Read this while listening to: https://soundcloud.com/shebrings/raga-ahir-bhairav
For anyone that has lost a parent or a loved one, this post is for you.
Seven years ago today, I received a phonecall in the early hours of the morning, from my kid sister “Dad’s not breathing”
Never have I shot out of bed so quick, in disbelief, shock and anguish.
At the time, I was in the Midlands, at university, writing my dissertation. It was during the journey back that I felt the most helpless, blasting down the M40, scrambling with phonecalls and incoherent messages, unable to influence any of the events that followed.
After a flitting of back and forth calls and text messages, I received the phonecall, the phonecall that confirmed Papa’s demise. There was so much white noise at the time, not sure if this was the call, my head or the hectic traffic that Tuesday morning. I struggled to comprehend the message, it was filled with cries, shrieks and mumbles. A friend of mine, that followed the ambulance in, took the phone and his words I will never forget… “I am so sorry bruv”
There was no coming back from that, like the disappearance of a gravity unknown. The undeniable sunk in and my world fell apart. I cried so hard. Time, as a concept, as a construct held no value from here onwards, this was the start of the longest journey of my life.
My beloved, now fiance, was driving, I remember catching a look on her face, trying to console me, whilst combatting the thick traffic, on a route untravelled, on a distance never before endured. What a warrior, my rock.
In a mad dash of desperation, my mind flicked back, to when my DaddiMa (paternal grandmother) suffered a heart attack years ago, in the ambulance outside her house. The paramedics revived her TWENTY minutes later. She survived and on this particular day, the history books witnessed a pain worse than all, the death of her child, she outlived her youngest son.
I held onto this idea of twenty minutes.. Come on, as a kid you were told, if you really want something it can happen… if you pray to god with a genuine heart, he will listen. I convinced myself, that within twenty minutes, I’d get another phonecall, one that overruled the last. I wiped my tears, sat up and with every ounce, drawing on every cell in my body I hoped and prayed and wished that this was some sick dream and I’d wake up in a fit of sweats.
My desperation came to no avail…. That phonecall never came.
The morning rush had started now, we got off onto an A road, where on a roundabout, the clutch failed. A new challenge on my hands, to get this car off the road and get myself down to the hospital asap. Tears streaming down my face as I push the car in the middle of rush-hour traffic. My friend picked us up and arranged for the tow. We arrive at the hospital, I walk into the room where my family were and where now very still my father’s body lay. Disdain for the feelings, the next hour I cannot bring myself to type about. I’d thought my dad will be with me forever!
Enter the everlasting question of why? Why did this happen? He did nothing wrong, he was a good man. This question you can only really answer scientifically, Cause of Death: Ischemic Heart disease aka typical middle-aged balding Indian man’s heart attack. The stats are literally against this demographic.
I arrived home, the house now filled with relatives, friends, neighbours, wellwishers. Elders giving me words like “You need to be a man for your family now” gestures of empathy, reverence and care. Wiping my DaddiMa’s tears away, telling her not to worry, “I am here”. The irony of telling an 80+ year old that this immature 21-year-old boy has his shit together and is able to locate his position to ‘here’. This is the moment I was most not sure of where I was. Who I was. What this all was. What we are.
The days between the death and the funeral are a massive blur. 100s of people at the house, bringing food, memories, information, rituals, prayers and wishes. The day we went to wash Papa’s body was difficult, a real lesson in understanding that we are not our bodies. You are not a body with a soul, You are a soul with a body. The feelings, the relationships, the experiences between my father and I can never be taken from me, my father continues to live in my thoughts, he’s just left his body behind, here on this existential plane.
The thoughts where he taught me to ride a bike and bringing home my first laptop with Windows 3.1, moving into a new home, the holidays he would take us on, every year without fail, showing me parts of the world. We never got to play snooker together, or solve any IT issues, he was a genius! He IS a genius!
They say time is a healer. Bollocks. Time merely gives you perspective. The way you comprehend, understand, digest and process this time is the way in which you will heal. It’s not a process to be rushed and there are probably no rules. This is life. The facts cannot be muddied, the truth cannot be twisted. This is a reality we must all face. In fact, it is the only inevitable. For life cannot exist without death. We have been taught to dread death as if it is the end of the show. A fear baked deep inside all of us, a fear of death. That without this body, we do not continue to exist. I urge you to challenge this notion, unlearn this concept. You keep alive in your head, whatever you wish.
People will stop coming to your house, they will stop checking in on you, they will eventually stop tiptoeing around you and return to their version of normal. Some people will have no idea how to approach you, forgive them, it doesn’t come from malice, they just don’t know what to say. and whatever they do say, won’t make a difference right, it won’t bring them back.
You may feel alone, that this injustice has happened to you and your family and that you will do literally ANYTHING for your dearly departed to be back in your life, even if its for just one last touch, one last hug, or just a few words of solace, to comfort you, to let you know that they are looking down on you and are safe and still love you. You are not alone, you have people, who are trying to be there for you, in the ways they only know how. Show gratitude that they are in your life. You also have to pick yourself up, understand this harsh reality and cherish the very notion of life.
Life is a beautiful thing, you are graced with opportunities and experiences, a body with multiple sensory inputs, intuition, knowledge and emotions. Things we most often take for granted.
My Papa’s character was fun, loving and kind. He moved to the UK from Punjab India when he was a teenager, went through schooling here, college, University and worked hard for many years at an IT company, a stone throw away from the IT company I now work at. Together with my dear mother, they built a family, a house, gave my sister and I the utmost in life, with schooling, love, affection, opportunities and a decent righteous upbringing. Everything a father does for their family and more.
Your throat will tighten when recalling memories. When not having them there on your birthday, or at Christmas, or when you walk through the house and find some of their personal items, which now carry so much more meaning. It is your responsibility and duty to keep them alive through stories, memories and ideals. They now live through you, through your thoughts and actions, do them proud!
Get onboard with the uncomfortable feeling of talking about them, knowing that they are not coming back, the knock on the door is not them, they will not be at your wedding or see your children grow. That sickening feeling will bite you and it will hurt. You will deny it, you will get upset, sometimes angry. People will not understand what you are feeling. it is your feeling, own it, feel it, be it, process it. That is pure love.
These are all hurdles and challenges, you need to get through them and you will. You were built to sustain this, anything you need to ride this wave, you have in your arsenal, just need to learn how to use it.
My Dadda (paternal grandfather) died when I was around 12 years old, he was awesome, had all the fun and love in the world with him. I grew to be sad that he was not alive for longer, I then held onto the fact that my dad will be a great Dadda for my kids, when I eventually have them. This still cuts me deep knowing my offspring won’t ever have a grandad. I know my mum will be a top Daddi though! 😉
I feel like I’m rambling now (this happens alot). I have plenty more stories of my Papa the great, which maybe I’ll share in time to come.
It has done me a lot of good to get this written, and I hope at least one person reading this finds some consolation in their heart. Time will not heal you, YOU will heal you. I am here to bounce ideas off, or a shoulder to lean on, please feel free to reach out.
You must express yourself, talk about our loved one, welcome the feeling of vulnerability and channel that energy in some way. It may manifest as stories or poems or drawings, whatever you need to get shit off your chest, do it. Speak to people, network with like-minded individuals to uplift you. These things are not distractions or coping mechanisms, but a continuation of the path you are on. You must continue your journey and cherish life itself.
I found some peace in expressing my feelings, around the subject through writing a few poems:
My sister has gone on to become a celebrated Spoken Word Artist: https://bananasharma.com/ Here is a touching live performance of a poem dedicated to our Papa:
Today is also International Women’s Day, so I pay homage to my amazing fiance, who has been with me every step of the way, to my sister, who has had to grow up super fast with me, often fight with, but am honoured to be on this journey with, but most of all my super strong mum, whose pain I cannot begin to fathom, who, through this rollercoaster of life has instilled in me virtues and lifeskills that I will never be able to repay. My mother who for the past 7 years has to play the role of my mother and my father, I salute you!
Smiling through a tight throat and a face full of tears, and in the most loving memory of the late great Sunil Dutt Sharma, yours truly.