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.

The obstinate ma plant.


Ma died on what was Mother’s day in my part of the world, May 9th. It was morning of May 10th in India. I had wished her “Happy Mother’s Day, Ma” for the last time that morning and she also wished me back happy Mother’s day from her hospital bed. Then she closed her eyes saying she was staying at her sister’s place for a while and she will go home in a few days. Those were our last words to each other. She fell asleep thinking she was at her sister’s house and never woke up.

Next day I planted a small geranium plant in my freshly weeded flower bed in her memory. I think back now on my mental state on that day and all I remember is a numbness and a desire to cultivate life. I planted that little sapling which had vibrant red flowers – a gift from Sahana on Mother’s day. After ma’s death and while we fought for baba’s life, I often sat next to the little plant and felt ma’s energy within me. In the next few days, I asked Sahana to buy whichever plants she wanted and bring them home. She bought some beautiful perennials and annuals and I planted them indiscriminately, almost feverishly. Gardening became a physical need in those days. Baba was still alive and the doctors were giving me hope. So while I planted my garden, I held on to positive thoughts – I will have one parent. I will have someone to go home to. But nine days later, he packed up and followed her as well while I was left with my flowers.

While my other flowers bloomed, the ma flower (I had come to call the geranium ma plant or didiya plant) shed all its flowers and became bare. The leaves are still alive and green but it does not have a single bloom. I ask it sometimes what it’s plan is. Why won’t it give us flowers any more?  Sahana says “Didiya is just being obstinate or she got a hair cut.” We both laugh.

Ma was never into nature. She liked a pretty flower or green grass just fine but her joys were books and shopping. When they visited us in USA, baba sat outside looking at lush green and blue sky. He had a stillness about him that attracted bunnies and birds. Sage sat with him and kept him company. Ma on the other hand puttered around the house, cooked Indian food, played with the kids and gossiped with me. She loved when I bought salmon and when I took her to Target, Kohl’s or the mall. She went down to the basement and read my Bengali books, a collection which she helped me build up. She read those books several times while she stayed with us for months. She revisited her old friends, her favorite authors again and again.

It almost seems like  ma is sending me a message through her non blooming alter ego, ma plant. She is telling me “Enough with all this gardening, get back to books, hit the stores, buy something nice.” Okay, obstinate woman, I will get back to books. I have not been able to read anything since I seem to gloss over life and words right now, but I will try to get back to reading. I draw a line when it comes to shopping though. I can not do it. I will not do it. I will just look at the glossy leaves of the obstinate ma plant instead of vibrant red flowers but I will still not hit the stores!

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.

I have leaned on you.


I have shared my grief in public. I have not grieved silently in a corner. I have written blogs about my feelings and shared on WordPress as well as social media. I wondered why I was so public about it and I realized that while writing has been a release, sharing has been my way of wailing, keening, beating my chest, telling the universe I am in so much pain. Sharing my grief has been my coping mechanism. While I could not grieve with my extended family due to the global pandemic, I have grieved virtually with all of you.

And you have allowed me to lean on you. You have held me up by your condolences, your tears, your words, your cards, gift of plants, flowers and gifts of nourishment. You have allowed me to take time off work to take care of myself. I thank you all for stroking my back as I let my wailing take wings. Perhaps my sorrow has tainted parts of your universe but you have allowed it.

Thank you for being there. Thank you for holding me up.

Feed the hungry


During a tearful conversation about my parents on a video call this morning, Breshpati (Khushi’s mother) reminded me what ma often said when death was a remote eventuality, not a harsh reality as it is today. She said to us “When I die don’t do any rituals, just feed some hungry people in my memory.” I had completely forgotten her wish as I live through this haze of pain. Breshpati’s words brought back the memory of what she wished for. Both ma and baba started an NGO to help the under privileged about 10 years back. They went to villages, orphanages, schools for poor children and under funded senior living facilities with clothes and food. They ran this initiative for years till Covid stopped them.

Feeding the poor would, of course, be their wish. So Breshpati and Gouri talked among themselves about doing just that once Covid came under control. The two women decided that they will go to Bharat Shevashram and feed hungry children in memory of ma and baba. I, with the help from a friend, am arranging for a shanti pujo (a religious ceremony for the peace of their souls) in our local Kali temple thinking that would bring peace. But would it? And peace for who really? How could I forget what she wanted me to do after her death? I heard her words but must not have paid attention thinking we are far away from that scenario – death. Huh!

Coincidentally, my coworkers donated money to UNICEF and Care India to help fight Covid in ma and baba’s memory. I shed some tears at their thoughtfulness. One of Sean’s donors, pledged money to his organization for Covid help in India in their memory as well. I shed tears of gratitude. This is what would bring peace to them – feeding the hungry, helping the sick and maybe, just maybe a ritual Shanti puja in front of ma’s favorite – the fiery goddess Kali.

And after the pujo, I will donate to our local food bank.