Sunday, September 18, 2016

Both Sides Now

A friend of mine is in love with someone who is married, Another friend of mine is married to someone who is abusive. Another friend is falling out of one person and falling for another person, and feels guilty about the first person, so not able to stand up for his heart.  And on the opposite spectrum, I have a friend who has found love in serving others. Another friend who is traveling around the country and has achieved freedom from all kinds of romantic love. Another friend, who has such a terrible childhood that she is grateful to have a husband who is so supportive and loving. I have seen all friends happy and crying. I have seen marriages failing and successful. I know that each one of them found their battle difficult and it was never a fairy tale.

I have come to believe that love is about paying attention, to really see someone. But most of the time, we don't even see ourselves. Do you ever have a feeling that you need something else or need to go somewhere, but when you have finally get that thing you wanted, you really aren't as happy as you thought you would be? We are just not happy where we are. We want to keep going to the other side. We don't find the current state of things satisfactory.

One of the famous travel writer Pico Iyer, in his Ted Talks, talked about that we yearn for energy from people who are still, have been able to find their balance and are able to slow down. I think being truly in love is something like that. To pay attention like that. To yourself and to the other person.

I look at this idea of loving someone and being with someone and I think what can you do different to be in love. This reminds me of one of the most famous songs of Joni Mitchell. My favorite line is "It's love illusions I recall. I really don't know love at all"


Moons and Junes and Ferris wheels,
The dizzy dancing way that you feel
As every fairy tale comes real,
I've looked at love that way.

But now it's just another show,
You leave 'em laughing when you go
And if you care, don't let them know,
Don't give yourself away.

I've looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It's love's illusions I recall
I really don't know love at all

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Threshold

I thought I will write again today. I sat down for Vipassana meditation after a long time and in few minutes my back was in severe pain of the knots that I was trying to open. When I first did Vipassana, I remember I would have a pain like this and a memory related to it. Both will rise severely and dissolve. After meditation, I felt lighter today and didn't feel as angry as I used to feel sometimes.

The life ahead has several possibilities. And we make choices everyday for them. The true moments come rarely and all other times we are chasing the illusions of those moments. In Vipassana, they call it attachment, chasing the perfection. You free yourselves from them and you free yourself from all the pain that attachment brings to you and others around you. That's the endeavor.

Sometimes what people think about you starts mattering so much. A little controversial to say but everyone around me has a question on their face. When will I get married now? Both my sisters are married, settled etc. And me all alone in a city where I have no relatives. I definitely should get married. The pressure starts affecting. 

But I have a parallel realization. Every life on this planet has a purpose. May be my purpose was to serve my parents through their illness. Now it is time to find self. To see what Yogis hiding in Himalayas are doing or Monks in monasteries are doing, how can I immerse myself in art of building the businesses,  what's their in world's best education systems, how lives of all of us are interconnected. 

If any of you who is married is reading this, probably would say all these curiosities doesn't matter. Everybody should get married and have kids. But you know what, they matter to me. I want to train for Triathlon and travel to Tibet. I want to climb up the mountains and swim in the sea to feel the waves falling on me. and find myself through the world. I want to feel more connected to my family and heal with them and not fight with them or hurt them anymore. You know like getting the basics right about life before giving a commitment to someone that I can take care of them.

I want to shed kilos and read every book on my list. I want to write more, learn photography and find harmony in the music. I want to see my life through my lens, not through the lens of people who are married and think that's the way forward for any single woman.

We can't control the course of life. My perfectly healthy parents one day, felt so ill, that it was a storm in the family. Whatever plans we all made, never went anywhere. Their plans to save money so that they can live an old age together, our plans to build our career and see the world. Nothing went anywhere. You can't control. So, why bother! All I can do is get less anxious of what is still to come and remind myself of the lessons taught by the past,

Life hacks. Seriously. So, let me stop living other people's lives and live mine! And seriously, I don't want your advice.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Practicing Kindness on a road trip to Badami

My sister and I decided that in order to give ourselves a break, we should do a road trip. I have been driving a red Honda Brio for last 3 years, just after I finished my Teach For India fellowship and I recently completed the loan on it. So, it was a good idea to give ourselves a break, may be grieve together or redeem from it, and may be have conversations that we were not having.

So, we started from Hyderabad for this beautiful place called Badami, where the rocks are of color of Almond, and hence the name. I drove 8 hours, found a lovely room at Heritage Resort to get over the tiredness and slept all night to wake up early.

This trip for me was a trip of kindness and recovery. The goal was to help my sister and self to start over, so we both were very kind and harmless to each other, or may be a shared pain, makes you so. Anyway, we started next day at 6:00 am. Our 66 year old, MA History, Tourist Guide was waiting for us on a chair outside the resort.

The cheerful old man was very detailed about everything he showed. They say God lives in details. He was telling details of the Gods. There was a statue of Shiv and Parvati (half and half), beautifully done, almost difficult to make out, unless you look closely that reminded me how come they only worship Leonardo Da Vinci for Mona Lisa. After all they conceived man and woman as one in 6th century! Who cares what we have done till some other country apprecicate it, we don't appreciate ourselves.

We watched almost all temples and their museums all day. Even climbed over 600 stairs in the entire day, drove for a scenic drive from Badami to Aihole and Pattadkal. And loved every bit of it. The place is still not commercialized and so we were just very few tourists coloring the otherwise mono-colored temples.

The next day we drove back to Hyderabad. And Google Maps, in the manner of its habit, gave us a faster detour from the highway. (which is usually frustrating because it doesn't check for road quality). This road was completely deserted, almost handful of villages and yet full of golden fields of jwar and bajra and occassional sunflower.

My sister and I were singing songs out loud when we saw an old couple walking on the road and looking at our car as we passed by. I somehow felt like stopping. My sister was surprised and unsure. But on my rear view mirror, I saw them jumping in joy. They were so happy as if they found a goldmine.

We couldn't communicate with them as they could only speak Kannada but we all found a shared moment of happiness. They were going to the nearest bus stand which was almost 6 kms away to the nearest town from their village by walking! I couldn't believe people still do that when I all see overloaded autos in suburbs and villages if nothing else.

For my sister and me, it was a moment of reckoning. The way to healing is probably this way only.  Hindu mythology ask for serving 25 Brahmins. may be that made sense at the time it was conceived. But for us, it was simpler and untouched by a ritual.

Love,
Saloni

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The farewell

It is last day of August 2016. I have been thinking about writing what happened. And I am not too sure if one should write something deeply personal on a public blog. But I am still going to write it anyway. I have not been able to call back to many friends who reached out to me and I am little lost in finding those connections, also little awkward to say things which are hard to express and writing has been an easier task for me.

Last night I slept on the bed my mother has been sleeping for last six months, in the room in which she struggled her last breath on the night of 10th August. It might sound like a melodramatic thing to do but honestly it was a conversation that I was not having with myself. There was a person on the bed for 6 months and now that person is no where, can't locate her. Where should I go to find her?

I have lost my mother and there are several memories that have sprang up in these last 20 days. A kind of melancholy that has dawned in the house since she left. When she was here, along with her there were two caretakers who would keep the house alive. I was told in her last days that once she is gone, I will hit the vacuum. I think I might have but in a very different form.

Alzhemeir's gives a very different memory of the person. In her vanishing identity, my memories of her healthy and hearty took a back seat. I was just living with her as dementia progressed and took control of her brain and then her body.

It was a frustration of a caregiver that I think every caregiver goes through, the unfairness of life, the dreams that get crushed in the journey, the sense of entitlement that I developed to be taken care by other people, to tell others that my problems are bigger than theirs and what are they crying about? the loss of empathy along with the heavy guilt of not giving her enough care, of choosing my life over her life, of losing the focus again and again, the feeling of being tied down to a person, to a house, to a place. The person is gone, the guilt, the emptiness, the impatience, the frustration, the downward spiraling battle remains.

It has been a long journey for three sisters. Since 2006, the day my father suffered a paralytic attack, both my parents slowly developed a need for extreme support, in all possible ways. All three of us at some point in time thought of giving up our jobs and ambitions to take care of them. There were sacrifices that we all made. Now when both of them are gone, what should we feel? Normal? In pain? relieved? What should be the dominant feeling?

It is not as easy as a vacuum or a depression. It is probably very human. It is also about valuing the life more, value the people you have more, value the time you get more. The recovery is a dangerous game. You can keep ignoring it, get yourself busy and get lost or you can choose to get closer to yourself. I am still not sure whether I will become truthful or an escapist.

My mom loved gardens. She was very creative with them. The passersby would stop and gaze at the garden of our house.  The crematorium where we bid her farewell had flowers all around the pyre.

In her last night, I spent hours around her when her lungs were drowning in the infection. I didn't talk to her but sat silently as the dawn came. I knew that night that she will wait for the dawn before she leaves. And at the dawn, she headed for the sun.

It was a very peaceful morning. Something which I can go back to find meaning of my life.

Monday, May 2, 2016

the speaking life

My brain says, "No one should be going through this". 10 years ago, my father suffered from paralysis. I was still in college, my younger sister still in school and my elder sister building her career.  The local doctor didn't put the medicine that could have reversed the stroke. With that, a fate of the family was written.

A family of three daughters, all engineers, bright and promising. A mother who took charge of taking the best care of her husband but got trapped in the more severe disease of Alzheimer's , a very early onset for her age. Since then, the health of parents became a constant anxiety, a guilt that we are not doing enough as daughters, an interior struggle of still trying to find a life of normal women in 20s. But in an illness that lasted for 10 years now and reaching its end, nothing is normal.

There is anger and resentment. I am pissed at the universe. For not giving me normal life. For making me go through suffering of parents and all the craziness and brokenness that comes with it. I kept finding answers, in people I dated, in the actions of my sisters and people I looked upon, in the textbooks of spirituality. But the anger has grown that I was dealt a bad hand. 

Every person I know has a similar story. Something made them a part of tornado they could not escape from. Something killed their potential. Poverty, conservative parents, divorce, being orphaned at early age, being separated from wife, troubling in-laws, heartbreaks, empty marriages, being dominated upon by spouses, being abandoned by a lover. I see their suffering similar to mine. I have no answers to give them. I have  one answer to give myself - that life was not supposed to be scarred this badly. The world needs healing like I do.

I sometime wonder that may be I am going through depression and I should seek help as I can't find happiness inside. But I am merely looking to find answers of these sufferings. How to live? Budhha found something by going within, found the answers to those suffering. No book on happiness and overcoming suffering gave me hope as much as the idea of going within does. No conversation could help me heal the way more than the idea of finding the healing within does.

My mother is at death bed. She has a weak throat which an old belief calls death threat. She has lived the life of love and duty. But she suffered too. In her current situation, she sleeps most of the day. But when she is up, she looks at the ceiling, waiting for her answer, I don't know the mystery of the soul. How much the soul has been left when there is no brain? If her soul is left, then is she troubled by suffering? What will happen in her next life?

I am waiting for her death too now. For her suffering to end. We three sisters spoke to the doctor about minimizing her suffering so that she can go peacefully, without pain and struggle, without gasping for breath, without the physical suffering of IVs and needles, 

Standing on face of death of another parent, in two years time, I can't help but think that the life I am building for myself is a life that will meet its end no differently. I need to go within, to find the voice of self that has been suffocated in the midst of finding external happiness while surrounded by so much suffering. 

My brain no longer sees happy people. I only see suffering. I have filtered out that happy people can actually exist. I see instances of escapes of suffering, by traveling around the world, by getting married, by having poker nights or a shopping weekend. I don't see authentic happiness, may be pursuit of it.

I am drawn to the idea of Budhha more than ever before, to a point where I want to walk on that path as soon as my mother meets her maker. I want to disappear within to find authenticity, in my own darkness. I will step out of it by stepping in within, soon.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Living with Dementia

A leaking urine bag, thats how i started my Sunday, urine all over the floor. She almost threw up the liquid oatmeal out of her mouth. She could recognize my repeated calling of her name but she couldnt determine where that voice was coming from.

Have you ever thought that it is a complex brain function to sense a direction of a voice and turn around your face in that direction? My mother cant do any of these.

She cant eat, pass urine or motion, or even locate me while I am in right front of her eyes. But when she does, even for a split second, she looks at me with a smile. She recognizes me. As if life comes back in her.

it has been reported that Alzheimer is the most expensive disease in the world. More than cancer and cardiac arrest. No insuarnace company covers the cost for a caretaker at home. Families have to pay from their own pocket. In Hyderabad, i have to rely on some unprofessional agencies to keep supplying me nurses. I have two of them right now. When one goes on leave, i have to take off from work and stay at home. I am in hospital for tests almost 3 times a week. And i often start my Sunday dreading hospital again. The caretakers live worse life than me. They dont know when my mother may pass motion. She cant convey that anymore. They have to clean up everytime. Adult diapers are not enough.

My mother was once a charming lady of a small town where we lived. She was popular and famous for one of our kind house, for her singing skills and for being kind. She will go for morning walks and cook delicious food and invite families for dinner. She is just 56 right now. Early onset of dementia 7 years ago has almost led her to the life of suffering in the end.

Why would you suffer like this in the end if you lived a life of good karma?  I search for answers in Buddhist philosphies, in medical sciences, in Atul Gawande' books. But mostly, i try to escape. I dont want to accept and confront her reality of pain and suffering and my own reality of a caregiver of a dementia patient. Of being a daughter who cant recognize her mother more than merely a familiar face.

My mother still has some indestructible in her. I see it. I dont what she sees in me. An escapist behind the guard of busyness of work, social obligations, partying, movies or she sees a helpless daughter behind it? I dont know how will she remember me. Every week I contemplate to be with her, to face this reality of mortality than to escape it. But rationality says, go to work, live your life, you cant give up working or living your life. Whats my life? Isint the one I am escaping from? My destiny chose me to be by mother's side.

I dont remember how she was. My mother is already almost gone except for split seconds of those smiles. I am at the unknown threshold where life goes away but death doesnt come. I will have to cross this threshold one day. But how much suffering will come before that?