Asia

The angst of losing a parent

By Poonam Kirpal, Guest Writer

I always maintained that with the biological clock ticking, midlife is the logical time when one loses a parent and, being the practical one that I am, I thought one would obviously be prepared for the imminent. How wrong was I? I lost my dad a few days back. He was 81, he was ailing and was getting weaker every day; the impending end was evident but when it happened we were all traumatized beyond anticipation. It is not only the heartache of losing a parent but also your inability to fill the void for the surviving spouse.

There are many issues that we take for granted when parents are around. I remember an incident vividly, when I had just started driving independently. I was overconfident about my skills with the car, while my husband, being the cautious sort, always disapproved of my so-called lack of prudence. Dismissing his concern as irrational, I took the car out for a joy ride the very first opportunity, when he was out at work. To my horror, while reversing the vehicle, I rammed it into a pillar. Fortunately, I was safe but the rear of the car looked like a bull had smashed into it! The sight sent a shockwave through my entire body. I did not want to see the mocking expression on my husband’s face when he would say, ”Didn’t I tell you?”

What did I do? I just picked up the phone, dialed my dad’s number, and blurted out, “Dad I banged the car! Please have it repaired before Sanjay returns the day after.” My father seemed concerned about my well-being and when he learnt I was okay, promptly had the car picked up and got it fixed within a day and a half. Till date, I had never bothered to ask him how he did it. Dad was always a guaranteed life saver.

At his funeral, my entire childhood flashed through my mind and I recalled the wonderful times I spent with my energetic and vivacious father. I remembered my first visit to Mumbai. He was an early riser and I would be his accomplice in any adventurous quest. We decided to accompany the fishermen in their dinghies for an early morning fishing expedition. It was fascinating to see the passion and the skill of the fishermen and their amazing teamwork; at the same time, it was also scary, as the commuter boats for this kind of work are not built for comfort. In short, it was an awesome experience for me as a kid, if you can discount the awful smell of the fishy sea! I felt privileged to accompany my father on this extraordinary outing, which I keep as one of my most cherished memories.

He was a regular morning walker and a self-taught yoga guru. Very often I accompanied him for these walks. As a teenager, I used to be embarrassed when he would burst out laughing loudly without reason, or swing like a monkey on a particular branch, or eat a few leaves of the medicinal neem tree every day as part of a fitness ritual. He would explain the benefits of each action. Then he would sit in a particular spot and do his yoga routine. After a few days, I noticed that a lot of people would wait for him and follow his yoga exercises. He told them he was no teacher, but his self-imposed disciples would insist on sitting across from him and imitating him. Much later, when I had my two girls, they loved to go with their nana (maternal grandfather) for a walk, whom they deemed as their hero.

He taught them several Sanskrit shlokas that they could recite verbatim, which gave them an edge over the other children in school. Although he was a civil engineer who topped the engineering college in his time, he loved English literature and poetry. He could recite whole stanzas by Keats, Frost, Eliot, Shakespeare, and Wordsworth, with the eloquence of a poet. My childhood and those of my children’s were enriched by these riveting inputs. Later in life, both my girls went on to major in media studies and have a passion for literature. I thank my father for kindling this excitement in them in their growing years.

I was quite a tomboy as child. I remember I used to play hockey and football with my brother’s friends, and I was really good– I used to get picked up well before many boys when the captains chose their teams. One evening, I was sent back as the boys said that only boys were allowed to play. I ran to my father and asked, “Why I am a girl? I want to play football!” My fail-safe father came to my rescue again. He dressed me in my brother’s shorts and T-shirt and tied my hair up in the form of a short turban. He then told me to go out and play. The boys had no choice but to include me in their team!

There were numerous occasions when I have taken his advice on important and inconsequential matters, without doubting his ability to guide me. The loss is slowly sinking in. I cannot go running any more to my father to sort out the cobwebs in my head. I have to evolve myself to be the father now!

Parents are very precious. Their love is absolute, their advice is invaluable, their motives are forthright, and their backing is unswerving. Hold onto them, cherish and enjoy them as long as you can. They are not permanent in our lives. Don’t take them for granted.

We are a reflection of our parents. When they disappear and as time goes by, it is uncanny how we not only look, but think, act, and behave like them.

 

My father was my idol; I hope God gives me the strength to become as dependable a parent as my father was to me …

Poonam Kirpal
Poonam has been associated with education for the last 30 years in various capacities. She has been a teaching faculty in prestigious schools in India and has taught psychology at college level. Her first love is counseling and she has contributed in this capacity to all institutions she has worked with. Presently, she works as a senior executive at the Indian Head Injury Foundation (IHIF) where she coordinates the educational programs and enlightens people about the Primary Trauma Care courses with disaster drill conducted by IHIF. She is a first-time grandmother.

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