50 CANDLES IN HEAVEN

This is a special tribute to an incredible woman who graced my life for a few years and left all too soon. Sometimes, even the briefest of influences impact our whole life. This is one such relationship. Over the past six years, I’ve written her several letters. It is just my way of coping with grief. Today I’d like to share a piece of this unique love with you all. Marie would have been 50 today, and I imagine the heavens might be lit up with 50 candles.

IMG_20180913_16505207 February, 2012.

Dear Marie,

Time slowed down the minute I walked into your hospital room yesterday. The contours of your frail body looked stark against the backdrop of clinically white sheets. But what followed me home was the vacant look in your eyes. It stilled my heart and I felt betrayed. But recognition slowly returned and you whispered, “Looking good”, like you always do when you see me. I have no recollection of my own response because somewhere in the long expanse of those few seconds, time had slowed down considerably.

Later, while feeding bland grains of rice into your reluctant mouth, I thought of all the meals we had cooked and eaten together. Do you remember how I couldn’t handle your spicy food, but gradually got addicted to it? Those flavours, your laughter, our shared dreams and thoughts, they have soaked into my skin.

You were my rock; and now it is I who awkwardly babbles words of encouragement to you. What do I know about your pain? All through it, you sat motionless; then with a sigh you said, “I’m tired”. That was the moment I knew you were giving up. It felt like the setting sun was taking everything with it and we were struggling to breathe.

As I write, I look at the darkness outside and try to understand the one within. Maybe you need to rest. Maybe I should be okay with it. But I forgot to say ‘I love you’, so will you hold on a little bit longer?

R

[Marie passed away on the 9th, before I had a chance to visit her again.]

IMG_20180913_16483927 September, 2015.

Dear Marie,

It seems like another lifetime when we were kissing each other’s flaws, blowing on burning wounds, our laughter spilling the chilled cocktails that you so enjoyed. Or was it just yesterday that we were confiding over kitchen counters, our words falling over each other, flavoring pots of your spiced curries. Time blurs and I lose myself in what was and what could have been. You continue to live in soulful poems, crop up in the lines of tuneful songs, smile from behind flaming orange suns. I step on the shards of my broken memories and the sting takes me back to you. They say closure is found in stillness, but when I try, the silence becomes your voice and it follows me wherever I go.

[Written two and a half years after her passing, on her 47th birthday.]

 

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27 September, 2018.

Dearest Marie,

There is a silence around me as I write; a silence so dense that I can almost touch it. I hear a distant laugh that sounds just like yours, but it halts right outside the window. It’s been over six years and yet there’s an empty space that nothing seems to fill.

Mostly I try to focus on the good memories, but every little pain reminds me of you too.  I have my own little collection of aches and pains now; although they seem ridiculously miniscule to what you went through. I remind myself of how your myopathic heart brought forth your warrior spirit. ‘The best we can do is find spectacular ways of dealing with our tragedies’, you would say. I try to find solace in words; sometimes I curl up inside thoughts and fall into reveries. Most times though, I flow like a river, unimpeded onto my own course, following my covert goals, unconcerned with the world. You always pushed me to be the best version of myself and I think you might have started being proud of me now.

Last week, we stopped by at your resting place and arranged flowers in your memory. The greenery and peace there are so perfect. I recounted how much you had loved my surprise bouquet on one of your birthdays. Maybe I should have sent you flowers more often. Maybe I should have written you letters while you could still read them.  Maybe what they say is right, that regret is stronger than gratitude.

You would have been 50 today and the air would have been redolent with ginger tea, Davidoff, Peach Schnapps and fried chicken. As the evening folds into the night, I shall raise a glass to the sky and whisper, “Happy birthday, Marie”. Surely it’s a myth that people become stars, but darling, twinkle a little brighter if you are one.

R.

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ENDNOTE:

The purpose of sharing these personal letters is just so they serve as a reminder of how we take people and love for granted. Good people are precious. Recognize and appreciate them. Celebrate life and smile a lot. Never say no to love because not everyone will value you and the ones who do will not stick around forever. So love with the wildest abandon while you can. Tomorrow might be too late.

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A LEGACY OF LOVE

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Reveries are good, but you can’t stay there forever. All week, I’d been waiting for inspiration.Something, anything, to rouse and stir me. The days weren’t empty, far from it; yet there were gaps. Lacklustre little gaps that struggled to let the light in; that demanded reality. As the seasons move, I recognize the need for alteration and change.

So it seemed appropriate that my sister-in-law suggested a trip to the tranquil Fr. Agnel’s church in Bandra, to commemorate Papa’s fifth death anniversary. Tucked away from the bustle of the city, the timeworn church sits serene amidst sounds of birds and seas. Inside, the air is old and dark and luminous all at once. You feel primal and pristine. Ancient, yet improved. It’s the kind of place where you reclaim yourself. Later, we visited The Shanti Avedna Cancer Home, a few blocks away. I was reluctant to go at first, but it turned out to be one of the most calming places I have ever visited. Peace and love grace those quiet hallways; abundantly so, and certainly enough to alter a little something inside you.

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I don’t know why exactly my sister-in-law chose these two places, but once I went there, they took on significance for me. Both the places toned with Papa’s personality. Sturdy and serene. Quiet and assertive. And most of all, filled to the brim with love. Four years ago, on his first death anniversary, I had tried to encapsulate Papa’s substantial life story into a few words.

This is probably how inspiration is found. In little things, in modest lives, in unpretentious people. So here I am, repeating that same story. Maybe it will touch you and stimulate you. Maybe it will take care of your gaps. Maybe it will just remind you of things you have forgotten. And in reminding you, I will reminisce myself.

This is the story of Papa, my father-in-law. A man I’m proud to have known.

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It was towards the end of 2009 that Papa got diagnosed with throat cancer. He was old and not very strong physically, but he had an amazing strength of mind. When we told him the doctors had advised radiation, he just accepted it without question or complaint. I do not know another person who has borne such intense pain with so much dignity and silence.

The agony went on for days. And then, God decided that a man so gallant deserved to be in a better place. Just as the sun went down on Monday, the 23rd of November, 2009, Papa moved on to a higher life.

Anyone who knew Papa would agree that he was one of a kind; a man of great integrity, honesty and self-respect. He raised seven wonderful children in his lifetime, saw them settle down into their careers and marriages, enjoyed his ten grandkids and celebrated everything with a cryptic smile on his face. Since he spoke very little, he was never the centre of attraction; but his presence and his personality always stood out even in the midst of a crowd.

Many people find it hard to believe when told by his very successful children, that Papa had been a taxi driver all his life. Those were times of extreme hardship and abject poverty. If he failed go out and sit behind the wheel even one day, the family was affected. So Papa went out and worked every single day, come rain or thunderstorm.

One thing always struck me tremendously and it still does. Whenever my husband or his siblings speak about their seemingly deprived childhood, they only have positive and happy memories.  How could they have been so content, I wondered, when they had so little? No fancy home, no branded clothes, no colourful toys…and yet their childhood had been filled with laughter and love. Papa couldn’t provide them with expensive things, but he gave them love, family ties and values which have held them in good stead to this day.

Papa left us with many valuable lessons, precious memories and a legacy of love, family bonding and integrity. The day after his burial, we all sat late into the night talking about what we learnt from him. And the lessons were many; not only from his life, but from his death as well.  Even in death, Papa brought his family closer.

For more than a week afterwards, when we clung together supporting each other, we questioned ourselves, talked endlessly, strengthened our bonds, ate and prayed together and made little resolutions in our hearts to love and live well. Finally, we had realized what was most important to us.

Life knows and it tells us more than we care to understand. Not many of us think of death while we are busy living. But when we lose someone dear to us, God might be sending us a reminder. A reminder to pause in the midst of all the chaos, go within and find our essence.

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CLOSURE

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The weather is too beautiful not to be missing her. When a cool orange glow lights up the evening sky and bounces off window panes, I find myself sipping on tea and lost in thoughts of her. Tea-drinking was ceremonious to Marie. Even on her busiest day, she would always make time for a leisurely cup of tea. Sitting on her couch, squinting at nothing in particular, lining up the thoughts in her head…that’s how I remember her. There was so much she wanted from life and so much she wanted to give back. Marie was my mirror, my reflection; a strong, warm soul with a highly raucous laugh. Now there are only memories, empty spaces and echoes.

People come and go. But soul-sisters are a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. Marie and I met as most people do, in accordance with destiny’s plans. It seemed like an ordinary friendship at first. But when we started completing each other’s thoughts and understanding the in-between silences, that’s when it got eerie. That’s when we realised that our connection ran deep.

There was this one time, when I needed to travel on my own. I was young and naïve. I tried putting it off because I had never travelled alone or lived apart from my husband. She just said one thing to me: “You need to do this, Ren; not because you have to go, but because you choose to”. That was my one way trip to emotional independence. She was always trying to pull me through.

When I lost Marie to a terminal illness, the tears did not come as expected. They came a good two years later. Out of nowhere and without any warning. It was late evening; the lights were dimmed, there was music playing and I was nestling a drink. That was how we rolled back in those days too. That was how we defined leisure and camaraderie. And just like that, I broke in half. The sobs came hard and left me exhausted. But strangely enough, they healed me too.

That night, it was as if Marie came and gently removed the bookmark from our chapter and urged me to move on. She was big on finishing what you started. Like always, even though a hallucination, she took my hand and led me to myself.

At about that time, I wrote a few lines but never dared to share it. I’m doing it now because someone somewhere might need a connection. Someone might need hope and courage; because losing a loved one can mess up your mind in a big way.

They say there are six stages of grief – denial, anger, fear, guilt, depression and lastly, acceptance. Different people might deal with it in different ways. But closure is important. And acceptance is key.

 

STAGES OF GRIEF

 

I ain’t devout, prayed very rare

Went to church once, found my angel there

She left too soon, I wasn’t ready

It left me hurt and all unsteady

I refused to believe that it was final

What it was, is pure DENIAL

Saw her lifeless, no smile no more

My tears were dried, my heart was sore

Her daughter stood by, just a teenager

All I could feel was rage and ANGER

Then they put her six feet under

The candles were lit, it seemed like a blunder

How could I live without you dear?

My heart was gripped with chilling FEAR

I brooded for months over what went wrong

Could have supported more, could have been strong

My mind was boggled with a lot of filth

What I felt was searing GUILT

The skies got cloudy, the birds didn’t sing

My moods were morose, I’d lost my wings

Got all worked up, felt frustration

Sank into pits of dark DEPRESSION

One night then, I dreamt of her

She smiled at me, and smiled some more

Are you fine love, I asked her then

She nodded her head and held out her hand

I hugged her close, she wasn’t in pain

Her heart was strong, her face radiant

She made me promise, I’ll move on then

Finally there came ACCEPTANCE

 © Renica Rego

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