Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Of ordinary days and milestones

It was the date when Columbine happened, it was the date 168 people died in a plane crash, it was Hitler's birthday, the anniversary of the day 76 perished in a fire in Waco, Texas, the date of the Oklahama City bombing...it was also just an ordinary day which some celebrated and others mourned.

Joan Didion in "The Year of Magical Thinking", her memoir of the year following the death of her husband, writes about life changing in an instant on an ordinary day.

It was an ordinary day for us too. Typical English weather - a light drizzle from a murky sky. Saturday. The weekend. The boys didn't want to have their hair cut so he went to the barber alone. He was being teased at work for letting his hair grow 'Einstein-ian'. I had my own agenda; a glass shelf that had broken during our last move had to be replaced. On that ordinary day, we did ordinary things.

That night, events happened and our lives were forever divided into a before and after. The day marked, here on forward, to be mourned.

When it had just happened, I kept saying everyone should know when they are going to die. After all, it is the only certainty in life. That way we would live more meaningfully and the ones we would leave behind would be better prepared for this eventuality. Or so I thought at the time. But having carried death on my shoulder for the past year, I have realized that it is too heavy a burden. That is why we relegate the certainty of death to the corner of our minds, living each day with the hubris of time eternal.

About the time of death, our scriptures say :

Tith vaar na jogi jaane

Rut maah na koi

Jo karta shrishti ko saaje

Aape jaane soi

Which roughly translates to:

Even the yogi does not know the date or day

No one knows the season or month

The one who made the world

Only He knows

Only He knows and this was the day He chose. So here we stand at another series of milestones - this was the day he died, this was the day he was cremated, this was the day his ashes were immersed in the Southern confluence...the days, dates, milestones pile up and I wonder why we mark them. Do we think of him more on these days and less on the others?

Actually, it is not the remembering that marks the day but the reality. On those other days it is easier to fool oneself into thinking it never happened...to pretend that it is just an ordinary day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

In memory of Shekhar Visvanath 21/08/1962 -19/04/2008

Today it is exactly a year since my husband passed away. I have been counting days to no purpose. From today every reference point for a memory with him will be more than a year old.

Geographically and chronologically, our sons and I have come what seems a long way but in many other ways we're still where we were, as we sat huddled in my bed on the night of April 19, 2008 - stunned, anguished, uncomprehending while our world crashed around us.

That night, like us, his shoes, half drunk glass of Diet Coke, jacket and briefcase waited for his return. Today all we have are his touch, his words, his pictures, his smell trapped in most things that surround us...it's hard not to expect him to just walk cheerfully through the door with familiar footsteps and callouts. Despite knowing better, we wait, holding our breaths...like the pause button has been pressed on our lives.

The memory of the time immediately after is harsh but fragmented - trying to coax his unresponsive body to breathe, watching helplessly as the Emergency Medical Team worked on his heart, begging to be allowed to accompany him, refused, following the flashing lights of the silent ambulance to hospital in our neighbour's car, the voice of the nurse as she said, "We're sorry...", begging again, the dreaded phonecalls at an unearthly hour, the sleeping angel in a ruffled collared paper gown in hospital, the encounter in the Chapel of Rest - where his swollen, refrigerated body waited for a funeral, prayers for the body in a coffin carried on the shoulders of friends and family, the coffin rolling into a flaming oven, the acrid smell of burning, a big man reduced to ashes that fit in a shoe-sized box...

The boys and I came to India, stripped of everything we knew to be certain. It has been a struggle to regroup, rebuild and reshape our lives around the giant void he left behind. It's easier to get through each day believing that this is transient and we will soon go "home" - that is and has always been where he is.

The boys have now moved to the next year in their new school. They are coping with their shattered hopes, dreams and expectations in the best way they can, with a constant eye on me and how I am doing. It is a heavy burden for their young shoulders... I am blessed that everyday, I get to see him live and breathe through them.

I have spent the most part of this past year mopping up the detritus of our lives across three countries. Still much remains undone. To not feel overwhelmed, I continue to chip away in small measures - one moment, one hour, one day at a time...

Since April 19, 2008, all our milestones have been silent salutes to him - without colour, celebration or joy. Maybe, someday the hunger for life will return. Someday the words that will better express this sanitized version of our journey of grief will come too. Till then we will wait, leaking emotions, just wanting to go "home".

This is for all the friends, family and angels who have helped and supported us through this difficult time. We couldn't have gotten this far without you. We are humbled, honoured and blessed to have you walk with us...walk a little longer; this journey is too hard to undertake alone. But tread softly while my angel sleeps...the rest is silence.