I am grateful to the friend who reminded me that without pain, we would never know joy; without grief, we would not know love. They are two sides of the same coin; inseparable.
Images of my father flood my mind at unexpected moments in the day, from a quiet coffee break to the middle of a meeting, teaching session or conversation. Being an advanced Alzheimer’s patient, my father has had to be recently shifted to a palliative care centre. My vigorous, handsome, loving, best-dad-in-the-world father is reduced in ways that I could not have imagined. I do not contest what is and I accept it, but pain comes in waves and is shocking in its suddenness and intensity. It disappears as suddenly as it comes; replaced by a calmness that is resignation and acceptance combined.
I often debate with myself on what is worse: a person with sound cognitive functions and a body that has given up, or a person with a relatively healthy body whose mind is gone. I have seen both extremes and am unable to come to a conclusion. One condition primarily strips a person of all human qualities, while the other strips them of dignity.
As a teenager, I was taught by my grandfather that we are more than the body. We are more than even the mind. I grew up with the concept of being consciousness – a soul – in transit. I am at ease with that idea. I have no arguments to offer to those who disagree. Some things just seem so right and so obvious. It is all a matter of how you process what you experience and observe. It is a reality to me that just is.
In every life, there comes a time when the body no longer serves its purpose and the mind no longer functions in ways that are meaningful. When I see my father, I wonder: Is it the body that I see that is my father? Or was it the mind that is gone that was him? Or is he the consciousness in the body, trapped temporarily, having freed itself from the identity of the ‘mind’ and now looking forward to freeing itself from the body as well? To cease to be here, we only have to break free of the two parameters that define us as individuals: body and mind. Yes, I do think he is free from one of the chains that bind. The other’s time will come too. And when his soul leaves the body, it will be pure, free from pain or any of the limiting qualities we assign to ourselves as physical creatures.
At one level, it is crushing to see him the way he is now. On another level, I know my grandfather was right. The conflict with what my eyes see and what my mind believes is sometimes overwhelming. And the heart? It is a curious thing: muddies the waters further by colouring both, what the eyes see and what the mind believes.
My father has taught me invaluable lessons in life from personal examples. On love, individuality, joy, caring, honesty, integrity, perseverance, sensitivity, giving, sacrifice, acceptance, responsibility, duty, and being of service. There are so many more; it is a long list. I am ever blessed to have learnt about life by following his footsteps.
I have learnt from experience that when the circle of life closes, there is a sense of release in the ending. It is freedom to those who leave, and a temporary set-back to those left behind. But just as I was geared to withstand the pain of giving birth, I am also geared to withstand the pain of letting go.
Among the many things that my father loved are the fighter planes whose noise we woke up to in the morning as kids. He would tell us to watch out for a plane in the sky in a given direction, even behind his back, without any clues. He just knew it’d be there. And it always was. If we asked wonderingly how he knew, he’d just smile. You see, some things just are.
I wish his fighter plane takes off full throttle whenever it is ready. No looking back. The limitless sky awaits. And I will be cheering on the ground watching it soar, revelling in its deafening roar.