Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Turning tears into wine

It is a recurring dream. Shekhar comes back. He’s happy, vital and full of beans, like he never left. He does not speak or explain his absence but I am overcome by an overwhelming need to account for myself during the time he was gone. I invariably wake from the dream with an inexplicable anger. How dare he? Then the anger turns inward, how and why dare I?

I began by counting minutes… then hours, days, weeks, months and now, it is years. At first, it was about how many days he had been gone. Now, it is about how many days I have survived…

When you marry young and your relationship is strong…it leads to integration, a growing together into one amorphous whole…then, when one is lost, it is not the death of the other but the death of the self as you know it. But you are not dead… just broken, numb and unaware. Fragments remain, you reassemble them like a puzzle with missing pieces…

It is not easy when you no longer look over your shoulder, seeking permission, approval and support from the other. This one is on you and you alone. Time accumulates. You don’t quite realise when it happened but you made yourself without the other and now you stand on your own – you wear the scars of your journey with a humble pride and dignified responsibility. It is like the Japanese art of kintsugi or golden repair, which treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. At some point in time, you understand that you have to stop picking on healing scars to make them wounds that bleed again and let the puzzle of your history shine in golden repair, missing pieces and all. That is what grief has done to me…every thing, every experience has become a metaphor for my journey.

The Headmaster at the boys’ school called me in soon after Shekhar passed away. He wanted to discuss how I would like the school administration, faculty and students to handle the bereavement. I had no clue. All I could do was sob. He was compassionate and sensitive as he spoke. Then he said something that has stayed with me ever since. He held out his open hand, “Now, there’s just the three of you. You are the family.” He closed his hand into a tight fist and showed it to me, “You have to be like this.” I walked out of his office, emotionally overwrought but somewhat reassured by the concrete message and direction. I could do that.

I had been allocated a driver and a car that first week. Bob was dignified and non-intrusive, a quiet and concerned presence. He let me cry unashamedly and watched over me as he drove me around the ruins of my world. As he helped me with unloading flowers for the funeral, he gently said, “After this, you should take the boys and go away for a holiday somewhere. Get away for a bit.” I looked at him as if he was insane to even suggest it although subconsciously that was exactly what I wanted to do…escape. I couldn’t do that.

It took three years for both messages to coalesce for me. I made a commitment then to take one holiday a year with the boys. Just the three of us…our family. Now, five such holidays later, I am truly grateful for the advice. They have been amazing and extremely bonding experiences and as the boys have grown, very rewarding too.

Travel brings its own insights. I realised that when I resisted the waves, the sea slapped me but when I let go, I rose and fell with each wave…softly cradled and carried. When we moved from one place to another, we stayed in rooms where others had stayed before us and yet others would come when we left. Someone else had slept in the same bed, had the same food, probably done the same things and had similar experiences…fellow travellers separated by time. For me, travel reiterated the message of transience, of impermanence…the fact that we were visitors not residents…

Before we dove to the depths of the sea for the first time on our most recent holiday, we were taught to ‘equalize’ the air pressure in our ears as we went deeper. To stop for a beat and prepare for the next step of the journey…In that silent space, all I could hear was my breathing. There was no thought, only presence. It made me realise that I could not be in two places in one moment…In that world below and in the one above it at the same time…It was not a staggering leap of logic…if I am grieving, I am not being…if I am being, I cannot grieve…It made me understand the message in the recurring dream…Shekhar does not want me to account for myself but to make my life count…

The year is new, as I ‘equalize,’ I am looking ahead and not over my shoulder. I do dare. Shekhar may have departed but I have arrived…for the time being.


It is a fierce heavy feeling, thinking something is expected of you but you don’t know what exactly it is.

Bob Dylan

Lie still, lie still, my breaking heart. My silent heart, lie still and break; Life, and the world, and mine own self, are changed…

Christina Rosetti

What if in your dream you went to Heaven, and there plucked a strange and beautiful flower, and what if when you awoke, you had the flower in your hand?

Samuel Taylor Coleridge