How can watching something painful actually help someone in pain?

I had no idea what to expect from Neerja – but it turned out to be a cathartic experience. I identified with the mother and wanted to cry – aloud, even before anything began. The way Shabana Azmi wakes the daughter up, hating to wake her when she seemed to so need that sleep; then gladly letting her sleep just a little longer, snuggling up beside her, watching her asleep, her head on the pillow. I wanted the moments to last forever.

Shabana Azmi seemed to have experienced the scene, or the love – or else she is just a fantastic actor. Reminded me of another similar scene in Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. where she has lost her family in an accident and here too she was equally relatable.

Even the mundane – the daughter teasing the mother for the way she dances, the clowning and the camaraderie. The everyday life I was so complacently content with and expected to last a lifetime. I cried at the unfairness of it all, but along with sadness and exhaustion I also felt a lightness.

I could hear other viewers crying too. What were their thoughts? How would I have found this movie if it was not seeing myself on the screen?

The family learns about the hijack and while they wait for information, It was us outside the ICU again, reassuring ourselves, insistently, that all would be well. The desperate hope that buying a yellow outfit could influence what they would soon learn… I wanted to reach out and hold their hands – tell them I understood.

The way the mother looks afterwards. Stunned. Dishevelled. The little girls walking to school. A photo album on her lap. It was like meeting a mother in our Child Loss support group. I wish. .. really wish I could meet this mother. 

I shared all of this on our group – In Our Hearts Forever and realised not everybody felt the same way. My husband too refused to watch this movie. Affirms what I have said earlier – the only person who can decide what works for them is the person experiencing the loss. 

The Voice.
There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel that this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.”
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you – just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.

Related Posts:

Talaash: Lakh duniya kahe

In our hearts forever.

Why I liked ‘Rabbit Hole’.

“Grieving parents behave in a different manner. ”

The right way to grieve.

When we surprise ourselves.



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 😀 

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.

Talaash: Lakh duniya kahe

A friend said she wanted to ask me not to watch Talaash, because she thought I might find the movie disturbing. The fact is, the movie was of interest only because some reviews mentioned Inspector Surjan Singh Shekhawat and his wife Roshni coming to terms with the sudden death of their child.

And I am glad I watched it.

Spoiler Alert.

I would like to believe these lyrics (and what they mean in the movie), and even if believing is not easy, or possible; the remotest possibility is more than not having even that little, remote hope…

Lyrics, translated in English.

Laakh duniya kahe, tum nahi ho
Tum yahin ho, tum yahin ho

How much ever does the world say, you’re not there… [that you don’t exist]
you’re here..

you’re here only…

Meri har soch mein, meri har baat mein
Mere ehsaas mein, mere jazbaat mein
Tum hi tum ho
Tum har kahin ho

In every thought of mine, in my every talk,
in my feelings, in my emotions,
only you’re there…
you’re everywhere…

Laakh duniya kahe, tum nahin ho
Tum yaheen ho, tum yaheen ho

Tumne chhoda hai kab saath mera
Thaame ho aaj bhi haath mera
Koi manzil koi rehguzar ho
Aaj bhi tum mere humsafar ho
Jaaun chaahe jahaan tum waheen ho

When have you left me alone, (you never have)
you are holding my hand even today..
be it any destination, any path,
you’re my companion even today..
wherever I go, you’re there…

Laakh duniya kahe tum nahi ho
Tum yaheen ho, tum yaheen ho..

Khushboo banke hawaaon mein tum ho
Rang banke fizaaon mein tum ho
Koi gaaye koi saans goonje
Sab sureeli sadaaon mein tum ho
Tum ko har roop mein dil hai pehchanta
Log hain bekhabar par hai dil jaanta
Tu mere paas ho, dilnasheen ho

You’re there in the wind as a fragrance,
you’re in the seasons as colors,
whoever sings, or whatever breath echoes –
you’re there in all the musical calls..
the heart recognizes you in every form,
people are ignorant, but my heart knows..
you’re with me, close to my heart..

Tum yahin ho, tum yahin ho…

[From here: Lakh Duniya Kahe Tum Nahi ho Tum Yahin ho Lyrics Translation]

When it is okay to count your blessings.

Last April I got an email from a mother who had lost her daughter on Feb 6th 2011. She would have been 25 today. J, the mother called today and said she realised the day was not as difficult as she had feared. I had told her that was what happened to me and was relieved to hear her sound so positive.

The anticipation is always tougher, I have learnt now, than the actual day. What hurt was not just the day, but the disbelief that the day still comes, and the sun still rises and world still goes on…  For me Tejaswee’s absence on Aug 11th 2011 seemed to affirm and seal and stamp the fact that she was never going to be there. It’s difficult to understand why that should hurt when one knew and lived that fact every moment of one’s life. Death is difficult to understand, I don’t think the human mind ever accepts (or comprehends) a child’s death completely…

J. sounded amazed that she had not been crying all day and said she had resolved to sign out of some grief sites she had joined earlier. I didn’t sign out of the grief sites I had joined, I like to know I can always go back there to give or get support. In some other ways too we reacted differently to having to live our worst nightmares. For months she sounded like a lost child, repeatedly voicing the thoughts that echoed mine but which I wanted locked away (and there is nothing wrong or right with either, just ways one copes with what is impossible to cope). Many times it was difficult listening to her, but today for the first time, after eleven months, she was counting her blessings. She spoke of how touched she was that her neighbors welcomed Ganapati this year, without any drum beats and music; of how she was able to assure her younger daughter she would not join any ashram and remain a normal mother to her (as much as possible); and how glad she was that one of S’s friends was coming to meet them. She did fear the meeting might trigger more pain, but she said, “They are S’s friends, and this is her house, this house is always open to them.” For the first time I found comfort, and unbelievably, joy, from listening to her.

I also got a call from a magazine about writing about my daughter and how I dealt with my loss, and I am going to try to do that though it isn’t going to be easy. And then on the same day I got a call from another mother who has lost a child, and wants to write about dealing with grief. Talking to someone who listens without judging, and connecting with someone who is going through the same struggles worked like a pain killer today. Thank you if you are reading this. And thanks to another friend who finds talking about her grief painful, but who has listened to me for hours sometimes. Hugs.

I can’t help noticing the timing of all this. I am sure this is going to make it easier for me to smile and be grateful on the 19th, for the nineteen and a half years that we had.

I wish.

A dear blogging friend, Aneela shared this video after seeing these photographs of Tejaswee.

With these lines,

Sitaro se aagey jehan aur bhi hain! I hope and pray that T meets you again in some way or the other, this story can’t finish just like this.”

Precious words. Beautiful song.

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

When Anita Rao on 28th May asked me to join her on a grueling bicycling expedition from Kullu to Khardung La, I only gave it a second thought because it could prove to be a motivation for exercising.

I had called and asked Sangeeta Khanna, if she’d like to come along and she had  responded with enthusiasm. The next morning she had pulled out and dusted her 13 year old Allegra. I bought a new stationary bike and at the time was glad to want to buy something.

At first we couldn’t cycle for more than a minute! So we made small goals. 5 minutes twice a day for a few days, then ten minutes at a stretch, to eventually 40-50 kilometers on most days, but very gradually.

My mother happened to be visiting the evening the new Merida Mountain bicycle reached home and I wanted to try it out in the park below. I hadn’t noticed any changes in me until I saw the tears in her eyes. Maybe it was the right time, maybe exercise does work this way, but after that there was less and less time to do anything but ensure enough fluids were taken, newer goals were achieved, padded seats and cycling shorts were found and bought. The deep, heavy, frightening weight in my chest and the dread of the coming months came and went, and while this expedition couldn’t possibly do some magic it did help more than I ever would have even dared to imagine.

Two days ago a friend called to say she dreamt I was in Georgia looking for my daughter. I too dreamt I was looking for Tejaswee, running on the roads late at night and woke up in horror, only to realize that the reality was far more hopeless than that nightmare. The fact that a nightmare about something so impossible could be upsetting was painful for my husband. I feel every night this last week would have been like this if it wasn’t for the time and energy consumed in working towards building endurance, planning workouts and breathing exercises, making lists, discussing with other participants,  and, unbelievably, shopping enthusiastically  for this cycling expedition.

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4 45 am, the same time as last year, outside the ICU, when I had woken up feeling Tejaswee had called me. I had woken my husband up. We couldn’t go inside till 8 am, but I wanted to see her, so I had gone towards an emergency exit from where, from a distance, through two glass doors I could see her bed in the ICU.  I could sense some emergency inside, a nurse rushing to call the doctor on duty, and more nurses around her bed. I had watched for a long time, without understanding much, and then got my husband to come and watch too. Why didn’t we just rush inside? Later we were told her lungs had started bleeding,  and now only a miracle could save her.  On the 10th the bleeding in her lungs miraculously stopped and one of the doctors had said, “You will be walking out of this hospital with your daughter.” On the 11th morning I saw his face as he came out of the ICU, he threw his arms up. I said, “It’s OK.”

What made me say it was okay that he was feeling helpless and hopeless and that he did not look like he would be able to save my daughter’s life? I said it’s okay to many people who called, and one of the friends recently called and said she had started crying when I had said that and she had said, “No, it is not okay.” I can only think that there are somethings human mind simply isn’t equipped to deal with…

But these days are difficult not just because one is trying not to  relive each one of her last days in the ICU, but also because her having gone away seems so absolute now.

Death is still extremely difficult to understand, sometimes I feel either the life before she died was a dream, or the life this last year is not real. Sometimes everything seems unreal. We have changed. Son has grown years older in an year. So have we. Our ideas of happiness have changed. Just hearing him humming while making his protein shake in the kitchen brings a strong sense of peace. I have lost any sense of fear, nothing affects me much now. I still sometimes picture how I will hug her and cry if she just walked inside the door some day. I still want to remember her life and not her death. And I still want to be able to remember her with a smile. And all the time there is, even now, a sense of not really understanding what has happened.

And still, I want to remember that we can’t change what we would give anything to change, but we can control how we deal with it.

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.

Off to Pune for ‘Lavasa Women’s Drive’.

I won’t be able to moderate, read or respond to comments till Monday evening now.

Till then take a look at the most gorgeous cat in this world… more special, now, than ever before. My daughter brought him home, stinking, dirty and dehydrated, from a garbage dump in Aug 2004.

We had convinced her to let us leave him in SPCA, Lower Parel, but the cat was brought back home that same evening. She saved his life more than once (and many other animals’ too).

His name is Puppy (because he thinks he is our Mutt’s baby, he has never purred and always rushes to see who is at the door when the bell rings.) He is also called Sher Khan.

He finds birds fascinating…

He may not know he is a cat, but the birds do.

He is chattered out of the balcony when these birds spot him.

Strangely he is more fascinated with bird shadows than with the real birds. Here is staring at the wall because he saw some movement of a bird shadow…

Some friends.

A friend called to say she thought of my daughter and me when she first heard about Lavasa Women’s Drive. She asked if I would like to participate as her navigator (co-driver).

She is one of those who encouraged me when I was sure I would never be able to drive. She sat bravely with me when I first learnt to drive. Thanks to her I have memories of Tejaswee and me singing aloud and driving right up to Mulshi, and driving in the rain through water puddles on quiet roads, with Tejaswee trying to capture the splashing water… I am sure some of those photographs are still there somewhere…

She said she hadn’t been sure how I’d feel if she asked me. She reminded me that I had amazing memories with my daughter. She was sure the distraction and memories would be good. She said the drive celebrates the ‘modern Indian women’ this year. She said I could blog about the experience afterwards and it was an opportunity to take photographs… In the end, I wasn’t sure if she got me interested or I would have liked the idea anyway.

So, being a part of an all women’s car rally seems good, having friends who make you see that, much better.

So I will be going for this rally, but as a blogger, not navigator.  And I hope to take pictures, relive some memories and blog about the experience afterwards.

Updated: Just received an email, and An embrace from another friend, Hugs Dee. Thanks. I am learning that the grief-journey is one journey one can’t take alone, every kind word and gesture helps.


And here’s another way to celebrate the Indian Women: Win this contest.

At Indusladies.
“A perspective on roles of Indian Women”  (Read details here)

And read one of the entries I loved here. It reminded me of ‘maine tere liye apne hathon se gajar ka halwa banaya hai’.

The last date for submission is – 25th Feb. And there’s a cash prize to be won, so hurry up! I hope to participate too.