Dying as far as we understand is transformation for the dead; but, also for some of us living. My Dad lived wisely. Now he teaches me posthumously. Yes, my Dad is no more. His death did not wait for me. It happened. He’s gone forever; vanished into space when I least expected it. How can you expect it of a joyful, fairly healthy and determinedly active person? A person so alive at every moment?
Life and death come in a bundle. We can’t have one without the other. Every day, we carry a chance of dying within. However, this prospect is somewhere in the deep recesses of our minds. Whether the stoics tell us “memento mori” or when death happens in our circles, we don’t process how we will cope if it happened to us and our most-beloved.
My regret: I fiercely wish I had loved my Dad more. Now that he is gone, I wish to show him how truly beloved he was.
Sadly, it is through death that Dad remains my true teacher. Why had I waited for him to pass on in order to realize the deep wisdom from his death? Now through regret and reflection, I am applying Dad’s wisdom onto my loved ones, to my planet and our future.
Most days since his passing on September 12, 2019, I have woken up to the rock on my chest and some days moving or thinking feels like choking.
I grew up knowing my Dad mainly through my mother. I habituated myself not to look at him whole. This defined our relationship until 2016, when he left to go home to India. He came to live with me when my children arrived on the planet, 22 years ago. This was an ‘arrangement’ I was content with but actually, truly blessed with! It seemed to work out for all concerned: my parents who couldn’t stay together, my husband who loved my Dad, and my children, who continue to adore him. Dad lived with us for 18 years being himself – happy, helpful, joyful, kind, resourceful, engaged with kids, family and community. He kept himself busy cooking, shopping, chauffeuring, sharing, participating in all, without interfering. We lived together enjoying his happy presence, but I didn’t really make efforts to explore my views of him that were colored by my past nurture. It appears that I love both my parents but, I loved Dad less.
Now my Dad is gone. For ever and ever.
I struggle daily knowing that I loved Dad less than he deserved. Often, I remained un-acknowledging of his true giving to my family. It was taken for granted by the busy-ness of life, work, career, and being self-absorbed. My children flowered in his love and Indian guidance. I remember him gently telling my son at my lighting god’s lamp, “don’t accept nor reject what mommy says. Just be. And think for yourself. Understand it’s how mommy grew up.”
When Dad left to head back to India, my relationship with him started flowering. I missed his loving presence and his need for family. He wanted my mother and brother home. I could relate to this now when he is not with us anymore. We talked every day. He gave me life-lines that I hold close and live by.
‘Forgive yourself and others, Ma.’
‘Don’t dwell in the past; you won’t arrive into your future.’
‘Life is swift; remain awake.’
And this big one: ‘Don’t put yourself down!’
I started to see him now as my Dad. My guy, holding strong with my best interests in mind.
I saw that despite all the mud-slinging that he had faced his whole life, and the severe isolation from his own family, he did not let any of it define nor stop him from living his everyday life joyfully. He had blossomed in his later life; every day, every moment he was full of joy and wonder. He loved every spider in our home. He gave every child and child-at-heart, gadgets galore. Money poured out of his savings to help people start a business or help them stand up. He read books by the thousands and shared them when relevant. Through his blog, he wrote to thousands of people “random thoughts” of wisdom. My school friends and acquaintances were on his email list. He had 7000 followers on Speaking Tree. He talked to me, kids, my husband, his siblings, every day! And this man would type with one finger, and joyful with 25% of a functioning heart.
I planned to visit him September 25, 2019 and stay with him for a couple months, exploring my non-profit work in India. The news of his sudden death following our conversation for 1.5 hours on the morning of September 12, 2019, knocked me out.
When I was able bid him my last goodbye, I knew that I didn’t know him as well as I could have. My habit of being suspicious of him, based upon my childhood coaching, had created a palpable distance between us that I was not yet gotten over with. I decided to go meet his friends who had been the bane of our (my Dad’s) family’s existence. My Mother had misconstrued from her own pain, that these friends of his “took” needlessly from him; we were to always to watch out for them, as they would “hurt” us by being friendly with him.
What I learnt from meeting his friends is beyond precious for me. The only basis for his friendships was decency, love, sharing and giving. Dad had cultivated real families beyond his own. His isolation in several senses from his own family, had him seek and shower affection to all he would meet. And this hadn’t lessened his love for his blood family! Every one of his friends had great empathy for us/children and my mother.
I am getting to know the true meaning of friendship. My circle of love has opened wide. My family is bigger now. With my father’s friends, we share shoulders and mourn him. We all have lost our best friend at the same time.
So how does one move on from such deep regret that cannot be changed except by time travel into the past with the wisdom we gain following death,, and correcting the error in our thinking? At least in my thinking?! I can’t move on. But, I can move on-ward with my Dad in me. He is the fossil imprinted in my heart of everything past that I cherish and carry. I awake now to the questions, “how can I be his good child to the ideal ancestor he was to all who loved him?” “WWDD/ What would Dad do?”
Here is how, based on my Dad’s wisdom:
– Show all the living great tenderness and compassion. They need it now. Not when they are gone. Time and space are relative in all parts of the cosmos. But our time and space is now!
– Open up to (your) humanity. We have a role in the ecosystem as a member-species.
– Spread the legacy of a good person. Visit and serve the vulnerable, weak, terminally-ill, orphans, the depressed, the voiceless.
– Don’t conflate death onto religion, medicine, politics, ideology or relationships. Don’t wait for deep wisdom that comes following death. Don’t wait to learn from dying. Understand death from within the soul. We all have the ability to do so, now!
– See the future now, instead of when someone has passed. Everyone we love is within us – in our habits, our children, our strengths and weaknesses, our character, in all our layers. Even if the mind is foggy, they are always there. Our future is now. Our future with them/your loved ones, is now.
To my one and only Dad, “I love you.” I am moving on-ward with you.
Priya Tallam is a Geographic Information Systems specialist, wife and mom of two young adults. She is trained as an Architect and Urban Planner and at local government analyzed data to develop and apply sound policy for the health of the environment and people. In 2018, she established a non-profit centered on species and habitat conservation- vspca.org. She is an animal activist and advocate who encourages a plant-based lifestyle. Priya is currently researching the intersection of animals and design, aiming to demonstrate safe co-existence of humans and animals. One of the goals of this endeavor is to further human-animal flourishing in an urbanized world. Another goal is to encourage the stewardship of the planet. To this end, she promotes pedagogy to encourage ‘cosmic education,’ – working from the universe to the parts– genes, life-forms, ecosystems, individual cultures, history, geography. This is principally based on Maria Montessori’s work, but prepares young kids to learn by being inserted into real-life scientific research or natural living.