Six Months Later…

It’s been slightly more than 6 months since I lost my father. Here is how things have happened since then

  1. From a distance, your understanding of the person gone becomes more refined and objective. My father was definitely a more courageous, caring parent and action-oriented than I thought him to be earlier. Things may not have changed to his liking but he did try in the moment
  2. Grief cycles keep coming, less frequent but probably more guilt-ridden. This happens suddenly: one awkward dream, one Google Photos reminder, someone relating an incident involving him, shared dreams, deja vu when chatting with kids…
  3. Feeling that he isn’t any longer around hasn’t yet sunk in. Also probably because 6 months – 1 year duration was what we used to meet anyway so it feels like nothing much has changed beyond one nightmarish occurrence
  4. Worrying about the surviving parent gets more acute. You want to maximize the time together. I will likely bring my mother to live with us together, after the annual rituals are over. This should also be freeing from the constant worry about how she is feeling / doing and what I can do to support her in the moment
  5. You are more circumspect about expressing feelings of loss and repentance. Everyone in close circles deals with grief differently, people appear to have moved on, you are not sure whether expressing difficulties you are facing to others isn’t troubling them. So probably better to grieve alone and in silence
  6. Videos are absolute treasure troves. While going through one of the videos I randomly shot, my father was discussing someone long gone. He commented something like offsprings of the people who have done some good karmas in their lives are generally contented and happy

Many things learnt, will end the post here

Memories and Thoughts On My Father

I lost my father on June 18, 2022. This post chronicles the lasting memories of my father and has little to do with product management or leadership. You may skip if you feel like. Thank you

Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says

यत्करोषि यदश्नासि यज्जुहोषि ददासि यत् |

यत्तपस्यसि कौन्तेय तत्कुरुष्व मदर्पणम् || 9.27||

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation to the sacred fire, whatever you bestow as a gift, and whatever austerities you perform, O son of Kunti, do them as an offering to Me

I lost my father almost a month back on June 18, 2022. He would have been 73 this October. He had been battling cancer for the last 2 years. There have been so many thoughts running in my mind through all these days and there has never been a moment I have not missed him. Before my mind starts painting a distant mirage to my memories with him, I wanted to put some of these things down. If you are fortunate to have parents with you, maybe you can find some of these helpful

  1. There is a gaping hole in the heart. The sense of loss never goes away. I wish that whatever happened was a dreamy nightmare and when I get back home, I’d meet him. I also think the only thing that will change with time is the frequency at which these thoughts keep coming
  1. You have limited time with your parents. In the modern mobility era, we don’t live with our parents or even near to them in the most likelihood. Because of Covid-induced WFH flexibility, online education classes for kids and wife’s support; I got to spend almost one year with him. Pre-Covid and assuming once-a-year 2-weeks visit to parents, it’s almost equivalent to 25 years of together-time!
  1. Parents are vulnerable and are not infallible. In the early part of my adulthood, I was more often angry with my parents for many reasons. However, when I got a chance to see them up close after almost 20 years, I could understand their perspective, limitations and ways of evaluating things. Factually speaking, they have always tried to do the best in my interest to the point that they hurt themselves. Forgive your parents if there is still time. Even when the death was very near and he had realized it was, his bigger worry was how his disease was impacting my life. Probably, he wanted to go sooner
  2. Doing your best is paramount. In a complex intractable disease like a metastatic melanoma, it is not always clear what to make of the treatment options. I always did what was in the best interest of him at any point in time. For these two years, I put everything aside – career, family, life, money, my own comfort. We tried every treatment option possible- surgery, radiation, drug trial, immunotherapy, genome sequencing, chemotherapy, targeted therapies, Ayurveda you name it. After almost 100 hospital visits, hospitalisations and many inoculations, we could not save him. But he did put up a good fight and never lost the will to live till the very end. I also think I was there for him when he needed me the most
  1. Death always surprises. I knew it was terminal cancer for almost 2 years and was keeping myself ready for the final eventuality. However when the death came, it appeared suddenly. I could not see him motionless. Even now, I somehow think when I go back to my native place, we’d meet and discuss inane stuff. It’s not sunk in yet or probably never will
  1. Create memories, videos are 100X more valuable than photos. I once asked my father which one place he wanted to visit the most. He replied Pashupati Nath temple in Kathmandu. He had always been a devotee of Lord Shiva. That visit never happened because of his health. Seeing my father deteriorating every day, I did make a list of things we wanted to do together. Some of them we could do, most we could not. I also recorded many videos of him, in natural settings and inflexions which are infinitely more valuable than hundreds of still photos
  1. People will disappoint you. They say parents are the only true well-wishers in your life. Everyone else is pretending to sound like one at best. All through this struggle, I could see charade, pretense and make-believe chatter and actions from people in my life – friends, acquaintances, relatives, siblings. If you genuinely believe in people’s generosity and big heartedness, some realism would help. A more optimistic explanation why sometimes people disappoint us could be not because they are genuinely “bad”, but because we tend to project our personalities and beliefs on them; which is not necessarily reflective. So if you are more of an idealistic person like I am, be ready to be disappointed more often!
  1. Having a noble heart is important. I had lost one of my younger cousins in May 2022 and my father was visibly distressed. He had almost complained to God it was his turn to go. Being lost myself, I asked him the purpose of life or how to live life. He told me two things a. It’s important that you do good to other people to the extent you can b. Money is important in life
  1. Cancer care is broken. Right from finding that his disease could be a suspect case of cancer in May 2020 to now, I could see how cancer care is broken in our country. Diagnosis is imprecise, care choices are unclear, hospice services are non-existent, doctors advise you not necessarily what’s in the patient’s best interest but their “assessment” of your financial situation. And I am talking of some of the best cancer care Institutes in the country

Cancer is a brutal disease. The Bhagavad Gita verse quoted above is what I used to narrate to him when his pain was too severe to handle even with strong sedatives. I used to tell him to offer his sufferings and pain to God and not keep those within himself. I am unsure how much it helped him. I also recited to him the first chapter of the Gita, but he was apparently disinterested so I discontinued. Later I got to know from my mother that he had been reading the Gita himself alone. Probably he had internalized the meaning of the verse

My father was a simple farmer and a family man. He provided the best to a large family of ours from the limited resources he had. After successfully fighting staged court battles, physical feuds, he also passed the same heritage to us as he had got from his father. He was stoic and brave in his many struggles through life. He loved animals, especially birds and cows. He also favored the poor and vulnerable people almost like a socialist and often to his considerable financial loss

Parents are always alive within us, they never die. I performed final rituals as he had once told me to. He wanted to be cremated where our ancestors have been for hundreds of years. Even in his greatest pain, he remembered his father and how he would help him fight the disease. I would suppose he received the same care and love in his last days that he gave to his parents in their final days

We had prayed together on Mahashivratri in our village temple this March. My mother later told me he had started fasting on Mahashivratri the year I was born and never skipped fasting even for once since then

Hindus believe in reincarnations till we unite with the Supreme Entity. Either way, I pray to Mahadev that I meet him – in the next life as his son again or united as one with the Lord

PS: Many thanks to Dr Manish Singhal from Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi and Dr Santanu Chaudhary from Pushpanjali Hospitals, Agra for taking care of my father

Lastly, I am grateful to my employer Flipkart for their excellent health insurance, flexible work policies and unwavering support throughout the 2 years. And to many of my colleagues who often endured bad network and audio quality from my side over Google Meet calls because I was working from an actual “remote” location, thank you!