Death is like a bulldozer. It pummels and pounds you leaving bruises and scars in its wake. Some never heal from the wounds it inflicts.
The loss of a loved one is life’s most stressful event and can cause a major emotional crisis. After the death of someone you love, you experience bereavement, which literally means “to be deprived by death.”
This is my story of death – the tidal wave of grief it unleashed and the end result of my personal transformation.
I took the advice of Joyce Hocker in Psychology Today. She advises the power of writing to heal. When:
the purpose of writing is to process the permanent loss of a beloved other, writing can heal the gaping identity wound of a loss.
My mother died on a Sunday. It was during the auspicious month of Purtassi, a time of strict vegetarian practice observed by Tamil speaking Indians.
The song is ended but the melody lingers on…
BREAK IN TRADITION
It was also the day homage is paid to Mother Saraswathi, the goddess of education.
Traditionally, a sweet treat is offered. Children also place their books at the shrine and the Om sign is written in honey on their tongues by a family elder.
We had always prayed together as a family on this day to Mother Saraswathi to guide us to success in all our academic endeavors.
The Sunday of her death, my mother broke this tradition. She prayed by herself.
Almost as if she was in a great hurry to be somewhere else and could not wait for us to join her in prayer.
Later, I discovered that the day of her death also marked the closing day of her Paduka prayer, where mantras are recited and flowers offered to the feet of the lord.
Looking back, it is almost as if my mother chose the day and time of her death.
My mother had been doing, that Sunday, what she had done a million times before. She had walked up a few rickety steps to the compost heap in the garden to feed it with her latest vegetable scraps.
Something went very wrong on her way down …. the simple act of putting these words on paper now is ripping my heart up afresh.
She must have tripped or missed her footing – whatever – she fell tragically to her death. Her injuries were so severe that death was immediate.
Ironically, her posture in death was the same as in life – one of a devotee prostrating before God.
That picture of her lying dead on the cold, concrete, cement floor will forever be rubber-stamped on my heart.
It sounds so simple to say that my life changed that day. My mother had been my anchor and now I found myself adrift in a turbulent sea far away from shore with no hope of rescue.
My mother’s body was escorted away from what had been her haven and refuge for nearly 47 years by the soothing chanting of the Gayathri Manthra.
A shroud of desolation and loneliness enveloped me. The words that taunted me were, ‘ What am I going to do now? How am I going to cope?’
But God in His infinite wisdom only gives us what He knows we can cope with.
How blessed I am to have such a wonderful support structure. Family and friends flocked to offer support and love during this time of grief.
In the midst of the busyness of rituals performed when a loved one dies and preparations for the funeral, my mother’s words rang repeatedly in my head, ‘ You must accept death. It’s a part of life. Instead, pray for the soul of the dead person. ’
COPING WITH LOSS
The road ahead, in the light of her wisdom, was clear. I resolved, difficult though it may be to bear the loss stoically.
My father, who had spent 53 years with my mother, now had to face life daily without her. He would need my help to cope with the lonely years ahead. My son, who was 11 at the time, would also need support especially since he had been very close to his grandmother.
For the first time, the functioning of my little family rested squarely on my shoulders where previously my mother had borne its weight.
My mother was a typical Tamil woman in dress and conduct. She would dress daily in a sari and took great pride in nurturing her family with her delicious curries.
I seek refuge often in my memories of her especially, when cooking.
I’m filled with regret that our times in the kitchen cutting, chopping and dicing together were so few. That I did not enjoy more of the simple pleasure this kind of togetherness brings.
For the rest of my life, I will miss her cooking and baking.
I have her recipe books with countless recipes written in her own handwriting.
But I yearn for her to stand beside me and show me step by step how to make her vegetarian burgers.
I long for her to tell me how she got that dark color to her eggless fruit cake without brandy.
Once more, I would like our home to smell of her special bread rolls.
Thoughts of her pancakes and chiffon-like orange cake make me salivate now.
Oh, and her parathas – soft and flaky – to be eaten hot with butter and sugar – divine!
The list of mouth-watering sweetmeats she made at Deepavali is long – soft, sticky, spongy Gulab Jamun, melt – in –the – mouth laddus and delicate polis assail my taste buds now as I recall them.
I try to honor my mother in my own small way by making some of these sweet treats. Each attempt, though, is etched in the pain of nostalgia.
My mother was also an accomplished knitter. Over the years, she knitted hundreds of items from bonnets and booties to jerseys and socks.
The knitting kept her arthritic fingers flexible. I hanker today for the sound of the clicking of her knitting needles.
But it is in her spiritual discipline that my mother was a giant. Between the hours of 4h00 and 6h00, she would pray and meditate to her guru Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.
This was followed by the reading of spiritual texts. She strived to implement spiritual values such as love, Kindness, forgiveness, and compassion in her daily life.
BEARING THE LOSS
An only child, my mother spoilt me. Unlike most Indian girls, I did not learn to cook at a young age. In fact, few demands were made of me in terms of household chores. My domestic skills were almost zero.
When I was diagnosed with an auto-immune illness, I relied even more on my mother.
My job as a high school English teacher was stressful and energy-sapping. I was always tired, so my mother did whatever she could to help me ease my life in my non – working hours.
Her master plan was to nurture and nourish me with food. It was the only way she knew to ease the burden of living with a chronic illness.
The learning curve, with her passing, was sharp and hard. But I’m pleased to say I survived it. In my most difficult moments, I feel her presence guiding me in the right direction, helping me to make the correct decision.
I found myself then, and still do, striving to emulate her – trying to be like her in all that I do. She set the bar high so I am a work in progress, especially in the spiritual arena.
I have learned to accept that my mother’s death was God’s will. Who am I to question Him?
I realize now that it was her will too.
Time has blunted the sharp sword of pain.
But the yearning to be in her physical presence again and to share with her the mundane minutiae of my life is always present.
Come back. Even as a shadow, even as a dream.
I thank God daily for gifting my mother to me!
Ma, what an absolute honor, it has been to be your daughter!
The path to emerge ok on the other side of grief involves denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance. And the agony is beyond the scope of any painkiller known to man.
Work was the therapy I needed to take my focus away from my loss and mourning.
I cannot tell you how cathartic the process of writing this article has been even though my loss took place nearly 10 years ago.
So, If you're in the throes of grief, start a journal to express your feelings. Pour out all your pent-up emotion onto the pages. Click To Tweet I guarantee you will be better for it.
Have you lost a loved one? What tips do you have to help with the healing process? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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