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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Karmayogi Hall of Fame

An Obituary for My Mother

It is four months to the day my mother died. I miss her comforting presence. What strikes me is life goes on as if nothing happened. Hello World, I often say to myself, my Mom’s gone; show a little concern, some respect, and some grief. Relentlessly though, things grind on and she is consigned to be a fading memory in the minds of those who knew and loved her. How easily we are reconciled to the passing of a loved one!

My Mom was difficult to love; she had a way with guilt. Whenever she came with my Dad to visit us in Chicago or in Delhi, she always made me feel I did not spend enough time with her. In some way, her complaint was legitimate because we lead busy lives: long hours at work, many social engagements and many friends to visit and to entertain. I refused to take her guilt trip, which made her angry. Within days of landing in our house, she would start up about going back to her home in Ahmedabad. My Dad was always the fall guy, coming into my study with wads of banknotes, asking me to book their tickets back.

Four months ago, when she died holding hands with me, I felt bereft. I didn’t cry or anything but just felt a deep gash in my heart. For some reason, we believe mothers are immortal and they will always be there to remind you of your checkered youth and then, after they have layered you with guilt, to comfort you. When you come to think of it, they are immortal because everyday of your life something happens to remind you of your mother. In many ways, grief is important; it helps you come to terms with the loss.

My problem is my 88-year old Dad, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. A few days after my Mom’s death, he came to me, looking distraught. “You know, I feel helpless. My mother just died and I did not have enough money to give her the best medical care,” he said to me. It is true that his mother also died of cancer in 1966 and he may have felt as an upright government official that he could not provide the care she needed. I was devastated. I realized then that the major outlet of my grief, to share the loss with my father, was denied to me.

Sadly thus, my grief has remained bottled up in some obscure corner of my mind. I could become a psycho like Anthony Perkins in the Hitchcock movie of the same name and end up as a mass murderer or a suicide bomber. No, let me hasten to add, it’s not about to happen. The point is it’s important to express grief and while I have a hugely supportive family, I have no way to commiserate with my Dad. As such, we are the principals and yet we can’t share the emotions of the loss.

Apart from the dementia, my Dad is a fairly healthy fellow with no aches and pains and a zest for life. When he turned 75, he told my daughters he still had at least 25 years to go. Amazingly, he’s more than half the way there. He just needs 12 more for his century. Even today, in a state of dementia, he tells us he did well at school, was highly respected in his job and exercised relentlessly, so there’s no reason why he should not live to be a hundred.

Though it is difficult to get through to his Alzheimer’s blocked mind, I can say with pride and confidence that he is the progenitor of my sunny worldview. Many friends say that I am wildly optimistic in a righteous sort of way. I consider it a compliment and have only now learned to attribute it to my father. His memory is compromised but he has the heart and soul of a 40-year old; he frequently says that. And he will live to be a hundred or even more.

He now lives with us. He is doubly troubled: dementia as well as a the dysfunction of a displaced person. We brought him with my mother from their home in Ahmedabad in March this year. My mother died and he has no way to go back to his comfortable life in the house he's lived in since the 1960s. He is unsettled and still lives out of a suitcase. We just have to deal with it and can only hope he stays independently fit.

I’ve never been big on yoga and Hinduism. But if ever there was a Karmayogi contest, please welcome my Dad to the Hall of Fame.

copyright rajiv desai 2008