It has been one year, eleven months and one day of intermittent spells of crying. During the most mundane of daily activities like riding the subway, walking to work, or eating a meal, an overwhelming bout of sadness envelopes me and I erupt into tears.
I’ve been doing my best to not think about him, or look at his pictures so I can prolong my confrontation with reality. I have been busying myself with almost every extra-curricular activity I can jam into my schedule so that I have no time to think about him or feel him. This child-like strategy to cope with loss, is, I’m sure, damaging to my soul because I’m applying the trite idea, “out of sight, out of mind” to a truth whereby playing ignorant, I end up living a lie. I can’t plug my ears and shout “la la la, I can’t hear you! This never happened!” to the situation any more. It’s as if I have convinced myself that if I merely don’t think about him or participate in conversations about him, then I don’t have to come to terms with the devastatingly harsh, and unkind truth that – my father is has past on.
I still can’t shake the feeling like he will come back. I have these clichéd and far-fetched, romanticized notions that he is probably on some Robinson Crusoe-esque sea voyage. And as a result, he has landed ship-wrecked on some coastal island, and he is just figuring out how to return home. Of course this is not true, but I still feel like his absence is just temporary. It has been almost two years, why do I still feel this way? I watched him get sick, I watched a cancer slowly consume his faculties, I watched him continue to be warm and loving to everyone even as he didn’t have the energy for it, I watched a chemotherapy treatment fail to treat him and only make him sicker, I watched him lay peacefully in a funeral bed and I finally watched a cremation oven consume any essence of physicality left of him. I know he’s not coming back.
I remember my mom telling me that after my father found out about his terminal cancer he simply said, “If I have to go, I have to go.” He didn’t plead with Waheguru or Life to let him stay, he fought the cancer the best he could, but he accepted that his time had come to leave and hearing that always breaks my heart, because so rarely do we accept death. Sikhi teaches us that we should never fear death but embrace it and always keep it close, remembering:
“Life and death come to all who are born. Everything here gets devoured by Death,” (Guru Nanak Sahib, Sri Raag, Ang 15).
But, knowing that I would be losing a true Sikh like my father still left me in a state of incredulity because no one wants to believe that a loved one has to go. We selfishly want them to stay even when they can’t.
Deep down, my rational and logical self has accepted that he has gone. To where, I don’t know, but I only imagine that he is residing with the highest of power in a realm of bliss and joy. But at the same time I feel that notion of living in a sach khand or heaven is a hopeful and naïve view of the afterlife or post-death existence (can you exist after death, does that even make sense?) that we all convince ourselves so the living can find comfort. When my father was nearing the last of his breaths and death came for him, I initially felt nothing. I felt a deep weight of sadness but I felt nothing in the sense that his spirit flew out of him, I didn’t feel any light or warmth or presence surround me, my mother and siblings as we circled his bed and did simran. I don’t think this is a good or bad thing, I just think that death ‘is’. I have tried to inform myself of the position Sikhi takes with death and the journey that awaits the soul afterwards depending on the acts – good or bad, performed on earth but I have also found solace in the possibility that maybe nothing happens after death. I don’t think knowing what happens after life is really that important. It is what is done while you are alive that is of utmost value and importance, which I couldn’t have learned from anyone better than my dad.
I want to believe nothing more than that my father is with Waheguru. There is no one I have known that was more gracious, giving, loving and pure-hearted than him, but I also know that my father lived with Waheguru in his heart when he was alive. I felt Waheguru when Daddy was around, I saw Waheguru in Daddy when he loved those around him unconditionally.
“They alone are truly alive, whose minds are filled with the Lord,” (Guru Nanak Sahib, Raag Maajh, Ang 142)
And isn’t that what truly matters- what we do while we exist on earth? How we treat each other, how we love each other, how we fight for each other, how we share with each other, how we support each other? If whether or not we choose to illuminate the inner Waheguru that resides in each of us? My father’s death is teaching me about life and how to truly live it. I know I will continue to grapple with the fact that he is never coming back and I am doing whatever I can to distract myself so that I can prolong the acceptance of that fact, but I am also learning that it is important that I focus on how to live like him before I have to go as well.
If I die tomorrow can I say I lived life with love?
If I die tomorrow can I say I fought for things that mattered?
If I die tomorrow can I say I never relinquished my power to dream?
If I die tomorrow can I say I helped all those around me who needed it the most?
If I die tomorrow can I say I saw the Guru in everyone?
If I die tomorrow can I say I loved without prejudice?
If I die tomorrow can I say I put kindness, respect and love above materialism?
If I die tomorrow can I say I made a positive difference in this world?
If I die tomorrow can I say my life was worth it?
By Minnie Rai
Photo by Diego Hernandez