Neerja.

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.

 

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 – with 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 😀

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 🙂 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 –  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.

Related Posts:

She will live forever in our hearts.

On 19th Jan 2014.

Two photographs in an email.

On 19th Jan 2013.

On 19th Jan 2011.

Do dreams have meanings?

Do you believe that each day promises a fresh beginning?

2011… and an unbelievable dream.

Creating a Support Group

Words do heal.

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

It’s Real not Virtual : Love from Crafty Shines…

Just pick it up…

“Grieving parents behave in a different manner. ”

When they cry.

The right way to grieve.

When it is okay to count your blessings.

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.

Related Posts:

When we surprise ourselves.

“Grieving parents behave in a different manner. ”

On 19th Jan 2013.

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

When we surprise ourselves.

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’s an ongoing, endless process, but not really a conscious effort. Also, it was not really in my control to do this – 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.

Related Posts:

Do dreams have meanings?

Do you believe that each day promises a fresh beginning?

2011… and an unbelievable dream.

Dreams by Tj91

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

It’s Real not Virtual : Love from Crafty Shines…

Just pick it up…

We are moving…

Words do heal.

Last year, these days. 

“Grieving parents behave in a different manner. ”

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,

“SELF-INFLICTED GUILT” – JUST FOR TODAY

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.

Related Posts:

She will live forever in our hearts.

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

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

Words do heal.

On 19th Jan 2013.

On 19th Jan 2011.

When it is okay to count your blessings.

Please pray for my daughter’s life.

Last year, these days.

When they cry.

The right way to grieve.

I will see you again.

Media is getting irresponsible – Garima

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.