So much beauty outside and so much sorrow within

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After many weeks and months of agony that life seems to have become I decided to take a vacation. The last time I tried to take a break just a month after, it was an emotional disaster. My grief was so raw and intense that I hardly remember anything.

Now after close to six months, I took a break and found that not much has changed. The pain is as intense as it was then, the only difference is that I’ve learned to hide it better in the company of others.

I came prepared. My only goal from this trip was to see my little boy have fun with the other kids in the group. The fleeting moments of joy  came from seeing him laugh and shriek with happiness . That itself made the trip worth it. As for myself I was just very tired of being at work and being at home falling into the dark abyss of her absence.

It was by no means going to be easy and I knew it well. Coming on this trip with other couples and families, seeing this place full of more of the same – happy families and couples enjoying and living the life we once had. Every time I saw a couple walking hand in hand it reminded me of us, of how much I had lost.

I have countless memories of such trips. She packed so many of these into our twelve years together that they have become like jewels in the beautiful necklace that was our life. Everything reminds me of her here – the beautifully done rooms, the two chairs in the sit out, the misty rain in the mornings, the elaborate meals and specially the desserts.

She would ensure we had so much fun on vacations that we would be almost heart broken when it was time to go back. She would build it up in the weeks before – talking about where we were going, how much fun it would be, what we were going to see, where we would stay.. Everything.

And when we were there, it was even better. Looking back I realize how much happiness she emanated just by her presence. Today everything exists but she’s not around and that makes everything appear worthless. I don’t seem to care if I’m here or when I’ll go back. It doesn’t seem to matter.

The hotel room, the bonfires, the food, they scream at me reminding me of my loneliness. I walk the beautifully laid out paths and run into other couples enjoying each others company and the pain exacerbates. They seem to be living our life, the one I can’t have back.

As I said, I have learned to manage the pain and yet it still feels very raw, as painful it was in the first few weeks. I defy the pain and it defies any pleasure that comes my way. There is simply none in anything – not in the beautiful mornings here or the fresh forest air or the sumptuous food, simply no happiness or contentment in anything.

It cannot be because I have to accept that the loss is too great. The very foundation of my life is gone. And yet in the middle of this sorrow there is a satisfaction that our Son is happy being here. I know how much that meant to her. She wanted to hold his hand and show him all the beautiful sights that this world offers. She lived every moment of this dream when she was around.

I can never forget her words “there’s so much more to see, so much more to do”. It reverberates in my mind when I’m feeling down. I owe it to her to find meaning in a life without her. I feel lost, heart broken and filled with sorrow. Sometimes every step is painful and yet I know I have to carry the pain and keep moving forward.

I cannot say I’m missing her a lot today because I was missing her a lot yesterday too. I have so many things to tell her, I walk the beautiful paths here thinking about her and hoping she’s listening to my thoughts, I see her everywhere – in the misty rain, in the flowers, in the fresh breeze, in the wilderness around. I believe she’s with me and always will be though I would have really wanted her to be actually here with us.

How do you get over something like this? I’m told that life goes on and it does for everyone else because no one can feel her absence as much as I do. She was so alive that even after all these months there seems to be a defiance in me to believe she’s gone. Maybe it’s her way of saying “I’m still with you”.

“I wonder if that’s just how it feels to miss someone so bad – like being stabbed in the gut a little bit, each time you think of them.”
― Kate Ellison, Notes from Ghost Town

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Talking about ‘it’

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I have experienced this many times with several people over the course of last few months and I wonder why that is. I believe that grief makes everyone awkward. People are afraid that they will mention the loss and make it worse for the Griever.

Sometimes people don’t want to have anything to do with such dark things like pain and sorrow. They want to gloss over it till you get over it. Either way it worsens something which is already so mind numbingly painful.

Nothing can hurt more than not hearing about the person you have loved so hard and for so long. How can death transform someone so gregarious and full of life into someone who’s become like a white elephant in the room. Everyone is thinking about it but no one wants to talk about it.

It’s not like I will start thinking about the loss only when people mention it when in reality I think about it and I think about her all the time. Of course I’m talking about the people who I think are close enough to discuss this. I will obviously not want to discuss such things with someone I run into for the first time.

Many times I’m so grief stricken and all people want to talk about are ‘things’. But those ‘things’ don’t mean anything to me anymore. What use is it to me when I have lost the person I did those things for. I have to deal with that first. I find that pretense makes everyone around me more comfortable, that is everyone but me and I’m the one whose life as I knew it has pretty much ended. It doesn’t make any sense.

I was never comfortable with pretending – acting like I’m ok when I’m clearly not. I might not be wailing hysterically but I live in deep pain day in and day out and I’m dealing with it the best I can. I have never experienced this kind of pain, never knew it even existed but I bear it everyday.

Through these blog posts over a hundred now in a space of five extremely difficult months, I have laid it all out, I have bared my soul because that’s the only way I knew of dealing with it. I haven’t disguised my thoughts and feelings, I  never needed to. What more did I have to lose after what I’ve already lost?

When help came, it came from unexpected quarters and I’m ever so grateful for the people who made the effort to make me feel better. It must have required courage on their part to reach out and find me but they did it anyway.

I have also found much needed comfort in the blogs that I read of other people like myself who have been forced onto this path. I may not have known them personally but there’s an unexplained kinship of traveling together and sharing our experiences – the tears, the heartbreaks and the mountain we attempt to climb each day.

We are all alone fighting our own demons, missing the person we love so much and trying to keep all the pieces that are left of us together. Much of this battle is fought in isolation and deafening silence that loss brings about. We are alone and yet we are together because we walk through the same valley of sorrow and grief. Our suffering unites us in this journey.

“They say when you are missing someone that they are probably feeling the same, but I don’t think it’s possible for you to miss me as much as I’m missing you right now”
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Lighthouse

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I am bound by routines these days, my life outside is extremely predictable as I wake up , get my son ready for school, go to work, come back home – all more or less at the same exact time each day.  It helps keep life moving even though I know I’m just going through the motions.

On my outside, I appear to be coping with what is left of my life. However on the inside a storm rages. The long shadows of our wonderful past permeate everything. It’s like I’m sitting in a darkened theater seeing my life roll by. I catch glimpses of the beautiful life we  shared, the countless vacations we took.

The past screams at me exerting it’s pull. I know as long as I live, the past will stay with me and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s one of the few things I got left. When you go through so much pain day in and day out, your perspective changes. I’m no longer worried by day to day things like traffic, career, money. I would say it’s a positive.

I have started on a personal quest of what is meaningful in my life. What is it that can help me reconnect with her? Is it honoring her by living life in the way she would have wanted, is it bringing up our Son and instilling in him the values she cherished, is it continuing and nurturing the relationships that she had formed with so many people or is it traveling and seeing everything this world has to offer that was so much her dream.

Maybe it’s all these things and many more. It’s not easy to find answers when your heart is heavy and the mind is clouded. But I do experience brief periods of clear headedness and it makes me think about what to do to come out of this quagmire.

I don’t like being in this place because it is so removed from what our life together was. I detest the silence, the unending sadness that seems to hover above. I know it will not be like I wake up one fine morning and find sunlight streaming through the darkness. Grief is a journey to nowhere because you never arrive though you travel all the time. I’m conscious of that.

I see my little boy and think about how much I’ve to learn from him. He lives in the moment, laughs, jokes, plays with his friends, and talks excitedly about his upcoming birthday. He is like any other six year old boy full of fun and laughter. I cannot be more grateful for his presence in my life. I would have had no reason to continue without him.

When unbearable sorrow pulls me down, his laughter dispels the darkness. I never forget that she lives on through him. He has the same eyes, the same sense of fun and easy laughter. As I see him grow up a little each day, I cannot help marvel how much he is like his mom.

I know if he is happy, she would be too and I would be content in the knowledge that I didn’t let her down. This thought helps me keep inching forward on this path. While our little boat hops and heaves on the choppy waters of life , I see her as a lighthouse. I follow the light to wherever it takes me.

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”
H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Hard days and nights

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Days and nights interchange in the eternal dance of life and with it my journey continues – mostly difficult but at times easing up briefly before it comes back to remind the path I’m on. Sometimes I’m expecting it and at other times I’m just unnerved by the surge of emotions.

Last few days I was in a two day long business workshop and it seemed to help take my mind off. For two days I learned and worked with others, joined them for elaborate lunches and generally felt like I belonged. The team I was part of even managed to top the quizzes. I can’t say I can ever forget but at least I was able to push my fragile emotional state to the back of my mind.

But as expected it didn’t last outside those rooms. I looked forward to getting home early for a change and then it hit me all over again reminding me harshly how raw my emotions still are. I might be able to succeed in keeping them in check for longer periods of time but when they hit me, it’s as hard as the initial few days and weeks.

I’ve learned to ride out these waves and go with them to wherever they take me. I realize that while I feel an entire lifetime has passed, in reality it’s been just five months. It’s too short a time to process the enormity of the loss. In that sense, I’m still discovering many layers beneath her absence as time passes.

I’m also in no hurry to do something meaningful with my life. I’m content to do what it takes to survive and no more. I don’t need to run when I can barely walk. In the aftermath of everything, I’ve kept things moving. I have been able to show up each day and it’s enough for now.

I struggle with the loneliness and get tired of making decisions without having her around to discuss our life. I forget, mess up and have to start again without having her chide me about it. I miss arguing things with her just for the sake of arguing knowing well I’m not going to win the argument.

As I go about my day, there are her memories at every instant. It’s impossible to escape them, you can only go through them. Coming back home remains the most difficult part. Some days it helps when I get home and I’m physically tired so I can just sleep without thoughts bothering me much but on other days it’s just too raw and unbearable.

I know I will have many such days and nights. It’s just that you think you are ready, that you have been there and felt what it’s like that you get reminded that each time the experience is different. Maybe someday it will ease up and not hurt so much. It’s all a part of this journey but I know the one thing that will always remain is the emptiness and the longing for what could have been.

“There is the solitude of suffering, when you go through darkness that is lonely, intense, and terrible. Words become powerless to express your pain; what others hear from your words is so distant and different from what you are actually suffering.” John O’Donohue

Silent hours

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Sometimes much of life is lived in disguise. You might put up a
brave front and show up for life every day, but it’s when you are by yourself with no tasks to finish, you realize the intensity of your emotions. Rest of the world can assume you have been doing well and they do because it’s only you in the ring fighting this monster called grief.

There are hours and spaces you cannot fill. Your mind wanders, the past looms large and the present recedes into nothingness. The sounds of life dissolve into an eeire silence as if someone just turned down the volume. It’s a space between the two worlds – what was and what is. You are neither there nor here.

I travel the years in both directions but in no particular order – a few years here, a few there. Sometimes we are young, sometimes old. Sometimes I live the years we have lived and sometimes I live the years we never got to live. I play life forward and backwards.

I believe these moments are important for me. I search for a path during such moments. During the day when I’m working or attending to other responsibilities, I’m in the present but I’m not moving, I’m stationary. I do what needs to be done and nothing more. Mostly it’s enough and when it isn’t, I just don’t care enough to do anymore.

Life moves on somehow. I don’t know if this is my ‘new normal’ , I hope it’s not because nothing seems normal about it. I miss having someone to talk to, I have so much to say but the person I want to tell all of this isn’t around. I keep thinking about ‘being there for each other’ and what does it mean now.

On the positive side, I’ve rediscovered my passion for writing and I want to learn everything that is there to know about it. I like to think I’m a writer because I write and it has kept me company in the toughest months of my life. When I had nowhere left to go, I turned to it like an old friend.

Whenever I catch myself getting lost in the depths of pain, I start writing and it somehow pulls me back. In the years we were together  I never had to fill my hours. Life was so full that even doing nothing provided pleasure. I never had to think about what to do with my life as I was too busy living it.

Things are never going to be the same again. In my loneliness, all the fears of facing life and it’s reality have amplified. I wonder if I’ll make something of this life, I wonder if life is still worth anything, I wonder if the pieces that are left of me will stay together, I wonder if life will be worth living again..

“At the temple there is a poem called “Loss” carved into the stone. It has three words, but the poet has scratched them out. You cannot read loss, only feel it.”
― Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha

The Mirage

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It’s said that to overcome fear you should do the things you fear. I have been trying to live by this adage. I went out to lunch yesterday with my little boy – just the two of us and plenty of memories of the woman we both love and adore.

We went to one of our favorite restaurants and I don’t know if it was just a coincidence, we even got seated at the same table where we’ve enjoyed many precious moments in the past. I wasn’t sad or forlorn but just wanted to enjoy the time with my son and keep her memories close.

Sometimes in this journey you get tired of the persistent sadness and at least for that moment I didn’t want to take grief out for lunch. Maybe long sips of my favorite cocktail -the long Island iced tea helped me along. Whatever it may be, I really wanted to make an effort to relax.

So I immersed myself in a puzzle my son was trying to figure out – finding countries in a word maze. Between the sips of my drink and the long looks at the empty chair next to me, I somehow managed to discover little pearls of happiness – Happiness at seeing my little boy revel in the moment as he figured out ‘Australia’, happiness at the fact that I had something still left inside me after all, happiness at the realization that I’m not giving up, not yet.

I saw her rolling her eyes  at the size of my drink and saying “look at you”. When she said that it meant she was happy to see me enjoy the moment, it meant I was living life in the way that made sense to her. It meant the over thinking, mess of a person that I am had come around to her way of life.

It was a brief moment but it was significant because it’s probably the first time in the last five months when I have experienced the warmth of her love without it overflowing through my eyes. I harbor no illusions for I well know how treacherous this path is – one moment of respite and then days and weeks of darkness.

In that moment I felt an unexplained connection. I felt that we were still together ,that we were still connected across the ocean of unknown that separates us. In that moment she wasn’t watching over us but was with us. Of course it didn’t last, if only it was this easy.

And then I was back in the world where I have lost her. The chair next to me was still empty. The excruciating pain, the longing and the literal stabs in the heart made their familiar presence known again. But for once I didn’t mind it. I could live with the pain having defied it briefly.

“I miss her & not the type of missing when you’re alone, not the type when you’re broken down half drunk, not even the type when you know she’s the one. I’m talking about the kind of missing that when you’re full of happiness…you wish they were there to enjoy it. I don’t care if we’re not together, I don’t care if I never see her again. All that I will every know is I’m here smiling & I know how much she’d like to see that.”
― Brandon Villasenor, I Can’t Stop Drinking About You

Nowhere left to go

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I wonder what I should do on long weekends. I can stay at home, let grief overpower me or I can go out with my son or on my own and see if that helps. I miss her so much, her presence, her chatter, everything. It just becomes worse on holidays.

I’ve been trying to live alone, it’s the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do. When we spent weeks and months in the hospital, I used to crave for a normal life. Today my life is no longer hijacked by doctors and hospitals but I’ve paid the ultimate price.

All the things I used to crave for do not provide any pleasure now for I can’t share them with her. I’m trying to learn to live with this pain, it’s the only path ahead of me. These five months have been so difficult that I wonder how long I can sustain this constant agony.

And yet, I know I have to live for my son who has suffered such a massive setback so early in his life. I have to make things better for him. We walk this  long and difficult path together. Both of us need each other more than ever before.

Last year at the same time we found ourselves in the hospital. I was under intense shock and disbelief. A year on I’ve the same feelings again. I think about her life and the way she lived every moment full of hope and happiness regardless of the circumstances. But then I’m not her, never was, I’m much frail.

If there is some progress I’ve made over the last few months, it’s the fact that I can keep the pain at bay for longer periods. I’m able to drown myself in work and it helps sometimes. Though once it’s over and I’m outside office hours, the pain hits with a vengeance.

I play this hide and seek with my grief. Someone asked me when do I ‘reenter life’. I don’t think it’s the right question, for it means I’ve left life briefly and can enter it again someday. I haven’t left life, the life I knew has ended and it’s not coming back. So how can I reenter something which doesn’t even exist anymore?

I need to rebuild a new life from scratch. I cannot do this without her. Our relationship hasn’t ended just because she’s not here. We’ve just started again in a much different form. It will take time to find peace again but I know I will find it in her and not outside of her.
Sometimes life brings you to a place from which there is nowhere left to go. It’s in such a place that new beginnings are made.

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”
― Stephen King, Different Seasons

The fog of yesterday

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There are some dates in your life that you cannot forget. Aug 12th is one such day for me. It all started today or maybe it all ended. My memory of every instance of that day is clear, it’s engraved into my consciousness . It’s one year to the date since she got diagnosed with Leukemia. Our life as we knew it ended on this day.

It’s futile to recount what happened that day. In any case, I did summon the courage to write about it some time back. I can’t say it all came back today because it all comes back too many times to keep a count. Given the distance and perspective a year creates, my thoughts turned to everything that happened after that day to bring me to the present moment.

And with it came the panic, the unbridled emotions and the crushing sense of loss. None of it is good when it comes in the middle of a work day filled with meetings. Towards the evening, I went for a walk and realized it must have been around the same time that I heard those chilling words from the Dr. The wind howled, the skies grayed and I walked.

I think about how much I have lost – so much that there seems nothing to lose anymore. Today she’s been gone for 5 months. I haven’t seen her and yet I see her all the time. I know I have lost her and yet I seem to have held her close. I haven’t heard her voice and yet I hear her all the time. She’s nowhere and yet she’s everywhere.

I know every year I will dread this date and many others. They collectively seem to have stolen my life. I can’t stop them from coming around again even though I have got nothing more to lose now. I have power over nothing. I never had, I’m just realizing it now.

I also think it could have been just another day, a date lost in the normalcy of our old life. I wouldn’t have to begrudge this date, I could look back and not even remember what I did that day like so many others. If only this day could slide down my memory like raindrops on the window pane.

But in reality it was like a tornado that came out of nowhere tearing apart every truth or belief that I held. It changed the course of our life putting us on a path where eventually I became the lone journeyman. It all feels so unbelievable even now, for so many things to go wrong at the same time to create that fateful instance.

What could have been had this day not happened never came to pass. The day came and went and with it went the life and dreams that we had for ourselves. Today after a year, one in which nothing was left standing, I searched for that elusive moment of peace. I wanted to close my eyes, take a deep breath and just wish the day away.

“If only they could listen with their hearts & not their minds, maybe then they would understand that often times it’s the emotions not spoken that are longing to be heard.”
― Christine Upton

The place within

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I try to keep busy thinking work can be a distraction and help me keep sane. I hate to work in such a wrecked mental state but I don’t have an option. Given a choice I would like to take few months off and do nothing.

But sometimes it helps to get up and have meaningless tasks to accomplish even though it’s mentally exhausting to keep your emotions in check through the day. By the time you finish and come home its like returning to an abyss.

Dinner time at home used to be the most favorite part of the day for me. It was a time to catch up with life outside work. Loneliness really gets hold of me now on the return commute and stays thru the night. By the time weekends come around, I’m almost looking forward to it though they often are similar – Too much time by myself to reflect and bear the burden of grief.

You think how can life go on in the midst of such intense grief but then that’s how difficult life is sometimes, the world doesn’t stop moving and though it has lost much of its meaning for me , I’m still connected it. I try to stumble along with the pieces that are left of me.

I dream about the days gone by, I still cannot believe I have lost her and I’m on my own now. My path has diverged from most. While they go along worrying about career, money and other trappings, I worry about survival. I don’t know what it takes to come out of this or if there is any way out of this place. I feel fear – fear of getting lost, not making it, falling into the abyss.

If there was a way to switch places with her, I would do that in a heartbeat. But there is none, I have to walk this path without her. I wonder how it will be many years from now – so much time would have gone by without her. People would have moved on, the world would be a different place.

She won’t be there as I will get to forty and beyond. Instead of growing old together, it will be just me getting old. She will stay young in pictures, the way I saw her always – smiling and vibrant. Pictures don’t grow old, they are moments that are locked in time. The click of the camera freezes a moment in time – the instance locked into eternity.

I think about my little boy, will he remember the warm protective embrace of his mom. Will he remember the hours of fun and laughter, will he remember the delicious aroma of cakes she used to bake just for him, will he remember the clothes she so lovingly bought for him, will he remember the movies and vacations she took him to – Will he remember his mom.

I want him to remember always, I don’t want him to ever forget the times he has spent with her. Fate might have cheated on us but I stand in the way, I am the bridge between the past and the present. I connect everything that is lost to everything that remains. I have been witness to the life before and the life after. I have traveled both worlds. I live because I have to keep her alive.

“If we can write or sing or create in some way, even when we are dealing with difficulties or pain, then it becomes something bigger than ourselves — and often beautiful.”

Traveling memories

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Every picture that I have of her or us has a precious memory behind it. They bring back moments in time that I had no idea I remembered but thinking back to those wonderful days in my present loneliness brings back every strand of memory alive.

I won’t say it’s painful because how can times we spent together be painful. The hurt and devastation is felt in the present precisely because I have no way of creating new memories with her. It’s like the final chapter in the book has been written.

Traveling to new places and seeing more of this beautiful world was her life long passion and I’m glad I could indulge her on this. Someday soon I will try and catalog all the places we visited both at home and abroad with the dates. It was our Bucket list to revisit some of our favorite places when we got old.

Though we have visited many iconic cities and touristy places, my favorite memories are of the smaller cities where we spent the best years of our lives. Even during what became her final few months, she was recounting these days, particularly her favorite restaurants. She could even remember the names and the dishes!

I don’t think without her insatiable enthusiasm to travel and see new places, I would have ever seen anything on my own. We even visited a red Indian settlement that she found on the Internet and bought some beautiful handcrafted decorative stuff. She would always come up with these little known places to visit.

With her , a vacation trip was just around the corner. There’s a long weekend coming up later this month and I was trying to take Nishu somewhere but most of the places seem already booked. I had almost a brief moment where I wanted to call her and ask where should we be going. It’s the realization that is the most painful.

Vacations and trips are going to be different now. I realize it’s going to be painful for me but I want to continue the tradition that she started. I want our Son to have the same enthusiasm and love for life like his mom. And for that, I have to make the effort to get him to see the world.

So yesterday when I was looking at places we could go, some of the nearby forest safaris, I remembered her telling me about these. Some we already visited and some we had left for tomorrow which never came. I initially resisted going anywhere because I was afraid of the memories I will be lashed with. But then I thought, if I have to be miserable, I will try and be miserable some place else.

I wish I could let her handle my life like she used to, I wish I would just be told which days to take off and leave the rest to her, I wish we would be sitting under the stars and talking precisely nothing, I wish I wouldn’t have to bother ordering food at a restaurant, I wish I could leave my packing to her, I wish we were going someplace together again.

I know we won’t be making new memories but every trip, every memory I make with my son in this life’s journey will have her presence in it because I know we just can’t do without her.

“These memories sustained him, but not so easily. Too often they reminded him of where he was when he last summoned them. They lay on the far side of a great divide in time, as significant as B.C. and A.D. Before prison, before the war, before the sight of a corpse became a banality.”
― Ian McEwan, Atonement