Maa collapsed one evening and slipped into coma . The doctors said it was a ruptured aneurysm (subarachnoid haemorrhage ) there was a grade 5 bleed and her chances of survival were bleak . It was so sudden that we dint have a chance to say goodbye .
My siblings and me gathered to be around her in her final days and to be completely honest we were unsure of how to support each other adequately . All we knew was that we were there and together would do everything possible to get past this . Maa was in the ICU so we would take turns and wait around in the lobby checking on her condition with the doctors every now & then and secretly hoping for a miracle .
In the midst of all this I met a young chirpy girl called Sneha .I had seen her from a distance a couple of times talking to people. She introduced herself as medical social worker . She worked with patients and families in need of psychosocial help !
One day the doctors told us that Maa’s condition had deteriorated and that she would have to be put on a ventilator. Initially the idea of a brain dead person on a ventilator seemed rather bizarre but the patient in question here was our mother !
As we walked out of the doctors cabin ,my whole life flashed before me ,some of it in fast forward mode while the rest in slowmo . I began to see all the ‘unseen’ things Maa had done for me and our family ! I thought of how beautifully she had coped when Papa was out in field areas .I remembered the passion with which she held fort when we lost him to a road accident . I admired the way she supported me when my children were growing up . I thought of how willingly she walked alongside another person in whatever journey without standing in judgement , making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them or in anyway impacting the outcome .She always opened out her heart to offer unconditional love ! A new respect grew for her talents , her beauty and her tender heart ! I missed talking to her, hearing her gentle voice as she recounted interesting trivia from her life . The tears wouldn’t stop . I remembered in one of our conversations she had very vehemently expressed that she detested the idea of people being hooked on to life support systems because she felt it just prolonged death and God forbid if such a situation were to arise , she wanted us to let her go with grace !
It was a dilemma, our heart told us that we should respect her wishes while the mind said “who knows maybe it could turn things around “. That day Sneha gave me two incredible gifts , one she held space for me . She gave me and my family time to think without the pressure of standing in judgement . She said ever so gently ‘Take your time . You must also know that she will go someday soon even if she is on a ventilator.
And two she introduced me to the amazing Heather Plett and her Path to Connection .
So we decided to do whatever was humanly possible at least there would be the satisfaction of having tried ! I stood at her bedside .. looking at her , a tube in her mouth , a drain tube in her skull and monitors beeping away … yet so brave , so beautiful! I took her hand and held it to my cheek and all I could say was ‘ I am sorry !’ Even in her situation she was giving us the message .. ‘ stay calm ,I’ll be there for you always !”
I realised how seamlessly Maa had held space for all of us . And I wondered who held space for her ? Maybe she did so herself ! It is a chain .. the chain of love that binds us all inextricably in our moments of grief . We are always reaching out to others yet how many amongst us know how to hold space for ourselves ?
Sneha quietly led me out . Visiting hours were over.
Heather has some brilliant suggestions ….
1.Learn when to walk away .. not from your responsibilities but just for a while , to replenish yourself . So when the challenges come , you have the confidence to be the very best version of yourself !
2.Let those tears fall ! Tears are the window washers of the soul . They help mop up the muck in our hearts and mind .
3.Let others hold space for you. Life is not a one man show . Invite people into it so that they can help .
4.Practice mindfulness . It is simply “paying attention to your attention”. You don’t need to sit on a meditation cushion to do that – simply focus on the emotions and thoughts that cross your mind and nurture them .
5.Find new sources of inspiration. It always helps to know what motivates others . The last mile is the most difficult part of the journey .. be inspired to reach the ‘Finish’ with your sanity intact .
6.Let others live their story . You are not responsible for how they feel but only for how you respond .
7. Find a creative outlet for processing what you are experiencing . Here I will quote Pema Chodron..” Each person’s life is like a Mandala .. a vast limitless circle . We stand in the centre and everything we see , hear and think… forms the mandala of our life .And every thing that shows up is a vehicle for our awakening ! ”
Holding space for oneself is like going on a pilgrimage to your own soul. A key to see yourself with all your faults , without judgement or criticism, with kindness and love. It’s making friends with your Fears , inviting Self-Doubt, Mrs Perfectionist, Criticism, and Putdown, in for a cup of tea and cookies around your kitchen table . So listen to your true self and give it the care it requires . We have to do this not so much for ourselves but for the sake of others whose lives we touch !
Maa left us after 12 days in coma on 16 th September 2010 . Yet another angel had returned to her eternal abode of peace .
I met Sneha today after all these years . There she was ..standing at the valet parking booth as I got out of my car . Dressed in a crisp cotton long skirt and a white blouse … she looked like a dream ! We filled in the gaps . She told me that she was in the ICU with Maa while she breathed her last ! She seemed at peace, so calm and serene ! As I hugged Sneha and said good bye … I suddenly felt lighter , the mist had cleared and I was smiling through my tears .
Sometimes closure arrives years later. Long after one has stopped searching for it. You are just standing there , laughing this laugh that is so apologetically yours ! As it trails off …it hits you… ‘I’m happy now ! ‘ Its just like that . No fanfare . No flash bulbs .No epiphany . You are so grateful for the ‘ Goodbyes ‘ that did not happen then and happy that they carried you to this moment and for the space you are holding right now ! Rest in Peace Maa .
Thank you Sneha ! Gratitude to my family and friends . The space between my outstretched arms … I am holding specially for you !!
Check out :
*A Path to Connection ‘ eBook by Heather Plett .
*Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness, Well‑being by Martin Seligman
*Holding Space: A Guide to Supporting Others While Remembering to Take Care of Yourself First by Amanda Dobra Hope.