One month has passed since my father left us. The last three months- two months of his illness and then one month after his departure- have been the toughest in my life: and believe me, I have faced way more than my share of tough situations in life.
It is only when a parent passes away, that you realise that you have just lost the most precious possession you ever had. The deep void that settles in your life is unlike anything you ever experience, the grief- heart rending. Because after all, it is to your parents that you owe everything in life – including your life itself. It is they who teach you everything – starting with the first steps you take, to the first words you utter, to every value and belief that you posses. It is to them you owe every morsel of food you eat and the education that made you someone.
My mind has been reliving every wonderful moment with my father – the stories that he told, painstakingly ensuring that I understood and internalised the morals and messages he couched in them; the innumerable hours we (the four of us) spent together repairing our old second-hand car, then painting it ourselves, building a car shed ourselves; creating working science models for our school projects- all these demonstrating that every problem can be solved and also inculcating problem solving skills in me; the many times I accompanied him to his workplaces and watched in wonder how a great leader handles his people; the many hours he spent recounting to me exactly what is happening in his work, imparting 35 years of extra professional experience to me and also teaching me how to convert every job into a fun challenge and every uncertainty into an opportunity.
As I grew up to be an adult, I was pleasantly surprised when the knowledge transfer and sometimes value-transfer became both ways- that he would actually seek my advice on professional matters and sometimes change his own deep rooted beliefs because he saw merit in my arguments pointing out fallacies in his belief. Of course, this was another lesson to me that one should always be open to learning, however painful and contradictory to one’s existing beliefs the lessons are, and whoever the lesson might come from. And then came a time when, to my delight, every time I told him how much he inspired me, he would tell me in turn how much I inspired him.
I think I am a dutiful son. More importantly, I love my parents unconditionally and wholeheartedly: and I never hesitated from telling them this, time and again. Almost every day, I would spend at least half an hour to one hour speaking to my parents on the phone. I made it a point to tell each of them how much they meant to me, and how much I loved them- each and every day.
But let me tell you, this is not nearly enough to stop the immense feeling of regret and guilt when a parent actually takes leave. My heart is filled with thoughts of how much more I could have told him, how much more time I could have spent with him and what all I could have done to postpone my father’s departure. And this is me – a person who has mastered the art of never thinking of what could have been. I lie awake at night, talking to my father, telling him how much I love him. I have discovered that when it comes to powerful emotions, scientific rationality flies out of the window and I find myself hoping against hope that my father’s spirit can hear me. When I speak to my brother, I know that he is going through the exact same feelings. But both of us are united in one more way – we will move heaven and earth to ensure that we will take the greatest care of that most precious asset that my father has left in our care – our mother.
Theirs was a 53 year long romance: a romance filled with love and respect, of giving and sharing, and of taking every step together. The next generation in me would sometime baulk at the division of duties in their marriage and also how much my father overprotected my mother from day to management of life. She still cannot write a cheque; operate an ATM; or even cross the road herself. But deep down inside, I know that they had reached their own unique equilibrium, one of perfect harmony and love. Neither of them would go out anywhere on their own, neither of them had a friend who was not a shared friend; neither of them would eat a meal on their own or watch a TV serial on their own. If they went out to a restaurant, they would always share a dish. If that was not enough, they would order a second dish and share that too.
So now when I look at my mother and see how she is able to cope with her grief with so much dignity and courage, my heart swells with pride, at the same time it quakes with deep grief. For I know that her grief must be equal to mine amplified infinite times. I grieve as much for her grief as for the loss of my father.
In my quest for a balm to assuage my grief, I have hit upon a thought that I would like to share. Our parents will always live within us. Genetically, it is their exact set of DNA that exists in us- nothing more, nothing less. And more importantly, every personality, trait and value we have is a result of what we have learned by observing our parents. So while we mourn their loss, we can also focus on nurturing those values, polishing them up and passing them down to the next generation.
To all my friends whose parents are alive, my humble request is this – like me, each of you must be having a unique relationship with your parents: speak to them today, right now, and tell them just how much you love them and how much you appreciate everything they have done for you. Then repeat that action every single day of your life. You might be able to minimise your regret.
To read more about my father and his influence in my life, read my humorous, yet inspiring autobiography From Ouch to Oops