To the hell and back

I remember the bright sunny afternoon of May 2012, I was visiting my professor’s office at the conclusion of student exchange program to get a recommendation letter for the Master’s program. The professor asked a very reflective question which made me think about why I was so motivated to keep on with the studies instead of starting a job after going back to Pakistan. I didn’t have the right answer so just said something from top of my head. After leaving the office, I realized that while making all these decisions, I never really took out the time to think about the triggering factor which was giving me the push. The triggering factor which was there to calm me down after every bump in the road, guiding me to shoulder the problems that came along the way. It was my mother.

We got to know that she was suffering from cardiomyopathy when I was in my 3rd year of bachelors. She didn’t want to stop teaching even after the diagnosis and continued with her work to assist my father in providing us with the best education possible. It was her sickness that always gave me a sense of urgency in getting done with education and finding a job in an attempt to return some of the sacrifices that she made for us.

She was a firm believer in education and always pushed us further and further towards higher goals, always aimed high for us. I’ve rarely seen people understand their children’s emotions and feelings so well. Always understood our reasons, valued our opinions and never imposed slightest thing. She taught us to live life on our own terms while always guiding us to do the right thing. She was intellectual, enjoyed company of intelligent people and never said any uncomfortable thing to anyone in conversations; polite and soft spoken as she always was.

She was retiring on 28th February, which we had all been excited about since she always preferred to not leave home saying “I will come visit you after retirement”. It was not in our wildest of the dreams that she will leave us so soon hence my entire universe came crashing down when I received that phone call on 10th march on my way home from work. It was a nerve wrecking realization that all of my life’s endeavors are standing opposite, mocking and laughing at me and the game is OVER!

I reached home and the only thing I could think of was that my existence is meaningless now since she was the nucleus of my life. Most of the things I was doing was because it made her happy and seeing her happiness was my reward. I don’t think any word has been coined in English vocabulary to describe the pain that day flung upon us. My father asked me several times if he should wait for the funeral until my arrival. I knew it will be a very difficult situation for him as well as my siblings to manage the visitors for that long who had come from far off places for the funeral. I had missed the direct flight and the total traveling time with the next flight was 40 hours with two layovers. Apart from that, deep down I was thinking that maybe it’s good if I don’t see her that way because then the last memory I will have of her will be the happy face when she said goodbye and told me to eat drink and be merry. This was her way of comforting since she knew my love for spicy food. Every time I scored low on any quiz or exam, she would tell me to go to the canteen and eat a Samosa with Chai.

Long story short, I reached home, stayed in denial for weeks about her absence, got comfort from being with siblings, friends and family, endured the biggest loss in my life and SURVIVED!!. This entire phase of standing back on my feet taught me some lessons which I want to share in case if they can be of comfort for other people who have been through a similar blow.

1: Be easy on yourself

It’s ok to fall down, to feel vulnerable, to ask for help, to lean on people, to feel broken and to take time. If you don’t embrace your vulnerability completely, it’s never possible to gain your strength back. A part of you will always feel broken if you always embody a fake avatar of braveness.

After coming back from Pakistan, the feeling of emptiness was so strong that I wondered if I will ever be able to smile, laugh or feel happiness again. I filled my schedule, days and nights with work, social activities and sleep which helped me pass time and not think about what had befallen. The positive side of that was it helped me going through the time which is necessary to go by before the pain starts to heal. I decided to go to Singapore in summer to give myself a break from my routine life and to rejuvenate myself since Singapore is like a second home. Doing so not only energized me to start over but also helped me get back to being myself again.

2: Look at the bigger picture

Most of the time when we encounter a trial, we tend to ignore the bigger picture of how life is an interplay of so many different factors. The circle of life itself is a very complex phenomena which I got to understand a bit better after losing my mother. During her entire life, she was preparing us to be self-sufficient, be bold enough to take risks, to believe in our intuition, to own our decisions, and to not use other peoples’ choices or timings as our guide. From her last conversations and writings, I feel she was mentally prepared to take on the next journey. The last smile on her face which stayed even after her death was the best present she could give in her last moments that will reassure me forever that she had a short but a very deep life and said goodbye on a satisfied note.

3: Lean on your inner self

There is no one better than you to pull yourself out of a calamity since no one is better acquainted with you than yourself.

The more time has passed, the better I realize that each and every moment is important and there is always light after a period of darkness. Every bad experience has some positive aspect hidden in it, we can either chose the path of feeling doomed and let it destroy us or we can learn a lesson and move on.

4: Talk to people who have survived a similar experience

I have gained a lot of comfort and strength by talking to people who have encountered the same tragedy and by learning from how they managed to surpass it.

5: Spend time with Nature

Believe it or not, nature has some therapeutic power which has the capacity to heal any emotional or psychological trauma. After coming back to Norway, I tried to do more and more of outdoor activities which has been one of the best tricks in putting myself back to my feet and ready to kick some ass.

During this phase of life, my family and friends helped generously to not lose myself in the grief. I am grateful to them and hope and wish that I could be the source of solace and comfort to people who go through hard times.

I want to dedicate this blog to my mother. Mom, I will forever cherish the wonderful years I spent with you. I hope we meet again and until then, I will pray that I be granted some small part of the strength, humility, perseverance and warmth you were admired for. You were the best person I ever had the privilege of knowing. Love you always.