Thursday, June 04, 2009

How Does It Feel When Your Father Dies? (I)

Suddenly, the person who was so much a part of your life isn't there.
He has gone away, leaving his body behind.
You gently close his eyes - the last thing you'll do for him.
And you look at your mother sobbing bitterly.

This should come as a relief. 
He was in pain for so long.
Your mother was wearing herself thin caring for him.
She hadn't had a good night's sleep in months. 
But you can feel nothing - no tears come. 
Just a dead weight in your chest.

You hold your mother as she cries. 
You look around at her brother, your sister, the few people there.
And see the looks of shock, of disbelief, of awkwardness.
Feel your mother's sobs.
And realise this is your burden now.
That you, the youngest, have to grow up.

You make calls. Your mother tells you who to call.
But you also make one call for yourself.
To the one friend you have in town. 
The one person who can give you the strength that you so desperately need.
You send two SMSes. 
To a friend and a boyfriend in Delhi.
Saying you won't be able to catch your flight today. 
Then you go back to your mother's side.

Your cousin arrives - capable, practical.
He shoos the women out of the room. 
You were hoping he would bring relief.
He knows what to do.
But he will not take your weeping mother off your hands.
And let you go off alone to grieve.

In some time they bring your father out
What is left of him. 
Lay him out carefully on the living room floor.
Dressed up and peaceful.
You sit by him, the three women.
Touch him for what little time is left.

The house fills with people. 
Relatives, friends, neighbours.
Elder sisters of your father. 
One who is heartbroken to see her little brother dead.
One who explains that they took longer getting here
because they decided to have lunch first.
After all, one can't have lunch in a house of death.

Cousins arrive and try to comfort their aunt. 
You hold one's legs as soon as she gets near - 
Seated on the ground as you are - 
And cry. The tears bring little relief. 

She comes, your friend. 
There are too many people for her to get near, to comfort you.
But that she's there seems enough, for now. 
You are not left alone to face this strange new world
Where your father, who had ruled your lives
Does not exist.

It is time to take him away. 
They wonder who will perform the last rites.
It's a tragedy, though they don't say it
for a man to die without a son.
Your mother speaks up decisively.
Your sister will do what's needed.
As your father had wanted.

They ask you if you want to go.
You refuse. Your place is with your mother.
But when your mother also asks
You realise you cannot face it.
You cannot see him being burned to ashes.
You will hide behind your mother's aanchal.

You touch his feet one last time. 
Aware of the audience to what should be private.
They lift him.
And your mother rushes forward
Crying dementedly like a widowed bride
Sobbing that they cannot take him away.
You hold her back.

The house is quieter now. Just some women left behind.
One cousin helpfully observes,
Now that your sister is doing this for your father
You can do the same for your mother
when her time comes.
You are too numb to reply.

You take your mother into your room
Because she cannot face being in the room she shared with her husband.
More women follow. Someone talks of tea.
A cousin helpfully goes out to get some.
You cannot cook in a house of death. 

Just one of the many things you cannot do
In the days following.
Eat cooked food, 
Sleep or sit anywhere except on the ground,
Comb your hair.
Your mother follows everything,
Afraid of being accused of not doing enough for her husband.

But that day you don't think of all that.
But of your mother, and one woman by her
Talking of food and of her dead brother
As if nothing was wrong.
You ask an older cousin for help in shooing everyone out of the room
So your mother can rest.
You have never been polite or conventional,
But you are doing today what your mother or your father would do:
You are being the head of the family
Now that there is no head.

You hold your mother, talk to her gently.
There can be no sleep
But there might be some relief.

Someone comes. It's a friend you had called
When your father had seemed worse.
It seems ages ago.
Anger surges within you
Why come so late?
Did he think your father would wait?
Why had he said, a few days ago,
Call me if you need help.
What help had he come to render?
But you are polite.He leaves. 
And is surprised when you are cold thereafter.

You finally get to talk to your friend alone.
There is not much to say.
You know she understands.
She always did. When he was ill,
she would show her concern
Unlike all the others who acted like they did not know.
Who did not come to visit. Who pretended nothing was wrong.
All the others who were not friends.

Your friend tells you she was in pain
But she never uttered a word 
Did not let it show on her face all these hours
Because you needed her there. 

I have previously posted on remembering my father.


Pallavi Sharma said...

Ouch. I can't imagine the strength it must have taken you to write this all down. I hope it makes you feel at least a tad lighter. Hugs.

Gauri said...

I cannot tell you how much - just how much I can relate to this post. My father passed away in Feb of this year and right now each and every little detail is playing before my eyes. I know, I know exactly how it feels.

It just does not stop hurting, does it ?

Hugs and more hugs


Maitreyee said...

love you, always.

Unmana said...

Pallu: I had been wanting to write this down for years, but did not have the strength. Finally, it's done.

Gauri: I'm sorry. It may not stop hurting altogether, but I promise it will get better with time. Hang in there.

Maitreyee: Muuaaaaaaaaaaaaah

Nitu Saksena said...

I'm very touched..
God bless you

Suki said...

I am absolutely at a loss for words, Unmana. I'm very sorry for your loss, and glad that you can finally talk about it and face it.

What you've written here feels so familiar and so unfamiliar at the same time. I'm pained at the insistence on ritual(we were never very particular about it), and at one level I'm also greedily eating in details of a death that was not premature, that was natural, that in a way can still be come to terms with.
And then again, scared at losing the single person I have come to depend on.

Thank you for writing and publishing this, Unmana.

Unmana said...

Nits: Thank you.

Suki: I hope you understand better now what I was trying to say over at Cee Kay's. Losing a loved one is the most painful thing that can happen: the whole experience - his long illness, his death, and how people around me reacted to it all - is a big part of who I am today.

Suki said...

I do, I do understand - in my own way - how much the death of a loved one can change our lives. It took me ten years to come to grips with my mother's death, and now I'll say that my decision to become a psychoanalyst is completely influenced by the wreck she was before her suicide.

But well... in the ten years before I came to terms with that(and my a$$hole father and my grandfather's cancer/death among other things), all I could do was block out all the bad memories. It was the only way I knew how to handle it - by pretending it didn't exist. When I couldn't pretend any more, I'd break down. So when others were faced with sorrow, I couldn't handle it any better than I handled my own. I know I'm not the only one who reacts to pain like this.

This is a repressive cycle that has to break, and that's what I would like to do in life. At least in part.

Sorry for blurting all over such a sensitive post, but I wanted you to know.
- Suki

Unmana said...

Now I understand where you're coming from too.

I get that, I do. For some time after my father's illness, I couldn't stand to be around hospitals. I couldn't stand to hear talk of death, or even of cancer (which is what he died from). I couldn't read the book Tuesdays with Morrie because it's about an old man who's about to die, and for the bit I read of it it was almost traumatic.

So I can imagine it must have been very very hard for you - I can't imagine how hard.

But what I had mentioned at Cee Kay's was about so-called friends who did not seem to care. Who ignored what was happening. Who - when they heard that my father was ill, or dead, did not bother to call up. Of course I realised those weren't really friends.

It doesn't take much to say, 'I heard and I'm sorry.' That's all that would have taken to make me feel better.

Thank you for describing something so personal. I don't really know what to say, except I'm sorry you had to go through so much pain.

And you're a psychoanalyst! I've always thought that was one cool profession!

Dr. Ally Critter said...

Umana, I lost my father to lung cancer when I was 18. I wrote this poem about a year or so later.
Its been about 11 years without him now. Life has changed, things have changed. What hurts is that he is not around to share in so many things- so many things that would be just between him and me, the little flashes of humor,the talks small things- nothing huge, just a sense of unfairness, thats all.

Suki said...

Oh, I'm not an analyst yet! I'm a wee little B.A. in English for now, but striving to get a training in analysis. It's... a complicated process, will take at least ten years. But well, I think I'm motivated enough.

Actually I didn't explain everything on Cee's blog because she already knows a good deal of it, and more.

I do agree with both you and Cee that some people can really be scumbags. I just feel that lots of people are branded as unfeeling, because they feel too much and are scared to express it. That's the part I want people to think about.

Mystic Margarita said...

First time here. All I can say is I lost my dad when I was barely 9 and it still hurts. It must have been very painful for you to come to terms and to write this down. Hugs.

Unmana said...

@lankrita: Yes, that sense of unfairness, that slight disbelief, still - that someone can be so irrevocably gone.

Suki: Hey, I'm one of the people who don't express what they feel. Mostly because I like my feelings to be private.

And all the best with the psychoanalysis(and all those years of studying)!

Mystic Margarita: Thank you. It was almost unbearably painful while it was happening, partly because I couldn't talk to anyone about it. It's been a few years now, and I've talked to the Guy over and over so that it's not so painful any more.

gitima said...

Losing a loved one is "the" most painful experience you can feel.Only one who goes through it can understand what it is like....My parents are alive but i have lost someone i loved dearly..loved more than anybody else.....i rememeber visiting you once back in college when your dad was not keeping well. guess was just too young to be able to understand something like that. Can only say .. hang in there...

Unmana said...

Gitima: My dear, I remember. I am afraid I wasn't any help to you then either... didn't know what to do and didn't know you well enough to be able to help. I could have reached out, though. I'm sorry.

I don't even know what to say in the face of such an overwhelming loss as yours. I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

You had me in tears by the end of this. I cannot imagine my life without my dad.
The one thing i fear most in life is losing a loved one, I don't think i'll be able to bear the loss. I know it sounds immature and ridiculous, but i often pray that i die before my loved ones.