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coming to terms – year two

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Another year has gone by. I miss her. A lot. My daughter misses her. A lot.

Suffice to say, Mr. Lump in the Throat, makes regular appearances (just this morning I was putting away her shoes into boxes and……) .  At times, the emotional brain threatens to breakthrough to the surface but the firm hand of the rational brain quickly intervenes to prevent  any visible overtures. Some nights, I wake up with a startle. I have images of her moving about hale and hearty, and then suddenly something in my head is screaming “she is dead! gone! ” incredulously. I seem to be asking myself “Do you understand what that means?”  I toss and turn for a while till this subsides and I fall back into sleep. At other times, the events and experience feel unreal. The brain conjures up the image of a loved one being devoured by a beast against which you are powerless. Even now, thinking about what happened is very debilitating and I have to quickly divert to other thoughts to escape this local minima. Social conversations and jokes about wives take on a very different hue given the realization that you are not part of that group any more. Observing my own behavior more recently, I have wondered whether deep in the recesses there is a sliver of depression. I say this because of my consumption habits of late[ there is some evidence for this link].

But the bigger story over the past year is my daughter’s coming to terms and recent moment of catharsis.

Grief counselors may call it denial. Psychiatrists may have to refer the DSM manual to classify this behavior. The fact is, I still wear my wedding ring.  Strange as it may be to the outside world, wearing the ring has offered me an unexpected benefit : a window into my daughter’s mind. What I have repeatedly noticed is the following: on shopping trips to say Ikea or the mall, she will hold my hand. After a while, she will run her fingers over the ring and feel it.  She assumes that I am not noticing her do it.  In my mind, I think, much as she loves me, she’d rather be with her mom on these trips. My daughter also does this after family events.  She did this a lot during our recent trip to Las Vegas as if to say “I wish you were here mom”.

After 2 years, my daughter will now look at a picture of Lechi (my wife). But it is still highly emotional and prompts an immediate deluge of tears. For Mother’s day she wrote a beautiful poem using me as proxy for mom which I have published elsewhere on these pages. When Father’s day was approaching, I was dismissive but she told me that this was the only thing she could celebrate (I could feel the disappointment in her voice as she uttered this).  She has also been a mirror for my own behavior picking up that I am not smiling much and tries to cheer me up or finds ways to make me laugh.

The approaching month of July and August were a source of stress for her, as she constantly requested me to not remind her of the special dates (birth and death anniversary are just days apart). In fact, she was fine until just a few days before thinking a lot about mom, asking clarifying questions and showing not much emotion. A conversation with one of my wife’s sister’s seemed to have thrown open the floodgates. For two days and nights, it was a real emotional coaster as she decided to confront the reality of mom’s death, asking questions about what Lechi said to me about her, how much did she love her, what happened, details around her illness. Did you have a funeral? I[my daughter] was mean for not going to see her [at the funeral]. She was upset to learn about the cremation and wanted to know details. She asked me did she know she was going to die. She also asked me not to lie about this again. Did she cry when she knew she was going to die? She did so much for me [fed me, played with me, went to preschool]. My daughter did tell me that I should never remarry. It was tearing me up inside to watch her body language and facial expressions including her bouts of deep emotion laden crying (her eyes were literally bloodshot). I was also welling up inside as I was patiently answering her many questions. She did notice that my eyes were filled with tears but there was no outburst. During this process, the things she said were so profound that it was clear indication that she was making adjustments to her worldview. Brave and strong was how she described herself. She opined that mom’s passing felt like a glass sculpture that had just shattered. She felt in Life – there should be no sickness. In the same breath, she blamed me for what happened and then almost immediately apologized. She even rationalized that maybe Death is a good thing. Because of it she had met several interesting people (Jamie a friend, her school counselors etc.,) Of the counselors, she said their livelihood depends on people dying! She wanted to know how thinking about the good times makes one happy? I also shared with her that my wife and I had discussed taking walks together during retirement. My daughter immediately said to me “Heaven as a retirement home is not a place I can visit.” Deep indeed!  She was worried about me and promised to take walks with me in lieu of mom. How sweet! Clearly, she was thinking about the many ramifications and trying to connect the dots. She has set for herself the professional goal of becoming a pediatrician or a counselor.

This was a very important and much needed exchange. Post this, I have seen her carry herself as if a significant weight had been lifted of her shoulders.

But then, she was feeling the ring on a recent visit to Las Vegas. During a show – KA(Cirque de Soleil), the opening music had the power to stir emotions, and she leaned over to me and said she was sad. I asked why and she said because of you know who [thats how she refers to mom on many occasions].  But subsequently, her mood quickly picked up and she enjoyed the show. We also toured the Grand Canyon in a helicopter. It was breathtaking. That night, my wife was in my dreams. In the dream, she had come back after a long absence. I was so excited to have her back. I had so many questions to ask her. How had she been? What had happened in the intervening time…….It felt like nothing else mattered now that she was back…..only to realize it was a dream.

This I have figured is going to be the new normal as Father Time works assiduously to blunt the edges of these emotions. But we will always miss her. A lot.


Written by asterix98

August 17, 2012 at 6:37 am

Scars run deep

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I had been having trouble with my bite for the past few weeks and it did not seem like it was going away anytime soon.  The symptoms all pointed to some variant of TMJ.  For something like this, your consulting options are your PCP, dentist or a TMJ specialist.  I decided to visit my PCP. I was able to get an appointment right away.  It was a fairly routine visit. We exchanged pleasantries. I then explained my problem. She examined my jaw, felt around for any glands, and found nothing amiss. Her suggested course of action for me was: cold presses as many times as possible during the day and potentially some over the counter medication to help with the inflammation.  She also thought it would be a good idea for me to visit my dentist too and get a second look. I thanked her and was on my way. I didn’t think much of it and filed it away as a very routine visit with the doctor.

I did the usual things for the remainder of the day, read before retiring for the night. In the middle of the night, I woke up, startled.  I just had a dream. The setting for the dream was a hospital. There were three people in a room. My wife lay on the bed, resting, and recovering from a fresh surgery.  Just out of earshot, I am having a conversation with her doctor. Although he has removed the tumor, he says another one has just grown. Just as he is describing this, I look towards my wife and I see even more tumors appear, spontaneously. She doesn’t know any of this yet. I start to dread what is in store for her, thinking about the painful surgeries to follow and the torturous recovery and follow ups she has to endure. I think this is just not fair. That’s when I woke up. A great relief came over me as soon as I realized that it was a dream and she would be spared the agony.

I don’t remember too many dreams since my wife’s passing that involve her. What was particularly striking about this dream was its proximity to my own hospital visit. I least expected it, but there it is, the subconscious processing the day’s events. As I reflected on it, it was a stark reminder of the stressful times we had been together, the intense pain and suffering she had endured, and I as a caregiver, had witnessed. It also reminded me why, at that time, I had made peace with the idea of letting her go.

The empathy for another’s suffering and the intensity of grief we feel for the loss of someone dear, is a uniquely human trait.  The scars of a traumatic event run very deep indeed.

Written by asterix98

March 5, 2012 at 1:05 am

Some observations

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The past couple of weeks have been busy and the pace is likely to pick up moving forward. However, yesterday, on the way to work, the commute was slow because of heavy traffic. In such circumstances, my thoughts usually turn to Lechi. I was feeling a bit guilty for not having her in my thoughts often because I was getting too caught up in work. But does it really matter? The answer is a resounding yes because both Mahati and I continue to miss her a lot.

Unless you are part of the nucleus, the intensity of the loss fades fairly quickly. Outside of the core circle, the gravity of the situation is much diminished. This is fairly apparent as the rest have mostly moved on, busy with their lives, planning their futures, rightly so. But where it becomes really hard is when people outside the nucleus show utter lack of sensitivity to your own needs (whether it is one of privacy, peace and quiet, or access to your own sanctuary) assuming you are also moving on at the same pace.  It is a complex family dynamic.

While Mahati has made progress, leaps and bounds, in dealing with the loss, I see many subtle signs of how she is struggling to make sense of it all. One of her mini obsessions is health. She is worried about every insect bite, she asks me about my age and about others. She volunteered to continue seeing the school pyschologist. She has offered to counsel another child in her situation. On several nights, over the past couple of weeks, at night, she has confessed to being sad. But when I press her for the reason, she attributes it  to something trivial. Also, I have observed her behavior when I am playing and cuddling her baby cousin. She appears to yearn for the same hugging, kissing, and comforting (even though I do hug and kiss her).

My own responses to her needs is definitely a work in progress. Sometimes when she needs me, I notice I am tired or otherwise preoccupied (which I should not be) and may postpone servicing that need. But as they say, knowing what the problem is, makes for half of the solution. So I am working on it.

Written by asterix98

November 1, 2011 at 11:52 am

Some haunting images

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Imagine that you are in a lot of pain. Imagine that your arms have been abused by constant needle pokes. Imagine your body is being ravaged by disease. Imagine that you have had surgery in your neck which has now limited your range of head movement. Imagine that you have been told that your days on the earth are numbered. Imagine that you are lying on your recliner (eventually death bed). Now with a partial turn of the head you look askew at the clock on the far wall. Psychologically, what does Time now mean? What could be racing through your mind? Or is the pain and fatigue so great that it just doesn’t matter. This is a highly poignant image of Lechi that keeps playing in my mind over and over……..

Imagine there is a reasonably big living room. It has all the modern amenities (HDTV, surround sound, etc.,). Imagine in one corner of the room is a recliner. Imagine Lechi lying on the recliner. I walk towards her. As I am approaching, she is wincing in pain, with tears silently streaming down her cheeks. She looks at me pleadingly (I cannot forget those eyes). I don’t say much. I wipe away her tears with my hand. Stroke her hair. Go behind the recliner and start massaging her back.  An image that is gut wrenching to date…

I was recently on an overnight camping trip with my daughter’s class. The setting was a flat round meadow. A creek flowed tangentially across one portion of the meadow. The meadow was surrounded by hilly vegetation on one half and mostly dry hills on the other half. The night sky was absolutely beautiful, crystal clear and filled with stars. The milky way streaked across the entire length of the meadow. As I looked up, I found myself spontaneously talking to Lechi, as if she were one of those stars, and promising her I would take good care of our daughter.

Written by asterix98

October 6, 2011 at 5:27 am

Pascal’s wager -a twist

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Ever heard of Pascal’s wager? In its simplest form, it goes something like this:

If you believe in God and He does exist, you stand to gain infinitely;

If you believe in God and He does not exist, you don’t lose anything;

For the original phrasing look here : Pascal’s Wager

The link provides the broader context for his wager (part of it being his inability to absolutely reject God because he saw many things in Nature that pointed to His existence while at the same time there were many things that suggested He does not exist).

I am a non-believer. But this is where it gets interesting. I am engaged in my own version of this wager and the entity involved is someone dearer to me than God, my deceased wife. While every reason bearing fiber of my being acknowledges the finality of what happened, there is an equally strong “force” which wants to believe that she could possibly exist in an other world ( rational support for this being the notion of the existence of parallel universes now gaining some currency and legitimacy in the outer reaches of Physics), probably not wanting to preclude the possibility that I may still have a chance to meet her again, afterall. This is an ongoing tension between, I suppose, what the brain scientists, would call my left brain and my right brain.

As I write this, my left brain is telling me that it will eventually win out. Nevertheless, being able to entertain right brain thoughts is comforting (another example being , on occasion, I continue to imagine her presence and how she may have (reacted)/enjoyed/approved (to) the accomplishments of my daughter, however small).

This illustrates a generality pertaining to faith, superstitions, belief etc., Unless you can draw on your critical thinking faculties and objectively consider the facts at hand, it is likely you will stay in the comfortable realm of fantasy . Right brain is the default (easier) option for most people.

Footnote : The left brain and right brain terminology, as used here, is meant to distinguish the logical from the emotional and is loosely coupled to an older distinction between logical and wholisitic thinking that permeated much of psychological thinking upto the 90s. Neuroscientific advances have made these distinctions much more nuanced.  More on this topic later.

Written by asterix98

September 6, 2011 at 7:03 am

Lechi would have turned 40 today

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Most people would have marked their entry into a new phase of life (I hesitate to call it middle age as I think the bar has shifted to the right for the population) by celebrating the big four oh birthday. Alas, for dearest Lechi, this life marker proved elusive.

Two years ago, this day, I bought Lechi a pendant with her birthstone (some were of the opinion that I had paid too much for it). I had had the sinking feeling that dear Lechini was not going to be around for long (given how her treatment was progressing and the generally available prognosis). I am so glad I bought it for her because it proved to be the last opportunity I would ever have to show her, materially, my love and affection for her. Last year, on Lechi’s birthday,  Mahati gave her a card saying she was the greatest mom (which I have preserved) and a copy of the Bhagavad Gita!! (this on her own accord).

I wonder if Lechi took this as a sign and decided to give up the fight (she lasted one more day past her birthday).

Many times, this past year, I have been in denial about Lechi’s illness. I have had to make a mental effort to recall the pain and suffering she endured, visualize the specifics to convince myself of the reality that Lechi is indeed in a better place.

However, I have missed her a lot and still do, consciously and unconsciously. Most recently, on my current India trip. Consciously: during our (Mahati and me) visits with friends and family. We were invited to a birthday party and there were games that involved the parents. Most kids had their moms (the default parent chosen by the game show host). Mahati was dragging me there.  Unconscioulsy: Mahati, her grandpa, and I saw the last installment of the Harry Potter movie. There was a lot of fun and excitement at the theater as the kids at the movies were shouting and screaming. I was choking and tearing up inexplicably (I have wondered if this stems from a sense of guilt).  Thankfully, Mahati enjoyed the experience. This was also true when I was performing the first anniversary rituals.

When birthdays are celebrated, most people (including myself) today treat it very superficially. What Lechi’s life has taught me is to understand and appreciate the deeper significance of marking these personal milestones. (It is probably, also, the origin of the celebrations in the first place).  In the same vein, I have also learned to appreciate the value of the rituals associated with remembering loved ones long gone. Not so much for the mechanics (even here I think there are interesting aspects that can help with psychological closure), but for the opportunity to set aside some time to focus on them. [I have to mention here that the Hindu rituals allow for three generations in the heavenly abode, we will cover this in a later blog].

Science tells us, except humans, most animals live in the here and now (which many a philosophy book urges us is the best form of living to aspire for). We have the unique machinery to dwell on the past, present, and future. One of advantages of this- we can continue to remember our loved ones, in spite of their physical absence. I know she will always inhabit our ( Mahati and mine) mental world. Happy Birthday Lechi!  We miss you, we love you!

Written by asterix98

August 1, 2011 at 3:16 am

Missing Lechi

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Wow!  It has been nearly three weeks since I wrote on these pages.  Lechi has been in my thoughts, constantly, these past few weeks. One of the big reasons: Mahati’s ninth birthday was coming up (it happened a couple of weeks ago) and it would be her first one without mom. I was torn between celebrating it or completely shutting it out. Finally, I splurged! 

We celebrated Makat’s birthday at the park with family. It was a bit tough, especially cutting the cake part (for me), but more importantly, Mahati went through it all fine.

Even though there is family (on both sides), I miss our private world.  It was a nice cozy place.

Written by asterix98

June 11, 2011 at 4:26 am

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