unboxing grief

what comes to mind when you think of grief? 

melancholy, sadness, despair, depression, uninterested, agony, misery, heartache, hiding….?

it is human nature to take our grief, box it, tape it up with the strongest packing tape you can find, and ship it to storage. but, storage comes with a fee, and for how long will you pay that price?

unpack that box, and as the grief is clawing, ripping and scratching at the cardboard quickly grab it by the horns and take control, before it controls you.

we’re all guilty of the above, including myself. but i realized early on that i could not be a semi functioning human being if i bottled up my grief like this. so here is what i learned through my grieving process and i hope my experience can help you cope with your grief. 

 

  1. time : people would tell me that i shouldn’t be crying hysterically after a certain amount of time, that it would not let the departed soul, well…depart. i don’t believe in any of that. so, no matter what advice you are given, at the end of the day you have to do what helps you cope. some need a year, some need five to fully accept the death of their loved one. be kind to yourself and take your time. 
  2. food: the entire duration of my dad’s stay in the ICU i probably had one meal a day and drank multiple cups of coffee. we had been staying at the hospital until the early morning hours. we had no time or motivation to cook anything at home, so my lovely relatives would bring us food. however, my appetite was shot and i ended up losing 15 lbs. the morning man dad passed i couldn’t even swallow food, i felt as if something was stuck in my throat. my eyes were swollen from crying so much, and i had nervous cold sweats out of shock for days. i literally had to force myself to eat, it was the only thing that made me feel a little better. 
  3.  work: many people take bereavement time off. however, i did not. i threw myself into work in order to distract myself from the grief after the funeral. this had it’s pros and cons. pros: i wouldn’t be able to sit at home all day and let my emotions get the best of me, i tried to put my mind elsewhere (which, was harder than i thought) at work, if i felt like i was about to get upset i would go cry in the bathroom or just close my office door and many times it was spontaneous. my boss urged me to take the time off, but i didn’t want to as i knew being home would make my mental state much worse. so he was kind enough to let me take some extra breaks throughout the day and told me to take it easy at work. 
  4. separation anxiety:  for a while, it was extremely hard for me to leave my mom alone. she had just lost her best friend, her companion. my parents did everything together, so i tried to fill that void for her. i tried to do little things here and there like talking on the phone on our commutes to work, going to the temple together, making sure we ate dinner together everyday, etc.  we are each others rocks.
  5. social life: my sweet friends would checking in on me often, however i didn’t physically see any of them for about a year. the “grief attacks” come in waves, and you never know when or what will trigger it. i would write in the mornings, go to work, the gym, have dinner then go to bed. it’s ok if you’re not fully ready, even in a year (or more), to have or maintain a social life. take care of yourself first. 
  6. communication:  don’t feel pressure to respond to calls/texts right away. i would turn my phone on silent. it’s ok to not attend to people right away. your healing is first, always. don’t even worry about explaining yourself, because people owe it to you to be patient and understanding after such a huge loss. 
  7. physical activity: you won’t want to workout, or even think about working out. however, try to get at least one walk a day in. it will help you clear your mind. 

i know it may seem hard to fathom now, but time heals. death is permanent, and it’s painful to imagine life not only now without your loved one, but in the future…thinking of all the major life events and precious moments that person won’t be a part of is heart shattering. but don’t leave that bandaid on your wound forever, it will do more harm than good. you need to remove the bandaid after a little bit in order to let your wound heal. but remember, the scar will always be there.

do whatever you need to do in order to cope, for me that is writing about my father. it, in a sense, makes him immortal even long after i’m gone, the writings will be around forever. 

lastly, don’t forget, you are never alone. 

the mind garden

libraries. 

my favorite far off mystical land. among the shelves are lands anywhere you choose to venture off to. 

my school library was full of books from floor to ceiling. each book summoning me for a mental vacation. after school i would head over there before volleyball practice to finish up some homework. i always wish i had more time to take advantage of all the books. one of my favorites growing up was on my sixth grade summer reading list, “holes” i still remember how the book played out like a movie in my head as i read each word. when i was done, i felt as if i had watched an entire feature film. really the only source of entertainment we had in such a small town, the magic of the book. 

during my college weekends, i discovered the lafayette library. nestled in the green hills of the east bay this library had a california charm- a contemporary twist but still felt regal. i spent most of my weekends in there working through organic chemistry problems or reading for biology. i would be seated at the cherry wood desks with a green overhead reading light, other times i sat outside underneath the gazebo engulfed in english ivy, the veins leaving little gaps for the sun to shine through. 

at the college campus, my favorite part of the library were the little cubicles, particularly the hidden ones. a walk up the stairs and and through the rows of bookshelves and there was my spot. the single cubicle lit by a little reading light overlooking the campus the white buildings with the spanish clay tile roofs surrounded by the giant pine and spruce trees of northern california. i spent my evenings studying until my eyeballs hurt and occasionally got a chance to pick up a book that would take me on a little thought vacation away from school studies. 

the most sublime library i ever listed was the new york city public library. it was an out of a movie kind of experience. somewhere, where i’d like to think james joyce or edgar allan poe would be spilling their thoughts out onto paper on a snowy winter evening. the grand rose reading room, the large wooden desks lit by mini golden lamps, the handpainted murals above blessing my eyes when i needed a break in between words, and the large windows behind the hundreds of thousands of books where the clouds of november were rolling in for an excitingly frightening manhattan thunderstorm. 

the library,

the mind garden.

 

 

 

bruce and the spider

my childhood was full of bike riding, scraped knees, ninja turtle band-aids, playing video games with my brother, playing dress up, putting on plays for my parents, snow ball fights in the icy canadian winters, and of course pep talks from the best girl dad. 

my dad was my yoda. like most immigrant dads, he’d start his motivational speeches with “i walked five miles to school in the hot indian sun everyday” and then proceed to tell some beautiful story with a moral lesson nestled in there. he would love sharing his wisdom with my big brother and i. his favorite fable was “bruce and the spider”. if you haven’t heard the story, it goes like this…

robert bruce, the king of scotland went into hiding after losing  six battles. while in hiding, he noticed a spider try time and again to spin its web. every time the spider fell it got right back up to begin again. the seventh time the spiders efforts were successful, this motivated bruce to get back on his feet, he assembled his army and went back to win the battle

during my childhood i was too young to understand the moral of the story, so i always nodded my head and said “ok papa” whenever he tried to build me up. 

dad continued to share this story as i got older. when i understood the moral of the story, it really opened up my eyes. i learned what the spider and ultimately bruce learned, 

failure is a part of the process

we are so afraid to fail because we care so much about our public perception. more people would pursue a career they love if there was a pathway that guaranteed success. failure is looked down upon, unfortunately. 

did you get your dream job on first try? did you find love on the first date you’ve ever been on? did you fulfill your wildest dreams on the first try? most likely, no. for most of us it takes years of failure after failure to reach that one opportunity that changes our lives forever. 

success is all about who continues to climb when others have given up

while you’re climbing the ladder to success people will pull at your leg, light the ladder on fire, push your ladder off the top, etc. when you ladder falls, dust yourself off and start climbing again. there is beauty in the journey. 

your knuckles will get tired after knocking on doors for years, but sometimes you’ll decide to build your own door. but if you decide to do so, it’s not instant success. 

learn to love failure 

i must have submitted my poetry manuscript to 20-30 publishing companies, i got one reply and it was a lovely lady who said she loved my work but “it wasn’t for them at this time”. i was so ecstatic that i got a response, someone acknowledged my work! those submissions were all failures, but if i saw it as “wow, my poetry must suck” then i’d give up writing all together. there are so many writers who couldn’t get published through a traditional publisher, and self-published their work. in a way i guess, i built my own door rather than waiting on someone to open a door for me. 

writers who self-published: james joyce, t.s. eliot, stephen king, jk rowling, e.e. cummings, and many more.

failing up

failure is a staircase, each time we try hard at something and fail, we’re taking a step up. you are one step closer to the top, success. think of failure as practice and success a bonus. you are still doing what you love, which is going for it. in fact, all the people successful at what you’re trying to succeed in are real life examples that success will happen.

it’s just a matter of never giving up. 

 

 

 

 

the last day I saw you

it was the day, that day. the house still felt ice cold, as it had since i returned from the hospital at 4am. 

people collected, dressed in white head to toe. i stood before my mirror, rehearsing my eulogy one last time before i presented it to you. my face turned red, my heart dropped to the floor, and then the floor fell from beneath my feet when i read “rest in paradise, papa”. wait, my dad? my knees gave out as they had the day you departed your body. a knock on the bathroom door “we’re going to be late” it was mom. it was as if a 50 lb weight was chained to each leg. it was as if i was being dragged into a nightmare that I knew had no end.

it was as if darkness had reached up from below to grab my feet and drag me to the funeral home. 

as i approached the hall where dad rested, i sat outside on the bench as my ears bled to the sound of mom crying. i wish i could bring him back, just for you. i wish i could give you your best friend back. 

i took a deep breath, and closed by eyes before i stepped inside. i thought it was all a lie, that it couldn’t be you. but then, i saw you, it was as if you were taking one of your afternoon naps. so at peace. i kissed your forehead before i took my seat. 

i looked around, all your friends are here, your family….but, why aren’t you? 

you have been called home, and there is nothing i can do about it

 

mom and dad’s wedding. punjab, india.

 

 

a letter to women

“there is no ceiling, chase your dreams”, my eyes always lit up when my dad would say this.

he taught me that as a girl there was nothing i couldn’t accomplish and he would raise me the same as if i was a boy. in many cultures, boys are put on a pedestal and girls get second string. 

bande vargi sooch” (“think like a man”) he would say.

girls becoming women and are no less than boys becoming a man.

however, once i grew to be an adult, i came across some situations that demanded i return back into a box. i was told “do something within your reach”, and then i thought ” what is within my reach”. my father had told me anything is possible and nothing is impossible. so, what reach? 

let me give you the groundbreaking answer: there is no reach. 

i got a lot of negativity throughout my life about what i should and should not do. if i wasn’t mentally strong, i would’ve caved just so i could get people’s “acceptance”. 

the thing is, once we exit the womb society has its set of red pencils sharpened and ready, prepared to mark up our lives. you can either fuss about erasing the marks, follow the marked instructions, or just continue living your life and not allow society to put you in the marked area. 

the truth is: that timeline you’re under fire to follow, the milestones you’re stressing to meet is all made up of outside noise

you don’t have to, complete college by 22, get married by 30, have kids by 32, give up your career after kids, etc. etc. etc. 

i feel so fortunate that I had so many people to not only encourage me to reach for the stars, but push me every day to get there…

but for those of you who lack that token of encouragement, hear it from me…

you can do anything, and be anything. no matter what your age, no matter what your financial status, no matter your “family background” no matter how many red marks society has drawn over your endeavors.  

a side note, on “family background” — if you think you’re better than someone because of the number of zeros in your bank account, or that somehow you “deserve better” you are a part of the problem. that is what i call, the americanized version of the caste system. 

anyways, back to my point…

it’s 2021, so fully, unapologetically be yourself, reach for the stars, and shatter the glass ceiling society or any person may place over your head. 

empowered women, empower women

 

tent cities

he unclenched his fist/a few peanuts and raisins/that were his/three course meal/his chocolate brown eyes/peeked through the window/droplets of the November rain/dampening his raven hair/he zipped up the window/and buried his face in the pillow/his tummy grew hollow/as he rested/on the frigid concrete/beneath his bones/that he called/home — skid row, ‘a cognitive canvas’ pg. 163

last week, i was driving through west hollywood. miles and miles of palm trees swaying north to south, the mansions perched on the cliffs of the hollywood hills, the sun beaming, the sky blue. as if someone had turned up the saturation in a photograph, utterly perfect. it was a typical, out of the movies like january afternoon in the city of angels. then i took a left…

along both sides of the road, rows and rows of make shift homes made of tents, shopping carts, mattresses, sheets, and other items. 

as every angeleno, i had known about skid row and other homeless communities in los angeles. but this was new, along with the four others i drove past on my way to run errands. 

since the pandemic 567,715 people have become homeless in the nation (source: endhomelessness.org) with california holding the highest number out of all states. there are some amazing organizations like “Project RoomKey” who’ve provided hotel and motel rooms to the homeless during the pandemic, and as stated on their site are working to ensure that after the pandemic these individuals and families won’t be back on the streets. 

in addition, after having lost their jobs many families are short on food. having a space to socially distance during these unprecedented times is a privilege, having food and a job is a privilege. 

never forget to be grateful 

*

here are some sites where you can get more information/help those in need: 

midnightmission.org/covid-19

lahsa.org

on writing

it was a stormy october night, the wind blew the raindrops onto the window and the sky looked like melancholy but beautifully so, like a poem. so i wrote one.

my first ever.

the poem was on a paper towel with a lead pencil as i used whatever was in front of me. papa used to tell me about a poet who wrote down any idea that came to mind onto a wall with a rock. tip: as a writer, you must always carry pen and paper (i’d recommend a small pocket size notebook that can fit in your purse) because you bet that groundbreaking idea will flee faster than the speed of light. 

i loved how words could capture a feeling. although i was only 15 then, the magic of words really boggled my mind. within three stanzas i captured that stormy october night in our oregon apartment, and when i reread it i felt exactly as i did as if i were reliving that moment in time.

the poem was a time stamp, one that made you feel, and so palpable.

i instantly fell in love. 

in school plays, i would take my scripts and rewrite the dialogues, adding more feeling through carefully choosing the words, the placement of the commas, the ellipses, and the periods. dialogue is all about creating a feeling, as is poetry. something that resonates with the audience/reader, or the least makes them feel something.

writing has always been my medicine, more so…meditation. it is my mental escape, my safe place, my safe haven, or whatever you want to call it. 

it is truly mental magic!

in poetry, you can go anywhere and you can be anything…

you can have tea with plato, you can venture through elizabeth taylor’s closet, you can play holi with the children of india, you can swim through space, you can feel your morning coffee traveling down your esophagus, you can feel the california ocean engulfing your feet on a hot summer day, you can feel the pain of a homeless family on skid row, etc. 

the possibilities are endless, and the messages are powerful 

only when we feel do we have the need to act. a central theme in a lot of my writings is adversities and social issues. for centuries, writing has proven to be a great medium to bring awareness to social issues and poverty around the world.

as they say…

art imitates life

a tip to my fellow writers: keep a journal, write your pieces in there with a pen, even if you cross out an idea or word you may go back and like your initial thought better, so don’t close that door. once you’re ready to transfer your work onto actual manuscript form use a word processor. my advice is not to write directly into digital form. as they say “the first draft of anything is shit” so accept that your first draft won’t be your best and that is ok. if you write directly into digital form you won’t get past the first sentence. get a journal, and just. write. 

a tip to my fellow non writers: try your hand at writing. it doesn’t have to be emily dickinson or james joyce good. just get your thoughts out onto paper. these times are tough for everyone, and i’m sure there is a lot of mental clutter you can get out. it might just be your new form of meditation! 

 

happy writing! 

p.s. 

where all my thoughts reside before i type them into my manuscript. as you can see, a lot of crossed out phrases and words! writing a single poem is a process. 

 

 

 

 

wanderlust

the sound of the car zipping up the ramp towards departures, the larger than life birds thundering over me on a mission to venture to far off lands, while some arrive home easing their engines. i roll my temporary life, zipped into a couple boxes on wheels, through the automatic doors and onto the belt; the belt then relays it to the big bird who awaits my arrival. i have about three hours left until i take my seat. three hours of soaking in airport magic before the exhilarating journey. 

first things first after check-in, a hot cup of coffee. with my vanilla latte in hand, i roam the airport before i settle down to write and read a bit. people walk in all directions, speaking languages from all over the world, some in suits and ties, jeans and t shirts, others in kimonos, sarees, salwar kameez, and kangas. as if the entire world were packed into this one airport. we’re all headed somewhere…

there is a CEO traveling to china for a business meeting that could take his company to the next level, a woman hoping to turn the lives around of little girls living in poverty struck calcutta by opening up a free school for them so they may study rather than work, a man traveling to syria to teach english in a war zone, a family traveling to africa to start a project that will deliver fresh water to rural villages. a daughter traveling to seattle to visit her father whom she hadn’t talked to in three years, a grandmother returning home to visit her new born granddaughter. a student arriving to begin film school where she is determined to transform her screenwriting dreams into reality. 

but before we head to our respective destinations, who are we  in that time spent at the airport…where we kill time by grabbing an overpriced magazine or book at the shop across gate 7A, aimlessly shop and wonder, and drink great coffee? who are we in those hours spent flying to our destination? 

we are nomads, with no abode. 

 

 

a white christmas

i’m tucked under my fleece blankets, protected from the icy winds outside. i slowly get out of bed, and put on my socks. the room looked bright, but it wasn’t the rays of the sun. i open the shades and brought my face close to the glass, as i feel the cold my eyes opened wide to allow the, what seems like an out of a movie kind of beauty enter my eyes; our entire neighborhood covered in the whitest untouched snow. it was christmas morning. 

i ran downstairs yelling “mummi, papa it’s christmas!”. it was 6am, I was 5. i’ve been an early riser for as long as i can remember. my dad would peer over his morning paper to look at his watch, “very early, eh?” smile then pick me up with his long tree trunk arms and give me a squeeze before he cooked my favorite omelettes “papa’s omelettes” a term i still use, 26 years later. mom would look at me, and put her hands on her hips “do you have to go to work? go back to sleep” i’d shake my head stubbornly and go about my day. 

i’ve always loved lights: string lights, high rise building lights, city lights, christmas lights, diwali lights. to me, they’re just like stars glistening in the light sky, a symbol of hope in darkness. so it’s a given that i’ve always loved christmas trees. we’d have a little green one with gold decorations in our home in toronto, complemented with gold string lights on our balcony and stair banisters. 

christmas was a bit different on the west coast in oregon. cold still, but not to the extreme. rather than snow, i woke up to the wind howling and blowing the fat raindrops onto my window. after slipping into my socks, i knock on my brother’s door  right across the hall “it’s Christmas, wake up!!” then i’d run down the stairs while i heard a “shut uuppp” from my big brother fading away. papa loved white christmas trees, and since then we’ve carried on the tradition. on christmas morning he’d be bundled up by the fireplace with our childhood doggo tuffy, and mom prepping the food or catching up on some paperwork. it was our one day, the most special day out of the entire year to come together and spend time as a family. whether that was catching up on movies, playing boardgames, baking christmas cupcakes, or just doing our own thing until dinner, mine was writing etc.  

my dear writers, the holidays are the best time to write. if you’re like me then along with early mornings, gloomy cold weather also puts me in the mood. the lights, the weather, the hot coffee and soups creates this incomparable cozy ambiance. i call it the writer’s ambiance. 

after my family went through rough patch, we stopped celebrating christmas after 2012. papa’s health was declining, and we moved around quite a bit. boy, do I regret that. something as simple as putting up a tree and some lights would’ve lightened up the mood, no matter what you’re going through. i traveled to india for a cousin’s wedding in december of 2019, and little did i know that was our last christmas with papa forever. this year is the first year we’re celebrating christmas again since 2012. i can’t help but think of all the celebrations i missed out on in those eight lost years, eight more christmases i could’ve had with papa, eight more times we could have put up his favorite white christmas tree and decorated it together. but, most importantly i spent that time with dad. we had each other and that’s all that mattered. 

when we put up our decorations this year i mentally went back to the 5 year old me who shot out of bed every christmas at 6am to see the fresh powder engulfing my neighborhood in canada, the 15 year old me running down the stairs to see dad bundled up by the fireplace and tree in our home in oregon. the 22 year old me applying to jobs on christmas morning wishing i had put up some decorations that year. the 31 year old me putting up two stockings knowing that sometime in the future we’ll be adding another one, and another one for a growing family.  

christmas growing up all seemed like a dream, we’re all really collecting scenes for the movie that plays in our head over and over again. when i think of what life was like with papa around, i think “was that even real???”. we mentally press the rewind button to reminisce and the nostalgia sets in.  it almost feels like that was a different life time…

a white christmas tree, for you papa

 

the pearl in the oyster

in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives pre-pandemic, when was the last time you stopped and looked up at the sky? the beautiful buildings? the trees? how long has it been since you spent a sunday cooking with mom, or pulled out those spanish books you’ve been antsy to get to but couldn’t because your commute to work eats up two additional hours of your day? 

a very long time I bet. 

as devastating as the impact of covid has had on our lives, I choose to see the glass as half full. yes, these are scary times. I lost my father in august 2019 to something similar to covid, valley fever, also an infection of the lungs. I wouldn’t want anyone to experience that level of pain. 

think of how these unprecedented times have changed our lives…

spending time with a small group of people whom we feel the most safe with, cooking at home rather than eating out, having small intimate weddings and/or other gatherings with those who mean the most to us, spending that time you would be driving to and from work to catch up on some reading or doing an art project to help your mind relax. 

from enjoying movies & shopping from the comfort and safety of our homes, to companies shifting permanently to remote work once they realized how much can be saved by cutting back on office space expenses, to families spending more time together with loved ones. or that much needed time to just relax, and not do anything with your freed up time except turning your mind on mute for a bit.

whatever it may be, take this as a blessing in disguise 

pandemic life has truly changed our lives forever. 

P.S. thank you to all of our frontline workers for their selflessness care and love during the COVID-19 crisis: doctors, nurses, grocery store employees, and anyone else I may have missed. 

wear a mask, save lives.

a major part of writing (or any work) is having a work space, where you solely work. here is where all my ideas are put onto paper