Coronavirus will always remain someone else’s problem until it becomes your own. On May 28, 2020, my seventy-four year old father succumbed to this invisible killer. To be fair, my father has had his share of other health complications – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, subdural hematoma, and aspiration pneumonia. Coronavirus simply finished what his other diseases could not – end his suffering.
My father probably didn’t want us to see him go through the pinnacle of his suffering. And so, the universe granted him his final wishes. He was all by himself in a COVID isolation ward, covered in needles, tubes and masks for five long days. My mother and I were anxiously waiting in self-isolation at home, after testing negative for Coronavirus. My sister and her family were helplessly stuck in Denver. At this point, ten thousand miles from dad or ten miles from dad didn’t make a darn difference. Dad, if he had been conscious, may have used his last five days of solitude to process his own mortality. He may have used the time to prepare to let go of all his attachments, and depart the life which he lived for almost seventy-five years. After five days, succumbing to nature, he finally let go. We may not have been with him in person as he passed on, but I know, everyone he knew was there in spirit with him through his last days and his last minutes.
After my dad had a fall in March, I flew into Chennai, barely two days before all domestic flights stopped operations. I was lucky enough to be ‘stuck’ with my dad and mom in their home. Thank you Corona! We enjoyed many breakfasts and dinners as a family, with my sister comfortably sitting ‘on’ the dining table via an iPad screen. Despite the ups and downs of dad’s health during this period, he never missed an opportunity to crack a stupid joke or indulge us in self-deprecating humor. This period of my life was absolute joy, one I would never have traded for anything else.
My father, whom my sister and I called daddy, was a simple man with humble beginnings. He has always been my favorite rags-to-riches story. The riches he accumulated was not just education and wealth, but a whole lot of love. He was soft-spoken, kind, and loving. He sported a genuine smile and always allowed others to make fun of him. We never once laughed at him, we always laughed with him. It’s this magical quality of vulnerability that made him one of the most loved people in the family.
He was the kind of man who loved his wife very much. After forty-nine years of marriage, he still joked about having an affair, but never had the heart to pursue one.
He was the kind of man who helped his two children become who we are today.
He was the kind of man who helped many people lift themselves out of poverty.
He was the kind of man who had plenty of opportunities to make more money by getting his palms greased, but lived a life of wholesome integrity.
He was the kind of man who didn’t consider it theft when he was caught stealing cookies from his own house.
He was the kind of man who has curious enough to travel to almost thirty countries without speaking much English.
He was the kind of man who tried Sushi for the first time at the prime age of seventy-four.
He was the kind of man who may have never had the vocabulary of spirituality, but lived a life which was aspirational for many of us who only have an intellectual understanding of the subject.
He was many kinds of man. He left us with more memories than we can handle.
If we thought his passing was surreal, the cremation was a movie in itself. Just a few relatives, my mother and I waited, as my father who was wrapped in three layers of plastic, arrived in a tiny ambulance. It was May in Madras – scorching one hundred degrees Fahrenheit accompanied by grueling humidity. Four of us wore the PPE gear we were given, instantly getting soaked in sweat and tears. Condensation in our goggles made it difficult for us to see. We looked like astronauts in space suits before venturing on an unknown mission. The entire scene was being filmed and streamed over the Internet for everyone who couldn’t make it in person. I could not see my father’s face below the plastic. I barely noticed the thin outline of the frail body that he had become. I placed a small garland on my father and my mother touched him good bye. And just like that, he was pushed into the cremation chamber, only to become ash and bone an hour later.
As we waited for his ashes, my cousins and I were joking about dad, laughing away, while my father was quite literally burning behind us. My dad not only gifted us the space to laugh with him when he was alive, but also allowed us the liberty to laugh about him in his death. He wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
The only certainty in life is death.
Life has always been unpredictable, but feels more so these days. Going with the flow and taking it one moment at a time, seems to be the spiritual, practical and only way to approach all of this. At the risk of coming across as preachy, I would ask that all of us hit the pause button and ask ourselves some basic questions. What ‘are’ we doing? What ‘are’ we fighting for? What is ‘actually’ important? If all we become is ash and bone, let’s not forget that the spirit we leave behind, lives only in peoples’ memories. And memories of kindness will always outlast all other memories. If we truly want to leave a lasting legacy, let’s try and be kind to one another. Nothing else matters.
We miss you.
All of us.
PS: My mother, my sister, I and the rest of our family are all doing well. My dad’s passing may seem like a loss, but we know, whatever happened was best for him. We are happy for him.