A dear friend who has known child loss asked what I thought of Shobha De saying – repeating what she had said earlier, that she believes the Talwars could have killed their only daughter because, ‘Grieving parents behave in a different manner. They are broken in spirit and rendered almost incoherent with grief at the loss of a loved one.’
I have heard opinions less accusing or judgmental, but equally convinced about how parents whose children have died must, should or do behave. I too had always thought that manifestations of grief and trauma were obvious and easy to understand. But sometime on 11th Aug 2010, I remember someone saying, “She is handling it very well…” when they saw me arranging the cushions in the living room and generally putting the place in order, hours (?) after Tejaswee had died. What was I thinking? I remember one thought – that I had not been home for many days and there were going to be visitors. Does it make sense that a mother feeling that she was watching herself in her worst nightmare, and who had just started sensing that there was no hope of ever waking up from this endlessly painful nightmare, would be capable of putting clothes for wash, or tea cups in the kitchen sink? What was happening? I have no idea what made me do that. Was I being ‘cold blooded’? No, because I was in unimaginable pain.
Later I had asked not to meet anybody and didn’t. We had also made it clear that we would not be talking about Tejaswee’s death or her time in the ICU. I know of other parents who – each of them, did not want to talk or think about their children’s death. We didn’t want to forget (that felt like betrayal, because our children suffered the pain and we didn’t even want to remember it?), but we did want to be able to lock away painful memories and never think of them again. I still sometimes talk about her death but it happens when it happens, there is no one judging or questioning and dissecting every word, tear or smile.
And I can say without fearing judgment that I have no idea why I reacted in certain ways. How would I have reacted if there was constant judgement and accusations? Would I be defensive?
Did it mean I was unaffected? No. All the time I was in intense pain, always wishing it was possible to just close my eyes and never open them again – so much that when I look back, my heart goes out to the person I was in the early days and the early months (or anybody else going through the same pain). The hopelessness was impossible to argue out of – it did seem like an end of everything good ever possible. And all the time there was also a sort of a denial and difficulty in understanding – an impossible thought, a hope maybe that “Tejaswee couldn’t possibly have really died”. A desperate wish to wake up from this nightmare. It was all extremely unreal – like watching it happening to someone else. Like not really being there and yet feeling so much pain that the idea of death brought comfort.
I can’t imagine this today – but I was startled that the sun rose the next morning. For many months afterwards, it did seem impossible that the nature and the world was going about their lives as usual. It had shocked and angered me. There was a feeling of having been betrayed, by the Creator or Fate or God or all the positivity in the world. Did I actually expect the world to stop? And this is again something many of the other parents have felt too.
Along with all this, there was a horrible feeling of having failed, as a parent. And every parent I have met has felt this way – a strong sense of having let down the child you were supposed to keep safe from harm. Months afterwards when I found these lines, I read them every day to remind myself that maybe parents were programmed to feel this way and it helped that we weren’t the only ones – that even the grief was just a programming – it helped to see it as something beyond our control (so it was okay to let go), as something that had a pattern and that could be predicted (to a degree).
Here are the lines I say to every grieving parent I meet/interact with,
Sunday, August 29, 2010 @ 09:08 PM Author: Grieving Dads
… The poem was written for bereaved parents by Vicki Tushingham. Feel free to share with others.
Just For Today For Bereaved Parents
Just for today I will free myself from my self-inflicted burden of guilt, for deep in my heart I know if there was anything in this world I could have done to save my child from death, I would have done it.
I have spoken to 100′s of grieving dads and the one thing we all have in common is guilt. We find so many ways to blame ourselves for what happened to our children. We go back and rethink things over and over. ”If I would have done this different” or “I should have been there for them”. There are so many ways we find to blame ourselves. However, like this section of poem says, “deep in my heart I know if there was anything in this world I could have done to save my child from death, I would have done it.” If only for today you can find away to forgive whatever it is your thinking about, please try to do it. I believe guilt is a great destroyer.
* * *
I have no memory of learning (and I never want that memory) that Tejaswee had died, but I do remember saying “It’s okay” to the doctor who walked out of the ICU and lifted his hands up when he saw me – indicating that it was not possible to attempt a dialysis because she had a cardiac arrest and they were trying to revive her. I remember they had succeeded in doing that but everything after that is a blank. I didn’t know it then, but (learnt later via GGTS) this kind of blocking of traumatic memories is not uncommon. I also don’t remember many phone calls from the early days, or the emails (some of which I have responded to).
We had decided very early not to talk about her suffering to each other, though I did talk endlessly with those who seemed to understand – and these were almost always other parents who had experienced child loss. But on Aug 11th 2010, I didn’t want to go inside the ICU and see her – or attend the funeral (but did both). Because I was terrified (and I had never imagined having such fears, we don’t know how we would react when facing the unimaginable). – it seemed obvious that a mother would want to see her child who has just died. But I was terrified of seeing any signs of suffering on her face. Or of sadness on her face because she was left alone in the ICU and there was no one to hold her hand as she felt herself dying… or worse, disappointment, horrible disappointment because I couldn’t keep my promise to her, of walking out of the hospital with her. And along with all this was the feeling that nothing else mattered anymore. The funeral was organised on the same day and I didn’t want to be there – once she was not there, nothing else mattered. Why am I blogging about this? To share how it felt and how it feels for many parents. It’s painful to write more about this, but no matter what happened on the night Aarushi Talwar died, reading about the Talwars’ grief – I didn’t find anything odd in the way they are grieving.
My husband’s first words were to donate her eyes and I was shocked, because he said this when the doctor said, “Now only a miracle can save her.” I had no doubt that she would have wanted her eyes to be donated, but I didn’t want the doctors to think we were prepared to let her die – to me it felt that if we were ready to give up hope, so would she and so would the Universe. Even the two parents didn’t react the same way to the pain there are no words to describe, and we both loved her more than our lives.
One thing I clearly remember was a strong, difficult to understand even now, but very clear instinct to somehow not break down and cry. It felt like being on the brink of something indescribable. I also surfed the net and read about grief – and it helped somehow. Why did it help? (Looking back, I think it helped to see the terrifyingly overwhelming and all-powerful pain dissected and discussed in points – it made it seem less daunting) Maybe it distracted from the cause of the pain? Maybe it helped because it gave hope that the pain would become bearable with time? (And yes it has diminished and I have almost made peace with whatever life has dealt us, though it seemed unbelievable then. It is now possible to control one’s thoughts and lock those that hurt firmly in one special corner that stores both pain and memories that bring pain).
Today I see that lack of display of obvIous grief as an indication of being in shock… something much worse than just shock. And by this logic, I think, it indicates that whatever happened, Aarushi’s parents did not plan it in cold blood. If the crime was planned by them, and if they had given it the thought that they have been accused of having given, they would have included tears (and more) in their ‘cold blooded’ plans to satisfy those who were judging them.
I did not see the TV show the friend mentioned, so let me attempt to respond to the similar thoughts Shobha De shared on her blog – ‘Believe it or not!!! Aarushi ki sad kahani‘
Shobha De: “… the response of Aarushi’s parents has beenpuzzling and bizarre , to say the least. Grieving parents behave in a different manner.”
IHM: There is no one way in which all grieving parents behave or should behave. Shock and unimaginable trauma can influence how people react. It is generally difficult for someone who has not dealt with it to even imagine what it is like. Judgment is an indication of lack of understanding.
Shobha De: They are broken in spirit and rendered almost incoherent with grief at the loss of a loved one.
IHM: Not true for all parents. Many parents fight for justice (it becomes a reason to live); some go online, desperately trying to understand how they are feeling; many join support groups that they did not know even existed until they needed them; and many refuse to talk or cry. Many are clear that they must not break down. Many are unable to understand their own reactions, their own strengths and weaknesses. For most it feels like the unbearable pain would never go, infact this is one of the reasons most grieving parents interact for – to keep asking each other, “When does it start getting better?”
Shobha De: An only child at that. Not these two, though. Sorry if this sounds like pop psychology gone wrong… but the conduct displayed by Mr. and Mrs. Talwar appears a bit too calculated, even cold blooded to viewers.
IHM: They calculated to appear indifferent and cold? If they had calculated, would they not calculate to appear appropriately ‘broken in spirit’?
Shobha De: For a mother of a dead girl to project such steely determination during what must have been the most harrowing time of her life, seems a bit unnatural.
IHM: Ms Neelam Katara appeared on the TV with the same steely determination, she fought, successfully, to get justice for her son Nitish Katara who was murdered brutally. I remember because when I saw her, I was sure if my child had died I would have died or gone mad. But I didn’t.
Shobha De: I have spent enough time consoling mothers who have lost their kids to say this is perhaps the first time I have observed a mom whose sole objective seems to be to put up a feisty defence for herself and her husband.
IHM: Were the other mothers accused of killing their children? Would it have helped their case if the Talwars were hysterical?
Shobha De: Both the Talwars have a script that reads like a law manual.
Their faces are stony, their eyes, strangely devoid of any emotion. When they mention Aarushi, they could as well be discussing their neighbour’s kid.
IHM: ‘Their faces are stony, their eyes, strangely devoid of any emotion.’ Could well be indications of shock, trauma or ‘broken in spirit’.
And why would cold blooded murderers plan to display their lack of emotions? So that random people can point fingers and declare them murderers? I think the very fact that they are not taking special care to behave in ways that protects them from judgment by those who have no clue about grief is an indication that they are in shock.
Media is getting irresponsible – Garima