Punctuate Life

Pause Breathe Relax


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Guest Blog: 26/11 by Dinesh Damodaran

I wasn’t in Mumbai at the time of the attacks. I did however happen to visit the home of Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who was killed in the operation, to offer my condolences. I wrote this verse after that visit. I never knew the Major personally, but there was a profound sadness in me after speaking to his father and some of his OTA / NDA batch mates.

The pain doesn’t diminish every time I reminisce
about the day I met the parents of a son who perished,
enlisted to protect & serve, deserved
to be decorated, not separated from those he loved,
or to die by the gun of a terrorist scum,
The courageous Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan

I entered a home plunged in grief, shattered belief
TV hummed in the living room, channels playing footage of the siege
Relatives debated on what-ifs and what may have been
Father stood in the hall, hands folded
In the bedroom the mother wept on a relative’s shoulder,
distraught at thoughts of her son aged 31 who wouldn’t grow older
Not consoled by whatever they told her, forever wounded for being
the mother of a martyred soldier.

I stood paralyzed, tongue-tied
I had to really control myself
or I would’ve cried
Mustered courage to walk up to the Major’s dad and say
“Excuse me sir, I’m sorry for your loss today.”
“Don’t be. He died serving his country.”
“Are you a Friend of my son?’ he asks
“No sir, I’m just a citizen.”
Took leave, headed home,
Thinking back of how Mumbai
turned into a war zone

A date that’s etched
in my mind’s slate
26 November 2008 –
the day people of Mumbai
became terrorist bait.
Attacks came late in the p.m.
innocent lives left to fate,
in the capital of the MH State.


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Death with Dignity?

After one final flash of color, the trees are losing their leaves and getting ready for winter. Winter! Brrrr! The very thought of it makes me shiver. And makes me want to run away to Florida where I enjoyed five mild winters with the temperature hovering around 60 degrees F. I have always wanted to escape tough situations than face them. This doesn’t mean that I’m not strong. It just means that I prefer not to deal with things head on. For instance, if I’m really mad at someone, I like to walk away and cool down instead of engaging in a wordy altercation. Withdraw. Retreat. And hope that the problem magically disappears.

So it was only natural for me to want to exit from the human plane when life got really crappy and I hit rock bottom. It came as a rude shock to me that my behavior caused intense pain to my loved ones – even though I felt nobody really cared at that time. They loved me. Even the sick, sad and unhappy version of me. My presence was all that mattered. My living, breathing presence.

There are days in my life that I really wish I didn’t have to go on but I always remember the lessons I learned during my days of dark depression. My sphere of influence may be small and unimpressive but the people in it need me – right down to my last breath.

So when Brittany Maynard decided to take her own life by consuming lethal drugs prescribed by doctors, it hit a nerve. The whole story did not sit well with me. The planning and preparation, moving to a state that supported “Death with Dignity” and having doctors assist in the suicide. The enormous support and the outpouring of funds for the cause is even more appalling.

There is a lot of controversy over pulling the plug when comatose patients show no response after years of surviving on life support, or little or no brain activity. When there is no written documentation of the patients’ wishes it is a hard decision to be made, legally and emotionally, especially for loved ones. There are cases where doctors have wanted to pull the plug but could not without parental consent, only to have the patient recover from the coma and go on to live a normal life. So is this trend making doctors give up too soon and misjudge a patient’s ability to recover and heal? Probably.

We as a race try to lord it over all – animals, humans under our care and even death! We think we have the power to decide who dies and how and when it should happen. We do it to dogs and cats in shelters that no one will adopt. So if someone wants to die, let’s all chip in and help. That seems to be the attitude. Let’s not die fighting, let’s just die before even trying! Please don’t get me wrong. Terminally ill patients undergo a lot of suffering and it decreases their quality of life but I find it disturbing that they leave no room for a miracle or hope. Their struggle could be someone else’s inspiration or a wake-up call to family to take better care of themselves. You never know.

If I had given up and left I wouldn’t be here typing this. I wouldn’t be a mom of two adorable children. I wouldn’t have taken a cross-country trip or eaten apple pie or met half of the wonderful people I have met till today. My life has its ups and downs but I know if I’m still breathing I have not fulfilled my purpose.

I saw a disturbing documentary about of group of people that go around assisting terminally ill people. They go into their homes and help them die (or appear to) in their sleep. They put on gas masks and at some point the body’s reflex is to try and remove the mask. That goes to show that the will to survive is stronger than any other dominant emotion. I won’t go into the details of the documentary which is very perturbing to say the least. But I do remember how shocked and upset the loved ones were. Yes, the deceased was suffering and it was hard for them to bear the pain and suffering. But these people meant something to their loved ones. Their presence – sick or healthy – mattered to their family. In my opinion if you can’t give life, then you have no business taking it away.

With limited knowledge about the repercussions of doing something drastic like snuffing out a life before its time, we are messing with things beyond our understanding. Life is full of pain and we cannot avoid it. But we can avoid suffering. Not by shedding our mortal frame but by tapping into that undying part of ourselves. One brave soul did just that.

Her name is Talia and she was suffering from Neuroblastoma and Leukemia. This bald 13 -year old bubbling with life, never let the cancer dim her spirit. She posted videos of herself, smiling without a single hair on her head. She loved make-up and posted videos of how to apply make up to get a certain look. She was an inspiration to everyone who was fighting cancer and struggling with body image issues. Cancer leaves one feeling ugly and incomplete and she addressed this in her own special way. She did not make it but lives on through the videos she has created – smiling and beautiful in the face of something so tragic.

Imagine if Stephen Hawking gave up. He had ample reason to. You think getting through every day is easy for him? And he was not born that way. He was born normal and progressively lost the use of his limbs and voice. If he had decided to die, the world would never have heard about black holes and god particles.

You and I may not make award winning discoveries or inspire the whole world but we surely matter. Every breath is a gift no matter how labored or painful. Don’t throw away your life or support “death with dignity” no matter how right the reasons look. There is a bigger plan and please have the humility to not mess with it.

 


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Why You Chose to Die…

 

I’m sorry you chose to die,

So did I.

 

Carelessly you threw away,

Everything I struggle to be today.

The money and the fame,

Did nothing for you.

So why should I continue,

Down that path.

 

I’ve been there before,

That dark and desolate place,

Where the evil mind lurks,

Spewing out venom and lies.

The promise of a better life,

If you skip the years,

And choose to die.

 

Nobody cares – taunts that familiar voice,

Getting louder every day.

As the pain explodes yet again,

In your beleaguered body.

But what about her – you ask,

Your eyes darting to the picture frame beside you.

Nobody cares. Nobody. Not even her – comes the callous reply.

And then an even bitter lie –

She is better off without you.

 

That must have been the final blow,

That severed the last thread of resolve,

That ounce of will that you should live.

The battle was lost,

The tears were long gone.

Tomorrow it will be all over the news,

A wave of sadness passing over the globe.

And yet it would pass,

And one day you’d be as dead as you are now.

 

I’m sorry you chose to die,

So did I.

But while you crossed to the other side,

I’m stuck inside.

While you chose to run away,

I had to be brave and smile.

Everything you threw away,

I struggle to be today.

 

I’m sorry you chose to die,

So did I.


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Love Never Dies…

Sandy hit last week and took many people with it. The pictures of the damage were heart wrenching. One cold December not too long ago we woke up freezing. A freak ice storm had left our town without power. We had to live in a friend’s place and then a hotel for five days until the power was restored. We did not lose our home or our belongings and none of us were hurt. But just being without a home for a few days is enough to make you feel displaced and uncomfortable. Imagine the plight of millions who not only lost power but also their homes and some even their loved ones. This week an earthquake in Guatemala killed many people and caused severe damage. I couldn’t shake off the sadness and then before I could pick myself up, I was dealt another blow.

My former colleague passed away. He is two years older to me and leaves behind a wife, twin toddler boys and a newborn. I spoke to his wife this week and I could feel her pain. I bit my lip and fought back the tears as I spoke to her. Just a couple of weeks ago I started writing the story of my grandma and this is how I started – right on the day my grandpa died, leaving my 36 year old grandma a widow with no work experience, no college degree and a little money. My Dad had just started college. When I wrote it was from my grandma’s perspective and in her voice. I almost cried when I spoke to my colleague’s wife because the feelings associated with losing one’s spouse were fresh in my psyche.

The feeling of loss is universal. It’s something no mortal can escape. It doesn’t matter if it’s your grandma. grandpa, mother, father, spouse, sibling, friend or child. It just leaves a huge void. One that all the love in the world cannot fill. All the people in the world cannot fill it. You feel orphaned, abandoned and forced to deal with life without your loved one. It’s not fair! How can you go on?

A dark mood swept over me this week and even though I planned to write this post, a part of me was saying – What are words? Just empty symbols. How can I make the pain go away? I can’t. No one will believe me when I say I feel you. I’ve been there. We become one in our experience of pain, grief and loss in very much the same way we become one in love, happiness and prosperity. There is a saying that goes – when you laugh the world laughs with you and when you cry you cry alone. I’m not so sure about that one. Here is my experience taken from an older post Daring and Different…My Dadima…

I was foolish to think she had touched but one life – mine. When people came to me with stories of her kindness and love, I cried copious tears. It felt like their pain was my pain. We had all lost someone special. Someone who thought we were special and treated us like royalty.

The pain you feel is real. No one can replace him/her. But time does heal and love will find a way to make you ache less. The loss of my grandma was not easy to deal with. I grew up in her shadow (or should I say aura?) I was lucky that I got to be with her when she passed away (braving winter storms, cancelled flights and long stop-overs). But still I felt guilty for the time I spent away from her. I could never get that back – it was gone and she was gone. I cried alone when no one was watching. Every birthday and holiday I would miss her terribly and cry. Every February (that is the month she passed away)  I would plunge into depression. It took me two years to make peace with her passing. I cannot give you a timeline for grieving or a date to move on. It will take time, it will take help and it will take a lot of prayer.

I keep going back to my grandma because I think she dealt with death in the right way. She never feared it and was never in awe of it. She just accepted it. She did however lose faith in God and Astrology after her husband was whisked away from her far too soon. Astrologers had predicted that the couple would live a long, happy life. And here she was 36 and widowed and with no clue how to carry on. She did however have a strong will to overcome the odds. She also had this – a strong connection with my grandpa even though he was not physically present. She often talked about dreaming about him and telling him her problems. Looking back at her life I can tell she most certainly got help from the other side. She always had enough money to take care of herself and pay the huge hospital bills. She always had helpful people and synchronistic things kept happening to her.

After her passing I felt her presence. Many things I had wanted in the past, came to me more easily. Like getting  a driver’s license, moving to a warmer place, even making friends. You say it’s a coincidence. I say it’s her putting in a word for me up there. In each case I have received signs that she has intervened on my behalf to bring me things in this mortal plane to make me happy.

Some of you may be reading this and not really understanding the full purport of my words. I’m saying that our souls never die and are not limited by the body. We go on forever. We are infinite beings. You are never alone even if you do not realize it. It’s like having air to breathe – you don’t think about it. There is more to life than death. Death is not the end. It is the beginning of another journey. We get a glimpse of this world when we sleep. In sleep we don’t feel our bodies, don’t remember the past and are blissful. We also travel to other magical places in what we call dreams.  A soul does the same when it leaves its body.  Even though we feel they are gone, they are free than ever before and can be with us if we want them to – in the most gentle and nonthreatening way. Supporting us and loving us even more than they could when they were alive and amongst us.