The “goods” in the week of May 30th.


I was humming as I weeded. I was surprised when I realized I was humming. That is good, right? The fact that I am singing a song again while doing something?

I went back to work on June 1st. That was mostly good. On occasion I felt I did not want to do this, all I wanted was to go back home, sit on my reading chair and stare into space. However, I refocused on the job at hand and got it done.

My cousin has come to stay with us to help me live through this time. One day I came back from work to find a bowl full of peeled oranges and peeled lichees waiting for me. She went out with Sahana but left prepared food for me to eat. This gesture of caring made me cry and reminded me of ma, baba – but not in a sad way. It reminded me to be grateful for the love and care I continue to receive from my loved ones. I hope I am able to pay the kindness forward.

I was dreading my birthday this year. June 3rd was very, very hard. Yet my friends and family showered me with love. Sean came to pick me up from work with flowers. Instead of coming home right away, we sat on a bench and cried for ma and baba. I came home to a delicious meal of luchi, alur dom, fish fry, payesh, cookie cake and ice cream. Sahana cooked the entire meal under the tutelage of my cousin sister, her mashun. There were gifts of framed photographs of ma, baba in happier times, lovely dresses. And love, laughter, hugs.

My flowers continue to radiate beauty and joy.

I got so many hugs from my family at work.

A friend invited me over for tea. I surprised myself when I realized I enjoyed the evening.

Writing still helps me process and cope. It makes me cognizant of the forward progress in my journey of loss and the path to rebuild around this loss.

Many nights Sahana, Ryan, sister and I play a raucous round of ludo before bed.

On Saturday we went to a beach nearby. I looked for ma, baba in the gentle waves.

I have talked aloud to ma, baba sometimes. Mostly joked with them. I asked them what is the point of being dead if they can not part the traffic for me so I can zoom ahead of other cars.

My circle of love still surrounds me and I try to find ma, baba in each sunset, in the white clouds and the blooming flowers.

A dear friend sent me hug on wsapp on a day I was miserable. I needed that hug and I told her I was having a bad day. She said she was thinking of me and it must have been telepathy.

I desperately need something to look forward to. Searching.

Back to work


I joined back to work on June 1st after an absence of almost a month. I was oddly nervous. I am an embodiment of grief right now. Not just grief, I have this shroud of misfortune all over me. I was scared how my friends will feel when they encounter such heavy sadness. How uncomfortable they will be in my presence? What do you say to someone so unfortunate who lost both her parents 9 days apart? What would I say to such a person? Sean suggested I simply say an honest ‘thank you’ when people give their condolences. I parked my car at the parking lot and slowly walked towards the building, still nervous to see my coworkers. I had left the building one day with my world intact. Within a month, I was returning as a broken woman with part of my universe destroyed. The overwhelming response from my colleagues, however, when they saw me at the branch was “I am so glad to have you back.”

I also got a few hugs (we are all fully vaccinated). Some friends did not bring up my loss at all. They sat with me, talked to me and by their presence they let me know they were holding me up. Some asked if I was OK. I was honest in my response. I am not ok but I will get there.

It has been good to be back doing what I love doing. There have been times at work when I felt normal, I felt like I am doing well, I am on the path to healing (which I believe I am) and then there have been moments when a wave of grief has plummeted me to the bottom of the ocean and stomped on me viciously. I have talked myself through it. Read the book jacket, ask a customer who looks lost if s/he/they need any help, breathe.

Today a friend at work asked how I was doing, how I was holding up. It seemed he really wanted to know so I told him. I have hours of normalcy, acceptance and then moments of intense despair. He understood. He said if anything gets too much, jot him a line, he will take over. That was big. The knowledge that someone will take over if I can not hold it together now.

I work with simply the best people.

An unhappy birthday


I was dreading my birthday this year. But it came anyway like any other day. I woke up at 4:00 am, filled my travel coffee mug and started the car at 4:30 am to take Ryan to his swim practice. Once Ryan went in to swim, I sat in my car watching the sun slowly lighten up the world. This was my first birthday without my parents and this is the first of however many birthdays I have left that I will spend without them. The irony is, I had planned to celebrate my big 50 with them last year.

Once I came home, I got a call from Breshpati and Khushi. They sang a lovely rendition of “happy birthday” to me. Breshpati said ma always sent a pujo in my name on my birthday so she is continuing the tradition and on her behalf, she sent a pujo for me to wish me well in life. Gouri called me to ask my permission to do a pujo for my parents in the house – if I had no objection. I was so touched by these gestures. These women, who are not related to me by blood, were more than my sisters who are acting solely out of love for my parents and me. I am sad to have lost my parents and feel totally unlucky and unhappy right now but I also acknowledge the blessings of love that have touched me from all corners of life. They will sustain me, I am sure, once this feeling of heaviness subsides.

Cleansing.


Since my ma and baba got sick and eventually died, I woke up every morning with a debilitating sadness. I have never, ever felt such heaviness of heart in my life. Well, I have never, ever lost both my parents 9 days apart before this either.

After ma died, I needed to do something that I thought would bring peace to her. I took the help of my friend to organize a puja at our local Kali temple for peace. When baba died 9 days later, I simply added his name to the temple along with ma. One puja for two kind of a deal.

But then I had my doubts. Baba was a spiritual man, not religious. Ma did love her Kali thakur but did not do any sort of puja at home. Was I doing the right thing? Is this what they would have liked? Since I never participated in a puja since a young adult, I was oddly frustrated on the morning of the ritual.

As we walked into the temple, we heard the melodious voice of the priest conducting a puja from a distance. The voice, intoning Sanskrit shlokas, as well as the quiet ambience, the calming smell of flowers and incense sticks soothed my frayed nerves. The shanti puja for ma and baba was next. A very elderly priest approached us asking my name and informing us he will be conducting the puja.

“It is for your mother, right?”

“For both my mother and father. I lost them both to Covid.”

“Oh ho,” he said as he walked away and got busy arranging the puja necessities.

Before he started the rituals and the mantras he turned to us and explained the purpose of the ritual. And only then did the whole process start becoming meaningful. Beautiful even.

He said, “Visualize the electric gadgets in your house without electricity. You have your television, your refrigerator, your microwave but nothing works because there is no power. Similarly, when someone dies the body is present with all its details. The power or the soul departs. Our job today is to free the soul from this dimension so it can merge with God, Almighty, the universe, water or whatever you believe. We come from water and we go back to water.” The word Narayana, he explained is home of water – Nara is water, ayan is home. As he intoned mantras in Sanskrit calling on the major rivers of the world to accept the souls of my parents, tears finally flowed freely down my face. I released my parents to wherever they will find eternal peace while I live the days allotted to me with their love and memories in my heart.

Since the shanti pujo, I have found some respite. I now understand why ritual is important for humans. I came back with the priest’s words of comfort. He said “Some priests ask for beds and bedding, they ask for food and sweets, clothes and thousand other worldly materials. But what use are those materials for a departed soul? You, as a daughter, are freeing them to be one with the universe. That act of release is for your shanti and for their shanti. Go home in peace, light a candle in front of their photos, and if you can, meditate.”

During the entire car ride home I let the tears flow. Never once did I wipe the tears off my face. That cleansing brought some relief to my soul. Once upon a time, ma, baba gently let go of my hand to help me find my path in this world. But they remained as my safety net, always. On the day of shanti puja, I felt they gently released my hand yet again and urged me to make my way in a world without them. They knew I could do it. They had raised me strong enough to make it on my own, without their help.

Now I have their love and memories as my safety net. Those will have to see me through.

Stigma


I feel compelled to write this blog to showcase what not to do when a family is in trouble and someone is dying of Covid.

My parents lived in an apartment building which has its own association and its president, secretary, treasurer as well as other office holders. Baba held some official position for a while and then retired from it. However, since he was a mechanical engineer, if any repair needed to be done, the technician always wanted to consult with him. For the most part, he was a respected member of the association.

That all changed when both he and my mother contacted Covid 19. While my parents were in the hospital and were fighting for their lives, the secretary of the building called up Gouri and Mashi, the two household helps and yelled at them that they will die of Covid. He prohibited them from leaving the apartment. When they fearfully relayed the conversation to me, I suggested they isolate themselves and get everything delivered, which they were doing anyway. The secretary’s concern was valid as both the women were exposed to the virus. Gouri went to the terrace to water the plants, I asked her to stop going to the terrace. The plants were watered by the guards.

Ma died after 5 days in the hospital. Baba came home after spending 12 days there. But he needed oxygen cylinders and bipap machine. I contacted someone who works in Kolkata police to preempt any trouble before baba came home. I had heard horror stories of recovering Covid patients being barred from entering their own homes due to fear of contamination. She suggested we bring baba home in a car instead of an ambulance for a show of normalcy. That is what we did.

But at home his oxygen saturation level dropped significantly and he needed constant supply of oxygen. The secretary of the building association tried to prevent the oxygen delivery men from delivering oxygen to our apartment in 5th floor. Gouri screamed at the guards and they let the delivery men pass.

The hospital brother could not find a heartbeat in Baba on the day he died. My cousins desperately tried to find a doctor to check him. When a doctor was found to write the death certificate, the security guards refused to let the doctor go up without the permission of the secretary. Again, Gouri screamed at them and took the doctor to our apartment. By this time Gouri and mashi were in isolation for more than 17 days.

After baba’s death, I asked a friend to arrange for a Covid test for the two women. A technician came home, collected sample and the result came to be negative. My friend sent me and Gouri the negative report. The secretary was told about this negative result. He said he does not believe the test was done properly and he would not let Gouri and Mashi out of the apartment till June 7th. Ma and baba started showing symptoms on May 2nd. So June 7th would be more than a month that the two women will be in isolation despite a negative covid test. The secretary is causing such trouble for our bereaved family because he is afraid and also because he can terrorize two women who can not stand up to him. When the municipality workers came to take baba’s body for cremation, he did not allow them to use the elevator. Instead they had to carry his body down 5 flight of stairs. If he is afraid of the virus, (and he should be) this was a dumb move because the elevator could have been easily sanitized, instead baba’s body traversed the 5 flights of the common area. If the virus was spreading after 17 days of his sickness, it would spread in the common area instead of being contained in the elevator which could be fumigated and sanitized.

All the bedding, pillows, baba’s clothes have been thrown away. Our whole apartment was sanitized by the Kolkata Municipality at quite a steep price paid by me. I am happy to do it for the good health of all. We want to be part of the solution, not the problem. However, the inhumanity of the secretary and the security guards of that apartment building has appalled me. While dealing with the death of both of my parents, I had to address the bullying of a few frightened individuals of two very frightened and sad women.

This unkind behavior is scum in the sea of kindness that I have experienced in our ordeal but I wrote about it to appeal to all to please be guided by science and practice empathy for people who are suffering from Covid. Please do not propagate the stigma. You never know who will breathe in this virus next.