Six years. 

Sharing this post from the child loss support group, In our hearts forever.

***
How far have I come? Sharing some lessons learnt.

Did I expect this six years ago? 6th July it had rained for the first time. Tejaswee had declared she loved the Delhi monsoons. A month later I was willing the universe to conspire to save her life.

Six years later now, in many ways, I live a ‘normal’ life, at least outwardly. When one has been where I have been, every achievement is a milestone; and things like laughter and joy are achievements beyond all expectations.

Three things that keep me going:

1. In our hearts forever : The Support Group for mothers coping with child loss.

The current mental peace and stability would not have been possible without the support from the moms in this group. We know what we are for each other. Nobody and nothing else can do what this group can, and does – for those who need such support.

2. Brat Three – Brat Three is twelve, and my height now; and regularly raids my wardrobe. ūüôā Her confidence and happiness are our pride, hope, and delight; and she knows it: This sentence in her school notebook had me tearing up: ‚ÄúI am the apple of my parents‚Äô eyes.‚ÄĚ

Introducing a new family member.

And I am still marveling at this love, and at the joy and the healing that this love has brought into our lives.

I am grateful. Grateful that all four of us wanted the same thing (this adoption).

Immensely grateful that we listened to the voice inside us.

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
“I feel 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.

 

3. The Saturday hiking group I joined two years ago:

Every Saturday I wake up at 3 30 am to reach the starting point for the hike on the outskirts of the city; because the hike must end before the day gets too hot, we must start before sunrise.

What drags some of us out of our beds at such hours, while the rest of the world sleeps?

For me, the group was at first just a safe space for getting out of the house and experiencing nature. I would have been content to just walk in the wilderness; that was an achievement in itself; but the walks surprised me with unexpected bonuses: Laughter and Joy. (Also, new friends; and improved health).

This was like rediscovering oneself. It’s a passion I did not even know existed within me. The walks changed almost everything else.

Passions tend to engulf us (along with our pain) and I allowed myself to be totally taken over by the experience: I have run through the wild grass into the sunrise, climbed trees with ants crawling on them, splashed in pools, and felt the rain on my face.

Why have these walks been so life altering, …so healing? I guess what’s healing is the letting go, and the following of one’s spirit.

As we trekked each weekend braving the thorny branches of vilayati keekar, I learnt that there are many kinds of griefs, each very painful to the person experiencing it.

Over a period of time, I met other survivors.

Some of them casually mention the challenges they are coping with and in the beginning, I compared their pain to mine, but now I see that their pain is the worst they have known.

I have found empathy in unexpected places. I have learnt that I connect with, amongst other survivors: single mothers. Divorce is said to be comparable to death and is a traumatic experience, including blatant judgment from random people. The trauma remains unacknowledged: and then there is judgment instead of support. Having experienced it occasionally, and having been outraged by it, I can relate to this.

One walker I met (age, personal life no idea, no need to know) wanted to ‘experience life’ because he has been through hell and survived. And what has he survived? Believe it or not: Alcoholism. His struggle against something he doesn’t have control over, I would probably not have understood in my earlier life.

With this group, I feel I have come a long, long way. Shared passions build strong bonds. And yet. One casual question or remark can still become a trigger for me.

Recently the group celebrated their sixth anniversary. I had attended the celebration last year, so I knew that I would be able to attend this year too. And all was fine and fun until I heard the DJ ask – “Hey people the next one for the person you love the most!” No idea what the context was. Maybe he was just talking too much. Maybe I was overwhelmed anyway, just waiting for a trigger. But suddenly I became an outsider. Wished there was one person I could have looked at and seen them understand.
(This morning I am wondering if I was really the only one. How do I know nobody else struggled in their own way like I did? )

But here’s the thing. I could, with some effort, put the thought away and continue to act like I was not screaming inside; like I was not dying to join the one person who meant everything to me. And after some pretense, it became a fact. I started enjoying again. I could feel Tejaswee with me – with all her protective love, warmth, and positivity. And I was wearing a neckpiece that was hers. (Like some other moms in In Our Hearts Forever, I too always have something of hers with me).

I couldn’t have imagined this six years ago, or even two years ago. This mind-control is what coping with grief is all about, I feel. It’s an unimaginably painful journey, but know that there is hope – it does get better. You emerge so much stronger that you look at your own self in awe. I accept this with gratitude – maybe no power could prevent this pain – but if one is given so much pain then one should also be given the strength to deal with that pain. I am grateful to have reached this point.

Sharing this here to record my journey and to give those newer in this journey an idea of what they might expect in the coming years.

Some more thoughts from someone who has walked through grief and come out stronger –

1. Value your health. Everything else becomes tougher to cope with if health is also an issue.

2. If something gives you a moment of peace – don’t care what anybody says; listen to this guiding voice inside. Moments of joy lead to healing. Grab every bit of healing.

3. Avoid people or situations that trigger pain. Again, listen to this guiding voice inside. You won’t walk into a fire, think before you walk into pain.

4. There is no right or wrong way to grieve, be guided by yourself. I have been advised social work and shopping as alternatives to hiking – both are fine, but are not for me. There is no way I would have benefitted from these, the way I have from hiking, Brat Three, the Support Group, and this blog.

Note: Please email me if you know of someone who might want to join ‘In Our Hearts Forever’.

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‚ÄúThe pain will never go, but you will smile¬†again.‚ÄĚ

In our hearts forever.

Finally, after four years of realising that such a group would be most helpful, I created a grief support group for mothers coping with child loss on Facebook in August 2014.

At first we interacted only on Facebook.

The first day, within hours of the group being formed, two of the mothers called to say they found the interactions overwhelming. I thought they weren’t sure they wanted to be a part of the group, and I did understand that each one of us may not find the same things helpful. But they said the sharing of experiences was cathartic for them.

One of the members’ family feared she might find the meetings depressing, another member was pressurised to go for a meeting.¬†I believe there is only one way to truly know what would work for us.

This:

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.

[Shared by Women’s Web on facebook,¬†link]

Five of us who were in Delhi-NCR, met for the first time on the 30th of October. There was no plan, whoever was free managed to come.

We talked about what hurt and what helped. What we couldn’t understand and the questions that would never be answered. Those of us who had travelled longer on this journey talked about how we were now able to do things we never thought possible.

We also realised our journeys were a lot alike, (which was why knowing what to expect helped), and yet they were different. Which was why it was important that we choose our own paths.

This was around Diwali.¬†As we were leaving, we were in the lift and one of the mothers said, “They are able to put up lights…! I too will be able to do that in five years.”¬†

One mother, let me call her SP, didn’t come. She said she got ready and got down the lift, reached the car and then sat there wondering what she was doing. She was sure it would be a mistake. She locked the car and went back home and sent a message that she would not be able to come.

We told her we would love it if she came for the next meeting, or the next. Whenever she was ready.

And she did come for the second meeting on 12th December. This meeting went on for over five hours, very positive, very warm and we parted on an unbelievably cheerful note Рwith many ideas and plans for future.

What made it even more special for me was that the next day was Saturday and two of the mothers, SP and AV agreed to come for the Saturday walk (more Hikes than walks) that I have been going for (with Let’s Walk Gurgaon – but more about these life altering walks in another post).

That warm Saturday morning I will always remember, and it turned out to be a beautiful trail.

The trail

I had never seen so many Pied Kingfishers at one place… Then, as we walked along the 9 km trail, AV said, “I see this as a new beginning for me, IHM.”

I knew what she meant, this was how I had felt when I went for the first walk in March 2014. What was so healing about these walks? That it was possible to be alone or to interact only as much as one wished to? The group’s willingness to walk as slow as their slowest walkers? The always knowing that there was support, in case one needed it? The beauty of the trails? Being with nature? Having to totally focus on the walk (from time to time)?

SP was the other mom who had agreed to come along. She said she had ankle and knee problems in both legs, and she wasn’t sure if she could even complete the walk. But she wanted to try and she did. Her legs hurt, but there were helping hands all along. She finished the trail, but would she ever come for these walks again? Only if she received the same kind of warmth and support she said ūüėÄ

Then some days later she called to ask how to save her pictures from the walk from facebook. “I am smiling so sweetly! I can’t believe I am smiling so sweetly! IHM you guys have¬†changed my life in two days!”

She said her legs did hurt but not enough to prevent her from coming for future walks ūüôā Reminded me of how I had felt the first time. I had to take a paracetamol because of the muscle ache and slight fever from the unused to exercise. And I remember how the biggest concern was getting well enough for the next walk.

And that is how 2014 has been for me. Full of hope and healing.

This group is a closed group and only for mothers who have known child loss.

If you know of someone who has lost a child, please let them know about this safe and supportive space Р and let them decide if this is for them. One way would be to write this email [indianhomemaker@gmail.com] on a piece of paper but it would be  better to  message it to them (on their phone) so that it is not misplaced and whenever they are ready, they would have the option of joining.

Another way would to be to send a message on this page, https://www.facebook.com/IHM.Indianhomemaker

UPDATED: The group cannot be found by non members.

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Some days…

Why do I blog about child loss and how I feel?

Tejaswee Rao, Princess Park, my daughter

1. It makes me feel better – I find it cathartic.

2. To understand what is happening (to myself) – with some more clarity by writing it down and sharing it.

3. Four years ago I had sought and found information [link] ( – most helpful when in the form of personal stories), about life after child loss, and I hope these posts are found by those who need them.

4. For readers to get an idea of what child loss can do to parents, so that they don’t take it personally when – for an example – their invitations or gestures of friendship are are declined. Specially when the grieving parent/s seem to be meeting other people or seem to be generally getting on with their life – try and remember you don’t know what they are coping with. Let them be. This needs a separate post.¬†

Remembered this today.

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One special Rakhi.

Today the siblings tied Rakhis on each other’s wrists (though Brat Three was looking at her gift while tying the red and gold thread).¬†Then, when her brother asked for one more thread I was puzzled for a moment, “One more?”

“Tejaswee’s” He said.

I tied one Rakhi for each from Tejaswee.

This was taken on Raksha Bandhan, 2000

Rakhi 2000, Sangli Apartments

Four years ago I was still hoping, against all hopes, and praying on this day.

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In November 2010 when a parent said they lit a candle and cut a cake on their child’s birth anniversary each year, I was sure I could never do that.

But today, Brat Three cut this cake.

LoveYouTejaswee

And her brother insisted on this orange candle…

Orange Candle

* * *

Later this afternoon I wanted to rest but Brat Three woke me up, asking me to come and see something. “Can’t it wait Brat Three? I am trying to get some sleep!”

No protests, no attempts to convince, no ‘it will take only a moment’, just an uncharacteristic, almost meek, “Okay.”

Later when I got up she got this for me to see.

HappyBirthdayTejasweeRao“How did you think of making this card Brat Three?”

“Because it’s her birthday today.”

“But she can’t see it… how will she see this card Brat Three…”

“She will. She knows. She can see from there.”

 * * *

Earlier this morning Brat Three had to draw a ‘Family Tree’ for her home work and she asked if she should show three children in our family.

I wasn’t sure.

“Name the three children?”

“…then should I show two children?”

“Three is fine. There’s you, Brat Two and Tejaswee.”

Tejaswee2

* * *

And this photograph is from 19th Jan 2010. Tejaswee’s 19th birthday. The dogs came out every morning to say ‘bye bye to Tejaswee’ …barking to make her come back.

DSC_0006

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Earlier this year I volunteered to be there for a mother who¬†had lost her adult child, in case she needed someone to talk to. The intention was only to reach out to someone I was almost sure I could help. It turned out that her need for positivity in hopelessness (and I have known that need) required a constant repeating of healing, hopeful and helpful ideas. And positive thoughts help everybody, even those like us who sometimes use them as crutches and painkillers, even when some of these thoughts would not be seen as positive by some others. For me, here was someone who felt the same way about life, death, pain, hope and helplessness and someone who understood what we were living with. So ‘helping’ here was an excuse, I was actually helping myself.

I have, in the past, said to others and to myself, that it would take a lot to make someone like me really unhappy – that I could take a lot in my stride. Later, for a while I blamed these thoughts (along with a million other things) and wondered if such thoughts provoked bad luck.

But this weekend the kids and I went to a neighbourhood mall, finished some much required but mundane shopping, I managed to get a slight headache and then sat down for a late lunch, tired and relieved it was done, while the kids ordered. And then as I was irritated with myself for not ordering something else and as I still continued to eat something I wasn’t enjoying, I happened to look up at the two young people at the table, equally tired but happy. And an unexpected thought crept into my mind – didn’t even realise I actually thought that thought. How could I? The thought was – “This is contentment.” ¬†But I did feel at peace at that moment and this is how I feel most of the time these days. How would Tejaswee feel if she could see us sitting there and if she could hear my thoughts? She would have been proud. We had achieved the unachievable … the inconceivable (to us).

So I have made peace… sort of. It’s difficult not to resent and feel angry with whatever/whoever had the power to have an almost 23 year old sitting with us in that crowded, stuffy mall on this weekend afternoon, but I am trying to learn to think that she is not really not-there ever, and that she was watching and feeling the same peace I felt. Maybe I felt the same peace she was feeling …because she was feeling it. Maybe I was at peace because she was at peace.

And I am continuing to understand that this peace (still won’t use ‘happy’ to describe how I feel) has been achieved by training the mind to keep twenty years of memories (capable of inflicting terrible pain) locked in a precious, partly cherished, partly dreaded corner.

Maybe this is what coping with grief or any trauma is all about (for some people atleast) –¬†being able to control what we remember and what we choose not to think of. And it‚Äôs an ongoing, endless process, but not really a conscious effort. Also, it was not really in my control to do this ‚Äď it just happened over a period of time.

I also noticed that without really thinking about it, I resisted situations that might bring forth painful memories. I did not attend any weddings or celebrations until early this month. And I wasn’t sure if it would be painful – and this is what I find strange. How can we not know how we would feel? Turned out we didn’t just attend this wedding, we actually enjoyed ourselves.

I had not been able to listen to happy, lively music for three years (without breaking down that is) and had been fine with never again dancing or listening to certain (or any) kind of music.¬†I remember saying there were many who had not been through what we had, but who didn’t care for dancing or music anyway, and they lived fine, so my not being able to bear music wasn’t so bad. But then Brat Three joined us. I remember the first time I sang and generally clowned around with her on ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ and realised only afterwards, with shock, that I was perfectly fine doing that – no tears, no break down. How did that happen?

Then there was a Diwali Mela in our complex and we took Brat Three there, and she heard music and saw people dancing and with just a little encouragement she had joined them and started dancing with them. Soon some teenagers pulled her to join their group, I was amazed at how much she was enjoying, and although I was crying, it wasn’t too brightly lit and even if somebody noticed, I didn’t care. I was happy but I was also in pain, I wanted to scream. And yet, I was actually overjoyed. I am not able to understand why drum beats and music did this to me… Maybe because we were dancing even 19 days before Tejaswee was born, and we still have photographs with the hamper we won. We were dancing again when she was a baby, then a toddler and then we were on the floor with two toddlers, then two kids and then two teenagers…

Early this month I felt I could attend a wedding in the family, maybe borrow an odd sari from my mom because Brat Three would definitely enjoy everything an Indian wedding entails. That’s how little we know our own minds sometimes (though we know it better than anybody else does). I knew I could attend, I never dreamt I would be able to dance – which is what actually happened. And no tears, no break downs. It’s a mile stone in our grief journey. Did it help that it was a cousin, very dear to Tejaswee who was getting married and that there was Brat Three in a white lehenga hopping away to glory and that the husband was looking overjoyed – disbelieving almost. I think, I could see a reflection of what I was feeling on his face.

I shared all of this with the dear friend who needs to hear positive thoughts and who asks the same question every day, often more than once a day, in many different words, each time like she has never thought of asking it before.

Here’s what she asks:

“I have been meaning to ask you something… ¬†I didn’t even want to get up this morning… do you really feel better now after three years…?”

“I was thinking I must ask you something today, … I was wondering… does this pain become bearable after a while… you will know so I thought I must ask you.”

“You have dealt with it, so you will be able to tell me, does it hurt like this all your life? What’s the point of living if it is so painful to live every moment?”

“This is very wrong you know, what kind of creator created such a world where there is so much pain? We would not have had any children if we knew it was so painful to lose them… Do you really think… does it really become bearable with time?”

I can relate to each thought – have asked the same questions with the same disbelief, and almost always, each time I laugh, there is astonishment, and a quickly suppressed question, “How can I laugh? Tejaswee has died and I can laugh?” There is almost a rebellious desire to never laugh, to show the creator there is no forgiveness from this mother for creating so much pain. Denying these thoughts would be dishonest and does not help validate similar thoughts felt by other parents. But when I talk to this dear friend I make an effort to end these rants with a positive thought, “Maybe I can forgive fate/Creator/whatever, maybe it was predestined, maybe there was no way it could not have happened, maybe there is forgiveness being sought because there is so much hope in the love and the joy that we feel for Brat Three… ¬†and I am sure if we are determined to fight pain and find joy again, we can try to seek happiness and support in whichever ways we are comforted…”¬†

This post is a thank you note to this mother for all the positivity she brings into my thoughts.

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Brat Three – Questions about death.

When we flew home with Brat Three the first time in July 2012, she stood looking outside the window, asking an odd question and looking outside, very calm, very well mannered and very quiet. Quite unlike her real self.

Then, this June we flew to Baghdogra and I realised how much more comfortable and ‘herself’ she had become. She laughed aloud at the take-off and then had endless questions about everything she saw. ¬† Clouds from the planeAnd then she asked,

Tejaswee kahan hai? Main itnee der se clouds mein dekh rahee hoon, mujhe to kaheen naheen dikh rahee. Maybe she is behind that cloud, in that hole.”

(Where is Tejaswee? I am looking for her in these clouds but I can’t see her anywhere.”) sky, cloudsThis June, while searching online for a school project, we found dolls’ furniture, and hoping it would keep her occupied during the long, long days of the summer vacations, we decided to try making some. Didn’t realise how much she would love this bed… or maybe what she loved was the process of the making of the doll’s bed.

She was so happy that she was worried. 2013-06-29 07.56.14 DollBed.jpg.14 “Jab aap mar jaogee to aap upar clouds mein chalee jaogee, phir aap wapas meri friend ban ke aa jaana to mein khush ho jaooungee.”

(When you die, you will go up, up in the clouds. Then you must come back as my friend, then I will become happy again.)

Tejaswee

Another time.

“Why have you hung Tejaswee’s big pictures on the wall here?”

“Because I miss her… ¬†she is not here with us.”

“Don’t you miss me? Put my pictures, big pictures.”

“You are here. We are all here… we can hug and hold each other…”

“When she comes back then you remove her photos and put my pictures.”

We have talked about death and attempted to talk about cells, heart (with a You Tube video) and breathing and ‘not feeling anything anymore’, about ‘going up’ and about ‘never coming back’, but how do we explain what we don’t want to or can’t understand?¬†

I gave her a hug.¬†“She will never come back Brat Three.”

“Sometimes it can happen, sometimes she can come back.” (She says the same thing about the Delhi Metro, “Sometimes there can be 5 coaches in the metro.” Or, “Sometimes Sunday can come again after Monday.”)

“If she comes back, she will herself remove her photographs and put your photographs up here.” ¬†

Tejaswee2

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