to tell the father to buy him whatever books he wanted. It was difficult to see the child’s disappointment. I couldn’t understand Becca’s violent reaction though, either it is a flaw in an otherwise brilliant movie, or I have just not met enough grieving parents to know if such violent reactions do happen.

The movie began with Becca refusing an invitation by her neighbours. I could relate to that too. I feel it would be sometime before any real celebrations would be possible, and it’s fine to take one’s own time.

Also since all acquaintances can’t be expected to understand how one feels, it’s fine  (if one can) to interact with those who do understand. For as long as needed.

I watched the movie with Sangeeta, and walked out of the hall feeling positive and somehow, comforted. Read how she felt  here.

Do dreams have meanings?

I dreamt of my daughter twice more after that first time on 3rd January, and just the way nightmares can feel real and cause real terror, these dreams left me feeling peaceful.

In the dream on the 12th morning, I asked her, “We had burnt your body, then how are you in that same body?” She just smiled very serenely, and I hugged her. I hugged her a lot.

I asked her, “Were you in pain when you were in the ICU?”

She said, “Yes. I was almost fainting.”

She said this very simply, still smiling very sweetly. So, yes it was painful, but it was over and she was fine now. Strangely it didn’t hurt me to hear her say she was in pain, and maybe I would have never believed she was in no pain. But still, how could it comfort me to hear her say she was in pain?

Maybe what was comforting was that she was fine now.

Then a small animal appeared, with a snake in it’s mouth and the snake managed to wriggle and  escape. In this dream I was aware that  she was going to go back, and realised she could ‘go back’ (or die) with a snake bite too. I didn’t want to be taken by surprise, so we went to  my room and locked the door from inside. We sat on a mudha and I held her on my lap like a small baby, hugging her tight. I was fine with her going back, so long as I would know when she left.

The other dream was on 13th Feb, it was longer, I asked more questions, she smiled very sweetly, gave more hugs and some of it is hazy now, but it resulted in me waking up with a smile and finding the camera and taking blurry pictures of an unexpected Kingfisher from our balcony.

In all the three dreams, I was aware that she was dead and was only visiting. In each I was prepared for her to leave again.

Was this my subconscious mind putting ideas in my head? Were these Lucid Dreams’? Did I ‘will’ these dreams?

Here’s what I feel: When the pain is so wrong and so senseless, there’s no harm in it being dealt with something that seems equally illogical.

And anyway I have no choice or control in either the dreams or the pain, then why not just be grateful for the comfort these dreams bring?

Another mother blogged about how dreaming of her daughter, five years after she died, helped her, here.

Do you believe that each day promises a fresh beginning?

This morning I woke up with a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. Still not fully awake, I lay wondering what caused it. My mind, unbelievably, still in our life before Aug 2010. And then I realized (or woke up fully). Tejaswee. I tried to think what made this morning more difficult than other mornings, and then I knew.

I had opened Tejaswee’s laptop for the first time yesterday. It look a long time and many tries before I could remember the password. There was nothing new on her laptop actually, except that it was hers. Most of yesterday was spent going through photographs and videos not seen for a long time.

And hearing her voice after months.

Here she is with her favorite turquoise bracelet, also seen in the header and on the sidebar.

How easy it was to take for granted on 12th October 2009 that the child who sat on the kitchen counter, modeling her newest shopping, chattering endlessly, while I added tarka to her favorite dal, was going to be with us all our lives.

I am reading ‘When life changed forever‘ the author says, life was not meant to be predictable or planned, anything might change at any moment. And that the death of a child changes the parents forever. Accepting that we will never be what we were, might make it easier to live with our changed selves. I am realizing that some of the changes are subtle. Some changes come slowly as the realization sinks in. Maybe some of the changes are reversible. But this much is true, now we have two lives, our life before Aug 11, 2010 and this life after Aug 11, 2010.

Ricky Taylor says,

“Our friends and family, and we ourselves, wanted us to get back to ‘normal’. But ‘normal’ had been fiendishly changed….

But it also became very obvious to us that what he had thought of as ‘normal’ was phantom. It existed only in our minds. The reality was that each day promises a fresh beginning…”

The reality was that each day promises a fresh beginning...’
I don’t know how to see that. Sounds positive if one didn’t consider what one has lost.

Do you believe that each day promises a fresh beginning?

On 19th Jan 2011.

I do believe in the entire universe conspiring to help you when you really want something (but not always. I hated these lines this August)… I find positive words and gestures very powerful and very comforting. Thank you for visiting the temple and for praying or thinking of a girl and a family you have never met or known. I have to believe that that is what changed how I felt as the day brought in emails, calls, comments, messages, a surprise book, precious posts wishing a girl known only online, and photographs I will cherish forever. Thank you doesn’t even begin to convey how I feel.

I have always believed in some supreme, kindly power watching over the world. I have never understood how this power allows a mother monkey to cling to the body of her dead baby or the human heart to feel so much pain for something it can’t change. It should have been natural to remember a child with a smile. I read a sad blog by a father who lost his son, Sanstav Paul in Dec 2008, he wishes, like I did, for some comfort, “Beta, if you think that we loved you so much then please come at least once (in my dream) to tell me that you are all right.”

I told my son, as we sat talking till late at night, that there should have been a rule that if the children die before the parents, they should appear in their dreams and say loving goodbyes to the parents. Son said, “They should appear in the siblings’ dreams also.

My mother didn’t call. She was the first person to hold Tejaswee 20 years ago. She never missed her birthday ever. My sister called her to find out how I was before calling me (when the melodrama-queen had spoken to me just the night before!) and they cried together. My mother told her she sees my grieving face all the time, everywhere. I asked her if that wasn’t too much. I could never be what I was, but I was fine. Grateful to be more ‘fine’ than I would ever have imagined.

My sister had once said she hated god when she heard my changed ‘hello’ over the phone. I had thought that was exaggeration too. I asked her if she still felt my voice sounded like a mother’s whose child had died. She burst into loud crying. Tejaswee was a lot like my sister. One morning we were rushing to drop her to school, as we got into the building lift, she looked at my face carefully and asked if I would like her to tell me where all I was getting wrinkled on my face. As we got out of the lift, a neighbour asked what I was laughing about and Tejaswee tried to shut my mouth, “Don’t tell!!” But I ‘told of course, and we teased her for her Sagittarius (ascendant) tactlessness.  So I told my sister what she said didn’t hurt because I could ask her to stop when it hurt and I knew she would.

My sister in law and niece chose to contribute to Tejaswee Rao Scholarship on her birthday. If you too would like to contribute please do  email me. Unfortunately it can’t be done online yet, but the cheque directly in the name of her college with ‘Tejaswee Rao Scholarship’ written behind the cheque would go into the fund/deposit the college has created for the scholarship.

And here’s how her cousin and his fiancee celebrated her life on her 20th birthday.

Dear Tejaswee,

It’s your birthday today and I wish you could be here to celebrate with us. Even though we can’t be together on this day, Sanda and I have decided to celebrate anyway, so we are going to have some yummy chocolate cake this evening and will also give some to the many stray dogs that live under our building (will post some pictures here!!). I am sure you would have enjoyed this and we wanted to let you know that you will be in our thoughts today and we hope we will be in yours.

Sending all our love and two big hugs,
Gaurav
Sanda”

Of Calvin, a dream, an old song, and a birthday…

Smartassbride shared this comic strip in a comment today. Thanks smartassbride, this strip reminded me of Tejaswee and me too

“We dream so we don’t have to be apart so long. If we are in each other’s dreams, we can be together…”

***

19th Jan is Tejaswee’s birthday, she would have been 20. I keep thinking of how we would have felt if we knew on her 19th birthday what the year had in store for us. I used to sing this old song to my kids, we sang it together a lot, mainly the first few lines and the chorus and then making up whatever seemed apt.

I have no idea how I am going to feel this Wednesday. This picture was taken on 19th Jan 2008, in Pune.

Tejaswee with the cat she brought home from a garbage dump in 2004, Sher Khan.

Sometimes ‘not remembering’ is less painful than remembering but I would rather remember and cry, than try to ‘not remember’ and smile.  But I hope to remember and still smile. And smiling is  made easier by messages like this one from Pallavi,

“I hope you will celebrate the day Tj was born, celebrate the happiness that your daughter gave you, and the incredibly close bond that you shared. she will not want you to cry. she will want you to celebrate ‘her’.”

I am sure we will do that, even if we do cry.

2011… and an unbelievable dream.

This new year is like none before. There’s still a wish that I will wake up tomorrow morning to find that the second half of the 2010 never happened. I am sure we are recovering in some ways but they say a child’s death changes you. How much have we changed? I have lost all my fears and worries. What bothers most people (and me earlier) doesn’t matter anymore. And somethings which others might find trivial have become a matter of survival.

Festivities are a painful time. A child’s birthday is now a day both cherished and dreaded. New year eve has no meaning. And one wakes up every morning hoping this day begins easier. I have learnt it helps to avoid whatever and whoever causes pain. This too has become a matter of survival.

Avoiding triggers is not always easy. The biggest trauma triggers are  claims that  another hospital, a different treatment or another set of doctors could have saved Tejaswee’s life. One near stranger asked questions and  although I knew where I was treading, I talked about the treatment and symptoms and illness. And then relived it all that evening.

A friend said that she tried but could not imagine herself in my position. She said even thinking about something happening to her child was just too horrible. Why did it hurt me? It was (and still is) unimaginable for me too. If it wasn’t I would have said goodbye to her when doctors said only a miracle could save her…

Sometimes some people are only expressing how they feel, but I am pushed into days of unbearable lows.

My sister says sometimes I look and sound so ‘normal‘ that it is difficult to remember how fragile the normalcy is. She says it is difficult to know what the right thing to say is. (The answer to this is, when in doubt, just be a good listener and give no unasked for advice. This requires another post.). She remembered how she had called me this September and upon hearing my “Hello” burst into tears saying the emptiness in my voice reminded her of a friend who had lost her daughter five years ago. She said death of a child did that to mothers. I didn’t want to live for five years if what she said was true.

I had reminded her (and myself) that I hoped to remember my daughter with a smile and although I am learning this is not always easy, I am still working on it. Our life has changed and happiness, as we saw it earlier, is no longer a part of this new life.

And yet something happened that brought peaceful joy and happy-sad tears at the same time.

At around 5 am on 3rd Jan, I dreamt of my daughter. She wore her gray sweater and she was smiling. I saw myself holding her close and telling her I had missed her so much because I never got to tell her how much I loved her (and hear the same from her) one last time before she died. No hugs. No reassurances. No idea how she was feeling or if she was feeling anything at all.  No idea, even that we were not going to be walking out together from that ICU. And she smiled with sweet (no other word describes it) understanding, held my face and said she loved us very much and I hugged  her tight and we sat and talked and I think (this bit is hazy) took photographs together.

It was a long dreamlike dream. I told her, after this time spent with her, I could now live with her dying and going away forever. And she smiled sweetly, half teasingly, at my comfortable mention of her death. (I didn’t discuss their death with my kids, fearing, sort of, that talking about death might make it happen. She always thought it was okay to talk about our loved ones dying.) As it happens in dreams, I could hear her thoughts, and she thought (conveyed) she was going nowhere. And I knew in this dream that she had died. And yet the feeling of peace stayed.

I woke up and fearing I might forget parts of this precious dream, shared every detail with my husband. He still relives her time in the ICU when trying to sleep, but for two nights after this dream, he has slept peacefully.

This is another way in which we have changed, …or maybe not changed. Her smile, even in a dream, doesn’t fail to provide hope and strength.  And a reason to remember her always with a proud, loving smile.

I wish I could believe…

I went through a strong phase and thought I had managed to will myself to continue to feel strong. Mornings began without the painful weight in the chest and I walked and ate with care and felt stronger and at times I wondered – despite her photographs all around, if Tejaswee was a dream. Because if she wasn’t a dream how could she just not be there anymore. Death is very difficult to understand. One minute she was the center of our existence, the next minute we felt like our heads were being banged against the sides of a box we were locked in.

And we are still breathing.

After mid-November I was able to visit a relative in a hospital, get a haircut and buy a lipstick, watch ‘Guzarish‘ – so although there was no happiness, it seemed one was getting stronger. It was a glimpse of what future was going to be like. This was much more than I had expected and I was grateful for every morning that began without the painful, unbearable heaviness.

And then on the 27th night, the heaviness began again.  No thoughts, no memories just the same terrible heaviness – without any warning. 28th was my husband’s birthday. We ordered breakfast when some close relatives visited and the morning passed. In the evening my sis in law suggested we visit them in the same complex, some other relatives would be there too, and if it becomes too much, she said, we could always go back home. But I took pictures. A cake was cut and the evening was not as difficult as I had feared.

But that was the end of the strong phase. There is no escaping grief. Writing about strongly felt issues helps. Reading helps. Brisk walking helps. Making plans helps. Not looking at any photographs that have not been seen for a while helped. Reading Beyond Tears: Living After Losing A Child‘ helped. Communicating and connecting helped tremendously too. But these didn’t stop the crushing heaviness from emerging again. I was wrong in thinking this positive phase had something to do with my trying so hard. The brief relief was just a part of the roller coaster ride that grief is. There were days  and even weeks of respite.  I had started hoping and even wondering if  maybe the human mind could only take this much pain and the comfort that numbness brings was inevitable.

They say, ‘The best healers in the world are God and Time.’ Time does seem to be helping. The pain today is not the same as on the 29th Aug, the day the shock started wearing off for me. A mother on ‘Compassionate Friends‘ was right when she said, ‘It does get better.’ I believe that, and would like to say the same to Gina who lost her 21 year old beautiful daughter Sarah on July 12th.

Someone I met for not more than an hour in Sikkim said mothers have great emotional strength and spoke of how Indira Gandhi handled her son’s death. I wanted to hear what he had to say, words help, so I did not argue that Alexander Onassis’s mother was a woman too. He spoke of how in Mahabharata, when Arjuna died and reached heaven, he ran and ran and ran to meet his 18 year old, brave son Abhimanyu. Finally he spotted him, but Abhimanyu did not respond with the same enthusiasm. He said we humans are entangled in this mamta, maya and moh but souls are free of it and so while we were grieving here, our daughter was free and at peace. The soul feels no pain.

 

I wish I could believe this. I wish I could believe that she still exists, and exists somewhere much better. And then I hope she is glad to be there, because  I can’t forget that all her life she said she wanted to live a long, long life.

Setting goals, making plans, making some bits of life predictable.

Anniversary reactions can be traumatic. The added stress of feeling unwell can make grief tougher to deal with. Exercise is known to help fight stress, but only if one wants to fight stress.

Yesterday morning I had another positive conversation with a dear blogging friend. She warned it’s easy to sink into self pity, and reminded me how unhelpful and useless that could be. Sometimes we just need gentle reminders and I am sure this is how Support Groups work. She insisted she is not ‘helping’ and the support is mutual.

What happens to those who do not find such connection and support? I wish we had Support Groups in India, or we can begin to create one. Please do get in touch if you know somebody who needs support in coping with grief.

The conversation was like counseling and by end of it I reminded myself that (Quoting Starry) “There are many choices in the journey of recovery from loss.

So,

1. I found this picture of a Rangoli my daughter made two years ago. I tried to feel grateful for the beautiful memories we created and the precious time we spent together…

2. My sister had told me about this very motivating site. Answer some questions related to your lifestyle, eating habits and medical history and know your ‘Real Age’, and pick a plan suited to you. Yesterday, finally, I took out my Sketchers and walked to this video – most suitable for someone who hasn’t been active for a while.

It’s the workout you won’t quit. In fact, walking has the highest stick-to-it rate of any exercise.

Click to try if you have been wishing to start exercising.

3. I gave up sugar in tea sometime back but yesterday, inspired by this site, I bought Green Tea, deciding to move from caffeine to anti oxidants.

I also switched to fruit and yogurt for breakfast.

4. I have been living one day at a time, unsure what each morning brings (self pity, more pain, hope, positive thoughts…). Now, with the plan below, with a goal set for Jan 8th 2011, a small part of each day will stay positive and predictable.

Give us 2 months, and we’ll add years to your life and life to your years. Do two little things each week, and step by step, week by week, you’ll look and feel younger, stronger, and more vibrant. Click on Week 1 below to get started.

Take a look.

“The pain will never go, but you will smile again.”

Since I want to remember my daughter’s life and not her death, I try not to think about the time she was in the ICU. I try and remind myself that the last nineteen and half years were the best years of our lives and such precious memories should make us smile not cry. I also fear that if remembering her causes pain, one day we may not want to remember her.

And then a relationship so beautiful should give us the strength to face what we can’t change.

Last Tuesday, a dear, elderly relative was in the ICU and I felt I would atleast be able to go to the hospital, if not visit him inside the ICU. Just then I got a call from a blogging friend – (for the first time ever) Sangeeta Khanna. She said she knew the moment she heard my voice that I was feeling positive. She sounded so glad, her relief and the fact that she cared  was overwhelming and strengthening.  She said, “I am so happy you are going now, it’s better to confront our fears. You will be fine. Go to the ICU too. You will be fine. I know.”

Reminded me of another friends who had said ‘Just pick it up IHM!”

I did not go inside the ICU but I know I can. I have been avoiding all triggers and reading positive books and it does help… but I am also learning that I can confront some triggers.

I told her, “This week has been easy. I slept well, and one day I  woke up without this terrible weight in my chest…  I blogged. I read. I plan to learn to knit. On easy days, I make plans for what I’d do and think when the pain is intense and everything seems hopelessbecause there is no way to know how difficult tomorrow might turn out to be...

Tomorrow!? …we can’t even tell how we’d feel in an hour.” Sangeeta understood. She knew.

The not knowing is frightening.

All these days I have been wishing I could see a sign, some indication that my daughter is still there somewhere. On the 24th morning I made a cup of tea and spilled some and I picked a duster, and was wiping it. It was a pleasant October morning, and pleasant mornings had been saddening, because everything good seemed to rub in how the world goes on… but this morning I noticed the lovely morning without pain.

And then I noticed, suddenly, that I was humming. I was humming the first song from sm’s video. And I wondered if a stronger sign was needed. I remembered a beautiful email from a mother who had lost her daughter, just after losing her husband to cancer. She had said, “One day you will hear yourself laugh, you will be startled. But know that even if this moment disappeared like it never happened, there will be many more of such moments. The pain will never go, but you will smile again.” And I am sure I will find myself humming on many more such mornings.

I will also smile and remember her like I did on Saturday evening, when I told a friend about how much Tejaswee could talk even as a baby.