An indifferent life

image

Friday nights are often the loneliest because the work week is over and what used to be the unbridled joy of the weekend is now replaced by a numbness which alternates between pain and sometimes the utter lack of it.

I can’t say I’m sad and I know I’m certainly not happy, I’m just indifferent – indifferent to life and all its pleasures. I let myself feel what I feel and leave it at that. I don’t track my ‘progress’ for I have come to realize the futility of it.

This journey is anything but linear. I go a step forward then without even realizing it’s a few steps back and I’m all over the place. I have realized the important thing is to keep traveling, keep showing up for life no matter how you feel inside.

I am already into the season of firsts without her – her first birthday, our sons first birthday, the first holiday season, the first new years eve, and then a whole year with nothing but myself. And no one’s said the seconds will be any easier.

Sometimes I wish I lived near an ocean. I want to be still and listen to the sound of waves crashing against the rocks. I want the waves to sooth the pain within, wash away the dark residue. I want to walk with the soft sand slipping between my toes giving me a sensation of falling.

I think about the future and the absurdity of life. A lot about life just doesn’t make sense any more and yet some of it has started to make sense. The insignificance of day to day things we fret about stares me in the face.

Anything that can be exchanged for money is not to be worried about. All the money in the world can’t bring back the person you love. Money is important but it’s only a means to an end. Time is way more valuable than money. I read somewhere “give your children extra time not money”.

When we were fighting this battle in the hospital, I used to look out the window and see the world go by. It was the same world we had been part of for so long and how distant it seemed. I get the same feeling today.

If there is any positive out of this whole thing, it’s that I’m no longer afraid. I have seen the word “difficult” take on new meanings every day so much so that it doesn’t unnerve me anymore. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it all.

Life stretches out unknown out there and that’s OK, we don’t need to know everything. Sometimes not knowing what tomorrow brings helps deal with the darkness of today. It gives you hope that maybe it’s going to be different tomorrow.

I don’t intend to waste this life. I have to live for both of us. The love we shared is bigger than my Grief. I know I have a long way to go before I can arrive at a place of peace and acceptance but I’m prepared to take the pain to get there.

I wish I could just reach out and hold her hand. But maybe I don’t need to, she never left me. I just need to hold on to her and keep walking to wherever this path takes me. As they say the greatest journeys are the ones which bring you home.

“We fell in love, despite our differences, and once we did, something rare and beautiful was created. For me, love like that has only happened once, and that’s why every minute we spent together has been seared in my memory. I’ll never forget a single moment of it.”
― Nicholas Sparks, The Notebook

On Your Birthday

image

It’s your birthday today and you would have been thirty eight – just 2 years away from the big forty that you both anticipated and dreaded simultaneously . It’s also the first time in all our twelve years together that I won’t be seeing you let alone wishing you on your big day. It’s the first of many.

But here I’m after a little over six months wishing that you were here and we could spend this day together. In everyone’s imagination today is a very difficult day for me but then what do I say about every other day that I’ve spent without you and the lifetime I’ll be spending without you around.

I don’t know if yesterday was any less difficult than today or if tomorrow will be any easier. It’s all the same for me – the barrenness of days passing without you. In all these months I’ve spent so much time alone that I can now hear the echo of my own words. I hear you too – all the time, happy voices drifting from the past into this moment. They are like droplets of water on parched lips.

But today is not about me, it’s about you. I know how much you loved celebrating your birthday. You would remind me for weeks in advance as if I would have forgotten. I was happy to play along but know this that I never forgot. I might forget mine but never yours.

Our home phone wouldn’t stop ringing today and the messages just wouldn’t stop. For a person who remembered and called up every single person regardless of age or relationship on their birthdays and special days , such adulation was indeed fitting. Our usual birthday routine was picking up our little boy from school and going out for lunch followed by a small get together with friends and family in the evening.

Most times I would remember to get you a present. But I know you never attached much significance to material objects. You never wanted that latest smartphone or the expensive watch. For you it was the remembrance and the effort that counted. It took me some years to realize that.

Two things that you made an exception for was the food and a new dress. I would sit and read on my phone while you shopped – the amount of time it took, I could read volumes even at my turtle speed. I would always ask you how on earth it could take that long and you would promptly dismiss my question with that smile or roll of the eyes depending on your mood. In time I had the enlightenment that when it comes to women and shopping and you throw in a birthday, it’s a concoction that is not designed for questioning of any sort.

When you cut your birthday cake I would always get the first bite, then it was our son who got priority service and I came second and it tasted even better. He would always cut the cake with you sometimes little confused about whose birthday it was. After the party when everyone had gone, we would have a drink by ourselves and chat interspersed with late night calls from friends and family abroad.

The incredible person that you were, you made friends at the drop of a hat. I was looking at the birthday pictures from couple of years back. We had moved to a new city and it hadn’t been that long by the time your birthday came along. And yet, when I look closely the living room is filled with people and kids. There’s hardly a seat empty.

Then I remember the last birthday. It was such a difficult time, you had just been back home from another gruelling hospital stay. We had a quiet evening at home . I’m sorry I couldn’t get you a present. I thought I would make up for it the next time. I didn’t know then that there wouldn’t be a next time. I know it never mattered to you for we were together and you didn’t need anything else.

Today I have no words on how it feels to be without you. I have been so lonely that sometimes it feels like loneliness is a friend that keeps me company. I wanted to do something to honor your life today and I have done little things that you would have liked. In my own small way this blog that I write is for you, every word of it.

I know you wouldn’t be happy to see me sad but hope you would understand for you feel the pain of separation too. I have taken the day off and just like all those years I would go out for your birthday lunch. I might not have the strength to cut a cake this time but I will order a slice of your favorite chocolate cake for dessert and just like old times, our son will have the first bite.

Happy Birthday to you. As I always used to say “We’re in this together”. The battle hasn’t ended, it has begun and there’s no way I can go through this without you. Stay with me for I need you more than ever.

“Treasured in my heart you’ll stay, until we meet again some day.
Forever in this heart of mine, an everlasting bond, for now until the end of time, are memories so fond.
Those we love don’t go away, they walk beside us every day.
Unseen, unheard, but always near; still loved, still missed and very dear.”
– Anonymous

Late night memories

I’m still to find that one thing that can allow me to feel pleasure of any sort. I keep trying and I keep failing. The problem is my expectations connect back to my old life and my old self, both of which are gone. I keep trying to hold on to them but they have slipped through like sand grains in my palm.

I accepted an invitation to go to a late night movie with family and the moment the lights dimmed, I started regretting it. I hadn’t anticipated the surge of memories that would come rushing back.

There I was, lost in a sea of couples watching a late night romantic comedy exactly the type she would have enjoyed and I hated. But with her around I would have enjoyed her company more than the movie which I would have mostly slept through.

In the early years, we were going out to late night movies and dinners all the time. I had not revisited these memories of late but sitting in the darkened theatre, it all came back sharply into focus.

While everyone else around me laughed at the funny parts, I fought that familiar ache of missing someone, of constantly pining for someone who can’t be here anymore. It’s ironic that I came to escape my past and ended up back there.

I guess I know there’s no escape, I simply have to go through these experiences. The first time it always hurts so bad but you keep at it and slowly the pain gets replaced by a numbness that makes it bearable.

It hurt a lot because this was the first movie I watched without her. I have watched several with my son but those have been kid movies and my son’s excitement has made it bearable. But last night it was just me wondering what the heck I’m doing surrounded by hand holding couples and wondering where did my future vanish.

This journey is filled with moments like these. I sat there sleepwalking through the movie and remembering her laughter and the sparkle in her eyes. I miss them both so much everyday.

At the halfway break, I remembered the coffee and snacks that she would have asked me to get. The memories filled my heart with love and threatened to well up in my eyes.

There cannot be any escape from grief and that’s the way it should be for what worth is love when your heart won’t even ache when broken into a million pieces.

I remember the first time I went on a vacation without her and it hurt so much that I can’t even recall most of it. The next time I went it was still painful but I had learnt to expect the pain, the isolation.

I realize that’s how most life events will feel now – always covered with the cloud of wishing she was with me. The darkness threatens to engulf before easing out the next time you attempt to do the same thing. It will never be the same nor it should be for how can life be the same without life itself?

“That’s how you know you love someone, I guess, when you can’t experience anything without wishing the other person were there to see it, too.”
Kaui Hart Hemmings, The Descendants

The way we are

Last weekend I was watching the movie Kramer vs Kramer. It came out way back in 1980 but that’s besides the point.

It’s the story of a broken family, it doesn’t deal with death but divorce. The underlying theme is about the father and son who forge a beautiful and sensitive relationship in difficult circumstances.

It’s filled with endearing moments and daily struggles of a man living without his wife and a child without his mother. The role of men in most societies seems more or less stereotyped – be strong, be the breadwinner, keep your emotions to yourself and many more inanities like these.

I have always detested stereotypes be it a woman or a man. I tend to view every person including myself as an individual with their own characteristic personality traits.

And it’s these traits that come to the fore when faced with difficult times. People react differently based on the type of personalities they are.

But in general I believe when it comes to men and grief the road is that much more difficult. This is not to say that for women it gets any easier and in any case grief and loss and our reaction to it is a universal human trait.

It’s just that for men it’s much more difficult to engage a support system to help them work through their grief. I find it really hard to pick up the phone and talk to someone about this. It’s much more easier to write than talk about it.

Unconsciously this glass wall comes up around you isolating you even more. I suppose reaching out and building a support system comes more naturally to women. Men don’t tend to be listeners unless they find themselves in a similar position. Many of my close friends haven’t been in touch not because they don’t care but because it makes them awkward and they tend to withdraw fearing they might say something that might hurt.

When it comes to childcare it’s again a very different proposition. Our relationship was built on partnership and we were a team. She taught me how to take care of our son and whenever needed I could fill that role. But now with a full time job and crazy commute times, even if I want I cannot be there for my son during the day.

Going back to the movie, this is the conundrum that Dustin Hoffman’s character Ted faces. He even loses his job but he discovers in the end how much he loves caring for his son and his responsibility as a doting father. As he says so eloquently in the memorable courtroom scene, he is not a perfect parent but he’s learning all the time and doing the best he can.

As single mums or dads, this is the challenge we all face more so when also simultaneously battling the everlasting grief that comes with losing your soul mate. I know what it’s like to go out in a world that doesn’t know of this pain and work through days, weeks and months as if nothing ever happened.

It requires lot of courage and will power to just get through the day sometimes. It’s hard when a life ends within a life. It’s not easy to pick up the pieces of a broken heart and move on. But I know each of us on this path try. The timeless love that we have experienced guides us every day.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”
Lao Tzu

Music of the Soul

image

Empty evenings on weekends terrify me no ends. Grief happens in the midst of loneliness. Amongst people you are invariably forced to wear a mask but when you have only yourself for company, grief makes its presence known.

This evening I decided to invite music to keep me company. Thanks to some beautiful unplugged music available on YouTube (what would I do without technology!) I was able to relax and give my weary self a break. Music has the power to dissolve grief, make it more bearable.

I can’t put in adequate words how much I miss her. My world has taken a grey tinge without her. Both of us enjoyed music but our tastes differed much like our personalities. She loved peppy, upbeat numbers while I preferred easy, slow, soulful ones. On long drives, she would always dismiss my choice and promptly put on some loud, foot tapping music.

I sometimes think about how do you express your love for someone who is not physically here. When you have each other it’s fairly easy, you celebrate special days, give each other gifts, call each other and do many other things. But when you don’t have the person in front of you, what do you do?

When I started writing these blog posts, it was because that was one thing I thought I could do to express my love. Yes, I’ve mostly written about grief but it’s there because it’s also another form of love. Without love, grief wouldn’t exist.

There is sorrow, heartbreak and the ever graying cloud of loneliness because these are manifestations of an everlasting love that will always be there as long as I live. Losing her will always be the greatest regret of my life but being together has also been life’s greatest reward.

Destiny brought us together and it was destiny again that parted us at least physically. The why’s are as meaningless as the loss is. There is no closure to be had from a loss like this. I grieve for what was and what could have been. The emptiness of today has swallowed the dreams of the future and there’s no meaning to be found in that.

Her love was so much like the person she was – selfless, unconditional and without limits. She didn’t need to take the refuge of words like me for she could express that effortlessly in her beautiful smile and the million other things she did for us every single day.

I would always tell her “What would I do without you” and she would just smile and say “I know”. It was always the same answer to the same question. She fought so hard to be with us because she knew how lost we would be without her.

In these six months without her, I have often been close to going over, I’ve been on the edge but her strength has pulled me back every time. There are days, I feel like giving up as the pain unleashes it’s ruthless force . But then  I think about the love we had and the grief I have today and I hold it close. This life is not only mine but hers too.

“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride: I love you in this way because I do not know any other way of loving but this, in which there is no I or you, so intimate that your hand upon my chest is my hand, so intimate that when I fall asleep your eyes close.”
― Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets

Six Months On

image

Today marks six months I’ve been on this impossible journey. It feels like an eternity has passed since my life had a tinge of normalcy. The intense grief and pain I’ve felt hasn’t really subsided but it has become different. It feels like the great vacuum that her absence has created is slowly setting down permanently.

My day to day life is mundane and there’s no joy or pleasure to be had from anything. I don’t expect things to become any easier, in fact now that the emptiness seems to be becoming so much a part of my life, it will become even tougher. I continue to stick to routines so that I can put some kind of structure amongst the ruins.

This also marks a time when most have moved on with their lives and her life is slowly starting to recede into memories, pictures and remembrance. For me it’s all so vivid, I still feel so close to her and sometimes I feel like I can just go to the other room and see her watching TV or typing something into her macbook with a big smile on her pretty face. I suffer from confusion and disbelief, sometimes the enormity of the loss defies itself and pushes me into the crevice between the past and the present.

I struggle with being alone but I’m making genuine efforts to embrace that. It follows me wherever I go. I am grateful that my little boy keeps me company and saves me from total insanity. But when he is out with his friends or we are done with the day and I’ve put him to bed, that’s when I miss her the most. I miss being with her and listening to her endearing chatter.

It breaks my heart that we can’t share our life anymore. At work, I’m able to meet all my responsibilities and I put on a brave face and try to get on with it. I take breaks and go for solitary walks around the campus. I walk around towering buildings with shimmering glass facades, and I try to be still and hear the wind blow, the birds chirp, the sound of a truck that rolls by. In these moments I can literally feel the emptiness that has come to reside within me.

Life wasn’t supposed to become this hard but it has. I wasn’t counting on being on my own even before I’ve turned forty but I have. I wasn’t supposed to dread her upcoming birthday but I do. I know the coming months will not be any easier, I have to go through her birthday, our sons birthday, festivals and holidays all without her and that’s how it will be for the rest of my life.

I know I have to go on for her and our little boy. I owe it to her to live this life in a meaningful way. I just don’t have any answers right now, thinking about a future without her is completely unnerving so I try not to get ahead of myself. I just try to get through each day as best as I can. Sometimes that means working hard, sometimes just idling time away and sometimes just about breathing.

No one created a user manual for dealing with catastrophic events like this. I try to learn from others who are walking this difficult path. They are my inspiration and the only people who can truly understand what it feels like day in and day out. I follow so many blogs and I do read them all. They make me feel I’m not alone – there are others who are also making their life journeys. I wish you peace and courage – the two things all of us need the most.

“The worst part of holding the memories is not the pain. It’s the loneliness of it. Memories need to be shared.”
― Lois Lowry, The Giver

Alone in the Ring

image

It’s been a quiet weekend – lonesome and pensive. I took my son for the ninja turtles movie yesterday and he enjoyed it with his favorite cheese popcorn. He loves ninja turtles, I try to explain to him that the characters are named after the four great Renaissance painters but he isn’t interested, he just loves Mikey not Michaelangelo.

After the movie, we have lunch at McDonald. It’s so hard to evade memories of the days gone by. We have eaten together at this place so many times. And just like that out of nowhere my eyes well up and I  feel a lump catch my throat. I can hardly see as I look around until I stop at the advertising screen. It says “Relationships are forever”.

After lunch we head to the toy section. As we enter the store, a young volunteer stops me. I think she’s probably trying to sell me a credit card or something but she says it’s about collecting funds for a 17 year old boy suffering from blood cancer. I stand there transfixed, I imagine what it must be like for his family. I give her all the cash I have on me knowing well it’s not enough. Nothing can be ever enough.

In the evening, I feel the loneliness creeping back. The light is falling outside and so are my spirits. My son has gone out to play with his friends and it’s just me and the house. I realize I haven’t watched TV in ages so I aimlessly flip the channels. I stop on one showing Rocky – the last one in the famous sequel.

The movie opens with Rocky waking up with his wife’s photo on the nightstand. It’s their anniversary, he visits her grave and puts fresh flowers. Bill Conti’s beautiful piano theme – “Alone in the ring” plays in the background. I must have seen this earlier but can’t remember. I feel every emotion that Rocky is supposed to be feeling onscreen. The only thing – this is not a movie, it’s real and I’m living it.

I watch the movie with my little boy who throws lots of punches midway as we both cheer for Rocky Balboa. I have trouble sleeping so I switch on my Kindle and start reading. I’ve just started reading ‘This star won’t go out”-about a sixteen year old girl with cancer. Her life was short but full of meaning. I find uncanny parallels between her inspiring life and my wife’s.

What is it with cancer destroying beautiful young lives? I must have read countless stories of wonderful people full of life and happiness being ultimately consumed by this disease. Why does cancer go after people so full of life? It destroys their physical self but can’t touch their towering spirits. And yet, that’s not enough to keep them here.

I think about life and death, loss and grief. My wife was never much into writing but her life’s story is full of wit, humor, laughter and an irresistible zest for life. And so is Esther’s in the book I’m reading. This amazing girl wanted to be a writer and what a privilege to be reading the only book she wrote – created from her journals, emails, letters and blogs. She was indeed a gifted writer.

I also think about the grief her family and friends must be feeling. They must have frequented the same cold, dark and lonely place that I find myself in. I know death is as real as life is and it comes to all but it’s when a life is cut short leaving behind unfulfilled dreams, it hurts the most.

It hurts that life cannot go on like it used to, it hurts that anniversaries and birthdays will be spent in an emotional turmoil than in warm company, it hurts that there’s no meaning to be found and it hurts that togetherness has been replaced with remembrance.

And yet, life goes on amongst the pain and the tears. My little boy woke up all cheerful, full of energy and wanting a reenactment of the knockout punch. I’m still trying to get up from the one life has given me.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place It will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you’re hit, it is about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much can you take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!- Rocky Balboa”

Lonely parenting

image

Being a single parent is hard. Not only because there is no one to share the chores but because there’s no one to tell you if you are getting it right. If you forget something, there’s no one who calls and reminds you. When you are trying to be both mom and a dad it’s tough.

There’s so much I’ve learned in the last few months about parenting. In fact it’s one thing that I still feel good about, it’s the one thing that I derive some pleasure from. I’ve withdrawn from almost every other interest I had because it just doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.

Eve when she was in the hospital, she was the one calling the shots- keeping tabs on things and taking care of us even from the hospital bed. As always I was updating her on how I’m managing and asking for her advice. She was always my go to person in good times and bad times.

Being on my own, I often get scared if I’m taking care of my son properly, am I missing something?  should I be doing something more? Unfortunately I can’t ask her these questions. I have to rely on my own self to get by.

I guess I would be doing a lot better had I not have had to deal with my grief. But then adversity comes in packages like this – single parent and a loss to deal with at the same time making everything monumentally difficult.

Like everything else she was so good at being a mom that I more or less remained in the background as far as daily activities of our son were concerned. She had incredible energy and passion for life and she ensured she filled his life with the same.

I’m a much different person and could never match the pace at which she led her life. But I’ve been learning on the job, making notes, creating lists, keeping things organized and somehow getting by in the midst of my own sorrow and loneliness.

Sometimes I feel guilty I’m unable to give the amount of time my little boy needs. I have a full time job and I’m unable to spend more than an hour or two with him on the weekdays. If I had the financial means, I would have simply quit and taken care of him full time.

I feel extremely bitter he is having to go through this at such a tender age. He doesn’t say it often but I know how much he misses his Mom. She meant the world to him. Both of them used to have so much fun together – playing, going to movies and living it up. Whenever work tired or frustrated me, I was always content in the knowledge that the two of them were having a good time.

From here on, how life shapes up for us, I  do not know. I know no matter how difficult it is, I need to keep going for my son. He’s already lost too much and I don’t want it to overshadow the only childhood that he will ever have.

I also do not want this catastrophe to define our life though I know it will never be the same without her. It’s a journey trying to find some meaning amongst the ruins of a life we both created together.

I get random moments of positivity and hope only to be followed by crashing lows. Daily life seems to oscillate between the two extremes all the time. I struggle most with loneliness and it’s the type of intense loneliness that no amount of people can fill. The only way seems to be to embrace it and not defy it.

And so it is that I continue on this journey – bruised and battered but still alive and hopeful to someday reach a stage of acceptance and peace. It seems too distant and often what we are searching outside is to be found within. Sometimes there is no destination but only the promise of travel.

“There is nothing that moves a loving father’s soul quite like his child’s cry.”
― Joni Eareckson Tada

A Slow Burning Candle

image

When things become hard as they often do, I ask myself “How does one go on”, “How does life go on” and yet oblivious to what I think or feel, life does go on. It’s coming up close to six months and the realization is almost like a shock wave.

Time was supposed to stop, how did all these days and nights go by? I should know because I know well how difficult they have been. So difficult that I’ve been thrown completely out of step with rest of the world. I fight a battle to survive each day.

They say it becomes easier with time. I don’t know about that as I’m not yet there. But I can say it’s become different, the pain seems to be transforming into a slow burning candle which flares up several times during the day. I do not believe in moving on, it’s just a meaningless phrase.

But I do believe in learning to live with the pain and I’ve been trying to do that each day. Believing is still a problem, it’s all so vivid in memory – our life together, the endless chatter of a busy daily life. One moment here and then gone – a lifetime of hope and dreams withered away in an instant.

There are some people who live their life with so much passion and energy that even in death they continue to live. It’s almost impossible to imagine that they are gone because everyone and everything they touched is still here. I walk around our house surrounded by remnants of a life lived and sometimes I just can’t get my head around it.

In the initial days and weeks coming back home after work was exceptionally difficult. Now it’s more like an emotional exhaustion rather than belief. In time, maybe this reality will harden itself into belief. Maybe this is the nature of grief – to take different shapes and forms with time.

I do think about whys and if there is any meaning to all that seems so meaningless. What I have read about why the good die young doesn’t resonate with me. The central theme seems to be that we suffer because it’s the only way a soul grows. There is some substance in that but I would like to believe we are not designed to find out everything and I leave it at that.

In any case, even if I knew about some grand plan behind all of this, what difference would it make, it wouldn’t make me miss her any less. So while I read with an open mind, I do realize it’s not going to make me feel any better.

I try to make lists all the time – books to read, movies to watch, activities for my son, places to visit. It reminds me of all that she lived for. I get inundated by loneliness and I need to have these lists handy to allow me some form of escape from reality. I didn’t intend to run my life by lists but that’s what it has become these days.

I realize what made our life together so enjoyable was the companionship. I may not have realized it or wouldn’t have told her but I looked forward to being with her every single day. It was the high point of my existence. Today I struggle with loneliness so much because there’s no one who can fill my life in the way she could. I have to live with that.

“Love is stronger than death even though it can’t stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can’t separate people from love. It can’t take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death.” – Unknown