Cumulative kindness


A friend asked me how I dealt with this double tragedy of losing my parents within a span of 9 days of each other right when it happened. Did the kindness of your family and friends help you recover, she asked. I thought about those horrific days when I sat on the couch completely numb, catatonic even. For a short time, I did not want to live anymore. The kindness of others did not even touch me at that point. When I look back, although looking back is very painful, I feel like I was so completely submerged in profound grief, I was beyond anyone’s touch. I felt my family around me hugging, crying, doing things for me but I was simply an observer of their action. Friends and community poured their love and affection but if I am honest, at that time, I was simply acting the way that I was supposed to act – saying thank you, smiling.

Slowly with time, I felt like I was emerging gradually from the quagmire of deep, heavy, suffocating grief. I read a friend’s post on social media, who lost his mother 7 days before I did that he was going to live his life to the fullest because that truly is the last and most precious gift that his mother gave him. He would honor and cherish that gift by being the best that he can be. That struck a chord. My life is truly their gift to me and I can honor that gift by being the best that I can be. It was then that I started looking around. And I found the acts of kindness and love all around me.

From the love of my friends to the many acts of kindness of my coworkers, my community, my cousins, my aunt – I lived in a universe of kindness. I was so immersed in my loss that I failed to feel the warmth of all the love. It was almost a selfish act. Almost, I say since I am determined to be kind to myself. From words of love to food, from taking my shifts at work to sending plants and flowers, from financial donations for Covid help in India in my parents’ memory to cards from all over the world. Prayers were said in several countries in the world by Sean’s colleagues in churches, mosques and temples for my parents’ soul and our peace. All the cumulative kindness of my community of friends and family became this huge cushion of comfort for me to rest my head. I have already written a blog about how my coworkers donated money to engrave 2 paver stones in memory of my parents in the garden of our library. I eat my lunch there these days and I go to see them during my breaks. Yesterday, I was having lunch with a dear friend near their paving stones when she said, “I have something for you.” It was not my birthday! Why would there be something for me? She gave me a gift bag with a tissue wrapped gift. When I opened the tissue paper, my jaw dropped. It was the most exquisite shawl knitted by her with all my favorite colors. She started knitting the shawl for me in June, just after my parents died.

I cried, of course. And then laughed. I went over to the paver stones to show ma and baba the shawl. I told them not to worry about me. I am loved and cared for. And now I am looking around and cherishing it.

Baba’s humor.


This morning as I was talking to the girls staying in our house in Kolkata, Gouri and Breshpati, I heard a story that I had not heard before. Today is the day baba died 2 months ago and today was a good day to laugh out loud at his wicked sense of humor as well as his robust appetite and love for food, especially fish and meat.

I have written before that Khushi was the apple of his eye and both ma and baba were truly invested in helping her grow up with all opportunities that they were able to provide. Ma took care of her studies, I take care of funding her education and baba took care of investing financially for her future. One day when baba, Khushi and Breshpati went to the bank to either manage her account or put money in her account, the banker helping them asked baba, “Sir, do you own a restaurant? If you do, where is it?”

Baba was, understandably, taken aback at this random question. The banker clarified his query as he saw baba’s surprised face. He said that several fish sellers come to that bank to deposit big checks written to them by baba and so he wondered if baba owned a restaurant which needed all that fish. Baba laughed, turned to Khushi and said, “Didi, show this kaku (uncle) where our restaurant is.” He then patted his own big tummy and Khushi’s little tummy. He said, “Here! This is our restaurant.”

Breshpati came home and told ma this story. Ma commented, “Did you also tell the man that I live with a mad man? Mad for food!”

As I heard the story, I could visualize baba responding to the question without batting an eyelid. I laughed so hard till I had tears in my eyes.

Sitting on the sideline.


The loss in my life has changed me. How could it not? Even in April of 2021, I was a woman leading a normal life – parenting, working, spending time with my partner, talking to my parents, counting days to see them. India was blowing up but ma and baba never stepped out of the house. They were staying safe, right? Wrong! Despite all their precautions, despite one vaccine, Covid killed both of them. All at once, life threw me a curveball and I was left devastated. Death is an absolute truth and I have reached an age where death of parents was imminent but the cruelty of the universe in causing the death of both my parents left me shaken to the core. As I rebuild myself and learn to live again with the gaping void in my life, I am discovering new lessons about grief, about the whole process of mourning. I was somewhat aware of the different stages of grief journey and I was mindful when I passed through them. I am going towards acceptance as I write this. The journey, however, is not at all linear. I take a step forward one day only to take 2 steps back the next. But I am on the path and that is good.

As I see life go on around me, I often feel I am sitting on the sidelines alone with my grief. The world is moving on in its orbit and I am sitting at the periphery watching it go by. I am unable to join in just yet. I get up tentatively and sit back down again. The zest for life is absent and the grieving process is so lonely. No one can possibly understand except perhaps if I had a sibling.

I tell myself I am one of many since the beginning of time to experience such trauma and like many others I will come out of it. Not unscathed and yes, changed but I will get up from the sidelines and join in. But right now, nothing and no one has stopped for my grief except myself. And such is life.

Shopping


After many, many months I went shopping today. Alone, at least physically. Yet I felt the presence of this one excited woman by my side who loved to shop and often threatened to disown me due to my hatred for shopping. During her visits to America, going to the mall or Walmart or Kohl’s or Target was her favorite outing. And much to baba’s chagrin, she bought the whole of Walmart to take back to Kolkata as gifts for people. Her gift giving was legendary. She bought for her extended family, the helpers in her house, their children, the woman who did her facial – literally her whole universe got gifts from her when she returned from any trip. The weight of their luggage drove baba crazy! To keep their luggage under control, she often left some of her clothes behind. She said, “Dite bhalo laage.” (I love to give).

We did not have money in my childhood. We could only afford to buy new clothes during Durga puja or Bengali new year. I still remember the joy in ma as she flitted from one shop to the other in Gariahat market with an unwilling me in tow bargaining for the best price with shopkeepers when we had money to buy new clothes. Somehow she managed to have enough money to buy books though, year round. As I got older and as shopping malls sprouted in Kolkata, she did go to them. But it was evident air conditioned stores with neatly piled ware were out of her comfort zone, where salesmen and women referred to her as “madam” with cool professional demeanor. She missed the “na boudi, ki bolchen? Eto kom e ki kore debo?” ( no sister-in-law, how can I lower the price that much) of bustling and hot Gariahat market.

Busy Walmart or Target gave her immense joy as opposed to Ann Taylor or Banana Republic. Yet as I walked around the mall today peeking into those stores, I remembered her. She would have loved it.

I have planted flowers in their memory as well as for my own peace. I planted a red geranium the day after she died and I call it my “obstinate ma plant”. I love it very much and keep a close eye on it. But gardening was not her thing. She liked to look at flowers, sure, but she loved material things more. She liked to buy things, not just for herself but for others, mainly for others. My house is full of knick knacks that she got for us from places she went. My closet is full of kurtis and sarees she bought for me. I remembered her as I walked the mall. I had vowed that I would draw the line at going shopping to please her soul because I detest it, I crossed that line. And as I thought of it, I smiled under my mask. That obstinate woman is still getting her way, even after death.

Searching for


It is not a secret that I am searching for peace. It is not a secret that I am searching for the essence of my parents around me. People tell me they will always be alive in your memory and I will feel their presence but I don’t though. I try to feel their presence, I close my eyes and think of them, I think of my memories – both happy and sad and I come up empty. I sometimes feel a sense of calm but that feeling is so transient. I shudder to think that one day their memory may dim. I do not want that to happen. I still can not believe my 2 closest people suddenly stopped existing – at the same time.

Yet in a morbid way, I think this is for the best. If I think unselfishly, their gentle death was a boon in disguise. Both got a very bad case of the virus. Their brain got affected and their lungs. Even if they survived the virus, what would have been their quality of life? And if one survived and the other did not, how would they have coped? It is better that they went gently. It is better that they went together. If they had to go, that is.

I think of all these good thoughts yet I keep searching.

The Word


Lately I have been often angry. I internalize the anger so as not to lash out on my loved ones but I need a target to release this emotion. So I use words to express the harshness of what happened. Ma and baba DIED! I find that verb harsh and merciless. The word ‘died’ sounds cruel, ultimate and absolute. While talking or thinking about their death, I don’t say ‘they passed, I say they died. The word ‘passed’ is too kind, too gentle, too passive. It does not emote the feeling that is inside my heart. I am angry that they died and by using the cruel word I feel vindicated.

Their death was gentle, for that I am immensely grateful. Sean and I often discussed how we would care for them when their needs increased. I surmised I would leave my job and spend months with them in India. Sean wanted to bring them here but we both knew we could not afford their medical care in this country and then there was the issue of immigration hurdles. So we decided I would move in with them for months when the time came. But baba still liked to do things himself. He felt he was needed by being in charge of their bills, health care. It gave his life meaning when he could manage their affairs. That is who he was. He was a manager – at work and in life.

Ma did not learn to do any of it. She always joked she would please like to go first so she did not have to deal with any bill paying or paper work. And she did! She was relatively in better health than him so I always thought I would lose him first but nope! The obstinate lady got what she wanted. After her death, I did chuckle and tell the family “Well, this is what she wanted – to go before him. She got her wish.”

I never thought I would lose them both at the same time. And the unfairness of it all makes me so angry sometimes.

Reemergence


This fight against Covid was closest I have come to being in a war. There were no loud guns or tanks around me. There were, however, death, mayhem, suffering, desperation, helplessness. My entire being was engaged in figuring out how to avert crisis, how to procure help in a war like situation in Kolkata, how to communicate, how to arrange, how to keep my ma and baba breathing. I stopped eating and sleeping for many days. I was functioning and sharp when it came to making decisions about their health care but everything else around me fell by the wayside. My partner took over the running of my family in this part of the world while all my ammunitions were engaged to save my parents in the other side of the earth.

Despite all that, I failed. After their death, I was numb with pain and my brain, which had worked over time during this horrific ordeal, was tired and non functional. I had trouble making simplest of decisions for a while. I still have trouble focusing and I simply look at the books on my bookshelf but never pick one up. But Sean took good care of everything around here so I could focus on what was important at the time. Of late, I have slowly started engaging with the world again. It truly seemed like I was drowning. And just recently, I feel I am slowly emerging from a quagmire of sorrow and despair.

However, today at work I realized my brain has not completely shed all of the cob web from my recent bereavement. I am generally good at problem solving and figuring out solutions. Today, though, I got a phone call from a customer whose account was somewhat messed up and needed some detective work. While analyzing the problem, I thought I should be able to straighten it out yet my brain completely shut down while trying to find a solution. I called our customer service supervisor to solve the issue, which she did in a minute. Much to my surprise, I did not call myself an idiot. I acknowledged, instead, that I need time to be where I was before my “normal” was rudely disrupted and I will give myself that time. I am determined to nurse myself back to health. Self love is an important step in rebuilding and re-emergence. I will never be the same but I will learn to live with the void. It will take time and I will give myself that time.

He gave me hope…


And just like that he has been gone for one month. And just like that one month will turn to two and then a year.

Baba had a zest for life. Although his knee hurt and then his hip, his hands shook and his pace maker had to make sure his ticker was ticking at the right speed, he never gave up his love for life. He got bored, sure, but then he found ways to stay engaged. He loved to read conspiracy theories and expounded on those with an impatient me and more patient Sahana. When Ryan was with him, the two of them egged each other on about who could bring up the craziest conspiracy theories. He loved martial art movies and especially Bruce Lee. And he loved cricket. He found the funniest posts on social media and reposted them. Then he liked his own posts, always! He learnt the basics of photoshopping and made collages and was mighty proud of them. He was always eager to learn new things, go to new places and try new dishes. Most of all he loved to eat and he loved to feed people. I can not believe I am writing about baba in past tense.

Since he loved to live, he gave Covid a valiant fight. He held on for 9 days after ma was gone. In fact, the nurse who took care of him was convinced he will get better. His vitals were improving and although his lungs were shot the doctors thought his chances of survival were over 70%. They warned me recovery would take time and there was a long fight ahead of us but he would, most likely, make it. He gave me hope.

In fact, I went to bed somewhat happy on the night before he died because his vitals were really good. Sahana had called him that day and he was so excited to talk to her that the nurse had to intervene. He knew Sahana was graduating from college and he wanted the link of her virtual ceremony so he could watch it. When Ryan came on to the camera to say hello to him, his face lit up even when he was strapped to oxygen.

He fought hard against Covid and many of us were his trusted soldiers. So many of us fought to keep him alive but we lost. This deadly virus ravaged this man’s body whose zest for life kept him going as far as will power could go.

I did not see my ma’s dead body but I saw baba’s face after his death. And I have to remove that face from my mind’s eye to see his regular, living, smiling face. Every morning I sit in front of both their gorgeous photos for a while before I start my day. In the photo, he has a smirk. I like to embed that smirk in my brain to remove the vision of his lifeless face. I also see so much of him, his big eyes, his mouth, his sense of humor, his love for food, his love for animals in his grandson. It is wonderful that he left this imprint for me.

Death certificates


It still seems unreal as I write authorization letters to people to collect death certificates for both my parents. “I here by authorize _______ to collect death certificate of my deceased mother and father……”

Those have not been collected yet and that is giving me anxiety because I need those to prove to the world that my parents are dead. As if it is not enough that when I land in Kolkata airport, two eager faces will never, ever greet me again. As if it is not enough that no one will gently stroke my arm when she sees me for the first time after many months with a smile so huge that her face could not contain it. As if it is not enough that no one will go outside the chaos of an international airport in India to call the driver of the car to come and pick us up and when everyone is safely in the car, pass us bottled water and bars of Fruit and Nut Cadbury chocolate. As if it is not enough that I, a non tea drinker, will never, ever, sit in the living room with them sipping tea for companionship and talking about life. As if it is not enough that someone will never go to the fish market and tell the fish monger that his daughter is home and he needs to buy the freshest catch. As if it is not enough that all the messages, all the video calls, all the show of love and affection came to a sudden halt. As if it is not enough that I walk among the flowers in the morning trying to believe that their energy is now merged with the universe but still can not convince myself. As if it is not enough that I constantly ask “why” and never find an answer.

The “goods” in the week of June 7th.


This week was a difficult one. There were times when I experienced some I-can’t-breathe moments. I wondered if I could write the “goods” blog this week since nothing seemed really good. However, when I dug deep this is what I found:

One of the donors in Sean’s organization had written us a kind note committing financial help towards efforts in fighting Covid in India. This week, I was told, they have donated $50,000 to help India fight Covid in my parents’ memory. That money is going towards PPE and to health centers in rural areas of India where need is also great.

Another Foundation Board member of Sean’s organization had special mass said for my parents in their church.

Ryan exceeded our expectation in his final report card for his sophomore year. This year was hard with online school. He said he felt unmotivated and struggled a bit. However, he worked hard towards the end and brought up his GPA significantly.

Sahana started working at a library in their outreach program as well as Starbucks. She brings us free drinks and coffee.

My cousin sister is a great cook and we are eating very well. I cherish her companionship and our shared memories of growing up together.

Right after I wrote the blog about my obstinate ma plant, it started blooming. I guess ma’s alter ego, the geranium plant, was done with my questioning and complaining . She decided to bloom again.

A friend first talked about dead heading in her garden. I had no idea what she was talking about till she explained that it was getting rid of dead leaves and flowers from plants to enhance growth. I am diligently dead heading my plants and I do see the difference in their blooms.

My coworker gave me a lovely container pot of cilantro, tomato and basil. The plants all look vibrant and happy. They are ready to be harvested and I am thinking of recipes.

We went to the movie theater after ages to watch In The Heights.

I have been craving to be near water. On Saturday we went to see the great falls. Standing in front of such power humbled me. I searched for my parents’ energy in the power of the falls. We come from water and we go back to water.

I have started reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramhansa Yogananda. Since I am of little faith, I do not believe in the miracles or rather, I am having trouble believing in the miracles he writes about however, I do like the footnotes where the meaning of Aum etc are explained. It talks about the power of good wishes and I believe in that.

Sahana downloaded an app for meditation on my phone. I intend to try.

Going back to work has been a blessing. At work I can pretend my life is normal. And I lose myself in completing my work. I feel like I have lost my joy but that is ok for now. I enjoy being in the company of my coworkers, I love helping customers and I enjoy doing background work and research for my classes.

Every morning I step out to say good morning to my plants with my coffee cup.

When I list my “goods” I see my blessings in a week that was not very uplifting and that is one of the “goods” itself. I hope you all have peace, happiness and blessings.