Forgiveness: The Key to Freeing Ourselves

“But how can I forgive him for what he did to me? I was a child!” cried the 32 year old child sexual abuse survivor.

“Doesn’t forgiveness mean I am saying what you did to me is OK, and I’m supposed to be all nice to you, and pretend that nothing happened?,” asked the woman who was angry at a family member.

“Can I let go without forgiving?,” asked many a person who sat in my office working on inner transformation.

When it comes to forgiveness and letting go of past trauma or angst that has been bottled up inside us, there are lots of questions and no easy answers.

Which is why I figured it would be worth writing about, based on my training as well as my clinical experiences with people over time, like the ones I mentioned above.

Ultimately, the case I make is for us to live a life that is joyful, peaceful, free, in the here and now, and well-integrated with the scars of the past that have formed but which can’t hurt us anymore.

Those scars will make their presence felt once in a while, but that’s because they are a part of us, and can teach us that who we are is because of how we braved the storm and sailed through.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me break this down into bite-sized chunks.

First, what causes the anger / resentment that we hold on to?

Significant negative life events can get encoded in our memory and cause us to have intense emotional reactions (mood swings, tearfulness, anger) when we remember those painful experiences. Holding a grudge is, to use a technical term, an “imagined emotional response.” What this means is that one constantly (and often automatically) stokes the negative emotions in order to keep them sustained enough over a long period of time. Add to that a layer of vengeful, anger-filled thoughts that amplify and exaggerate the incident with such contempt that it intensifies the emotional imagery and the physical responses, and we feel justified in a way to continue feeling this way.


In other words, we hard-wire ourselves to want to feel negative emotions as the right response to a negative event. Think about that.

Now, I have to admit, that talking about forgiveness with clients in session often is a difficult process. They trust me, open their heart out session after session, but when I gently bring up forgiveness after some time knowing that the resentment and anger are obstacles in their own right, there is a cognitive dissonance created in their minds.

“Are you kidding?” “Never,” “Not after what she did to me,” are some common reactions, often laced with anger and rage. While they go along with me, I do realize how challenging a concept this is for them to even start working on.

When we start talking about heartbreak and how we guard ourselves from further hurt, the conversations often get intense, with expressed emotions often being high. For me, the actual work starts here.

So, how do we actually feel about forgiveness?

Take a few moments and notice what the suggestion of forgiving someone evokes for you. Allow an individual to come to mind whom you feel has been a source of personal pain. How do you feel about forgiving that person? What does it mean to you to forgive him or her? What would you have to do in order to forgive?

When people get hurt by the ones they love, anger and resentment build up.

“We trusted them, we loved them, so how could they do this to us?”

And just so that they don’t hurt us again, we guard our hearts fiercely. We don’t let them in again, we create a distance, our communication becomes stilted, and gradually we stop talking. Misunderstandings and assumptions build up, hurt festers more, because our viewing lens often becomes “This person hurt me, and will continue to hurt me, so I better guard myself.”

We assume the person’s conduct to be a certain way, and we add our own perceptions of “mean, vicious, evil, ill-intentioned, hypocrite, manipulative, and any other adjectives we can think of, based on one event / incident. Even long after the incident is over. That is our hurt, anger, bitterness, and resentment speaking, which taints our perceptions and further festers within us. And any mention of that person or incident acts as a trigger and we react negatively, mostly with anger, often without our knowledge for why we reacted that way. And the hurt within ourselves continues to hold us back.

We may think that the guardedness is OK, that it’s needed to protect ourselves from getting hurt again, that we are doing the right thing by standing up for ourselves, but – and here’s the crucial thing – does it come with a sense of peace, calm, and equanimity? Have we actually gotten over the hurt to begin with? How is holding onto the anger and resentment helping us? Is it affecting our relationships with others as well? The ones who truly love us? Is it affecting us within? It’s only when we reflect on these questions and open up our hearts to acknowledging that there is healing after hurt, that letting go and forgiveness is for ourselves to benefit from does the internal shift happen.

That’s right, forgiveness is for ourselves to benefit from.

Before we get to what forgiveness is, let’s get to what forgiveness is not:
— It is not forgetting, excusing or condoning the other person’s hurtful act
— It is not to make the other person feel better. If it happens as an organic result of your conversation with him/her then it is a different thing.
— It is not about minimizing the hurt or anger you feel by asking you to let go.
— It is not about having you be a “bigger” person, displaying self-righteousness and an attitude of superiority who is operating at a higher spiritual plane and looking down at someone who demands your mercy.
— It does not require that you verbally communicate directly to the person you have forgiven.
— It is not pretending everything is just fine when you actually feel it isn’t. There is a difference between being truly forgiving and denying or repressing anger and hurt, and this often seems deceptive and confusing.

Which brings us to the next important question: Why do people like to hold onto grudges?

For many of us, there are major stakes in letting go of anger and resentment because we feel that we get something from holding onto it. Sounds familiar? These benefits, referred to as “secondary gains,” are frequently unconscious and very powerful until we become consciously aware of them and find healthier ways to respond.

It’s important for us to reflect on whether we use anger or resentment in any of the following ways:

1. Do we stay angry because it gives us a feeling of being more powerful and in control?
2. Do we use anger as fuel for getting things done?
3. Do we use anger to avoid communication?
4. Do we use anger to help us feel safe? Does it seem to serve as a protection? A wall?  
5. Do we use anger as a way to assert that we are “right” when we may not be so?  
6. Do we hold onto anger to make others feel guilty?
7. Do we use anger to avoid working through the feelings that are seething under the anger?
8. Does our anger keep us in hold of the the role of the victim?
9. Do we use anger to hold onto a relationship?
10. The big one: Do we remain resentful so that we don’t have to take responsibility for our role in what’s happening in our life now, or for how we feel? This tends to be one of the most powerful set of secondary gains of holding onto resentment, for as long as we hold onto resentment, we can always blame someone else for our unhappiness and misery. It’s somebody else’s fault. People do contribute to our happiness or unhappiness, I agree, but ultimately we are responsible for how we feel. If we indulge in constant blame games and resentments, never attempting to see the larger picture, we avoid acknowledging the potential power we have in changing our relationship, our equation to the situation. As long as we see the problem as exclusively outside ourselves—that is, we have no role in how we feel—we keep ourselves helpless and trapped.

So what actually happens when we hold on to our grudges?

Here are the pitfalls:

  • We become so wrapped up in the “wrong” and perpetuating our guard against the wrong that we forget to live in the moment. Our minds are constantly being triggered by the memories or our thoughts and our emotions get caught up in that warp. We are preoccupied and consumed by the incessant barrage of memories that trigger our belief patterns and lower our thresholds of tolerance. 

  • Those belief patterns get formed by our identifying with the thoughts and our feelings towards the “perpetrator.” Our viewing lens becomes distorted and even a benign action by the person we are upset with, gets filtered through the faulty belief pattern and we ascribe a malicious intent backed up by no real evidence. It’s my “feeling,” or “I just know it,” is what I often hear people say.  

  • We become depressed, anxious, angry, and we may not know why. It becomes our new normal till people express concern about our well-being.

  • Our anger and bitterness creeps into new relationships and new experiences and we become cynical or sceptical about the goodness of people.

  • Our irritability spills onto our loved ones, who do not deserve to be scapegoats for anger festering towards someone else.

  • We are doing ourselves a huge disservice by suffering for something that we do not have control over; a memory of the past, or a person who continues to be a certain way. What we do have control over is how we choose to respond to it. Do we hold on to that grudge, or do we let go? And if we choose to let go, then what does it entail?

So what is forgiveness about?

It is s decision, an attitude, a process, and eventually a way of life.

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  • It is about you and having you function at your optimal, best self by resolving feelings of anger, bitterness, hatred, self-loathing, guilt, shame and making way for emotions of joy, peace, contentment, meaning, purpose, and love.

  • It reawakens us to the truth of our own goodness and belief in self-love

  • It is about you letting go of thoughts pertaining to anger, hurt, vengeance, and resentment. Why should I, you may ask.

  • Think about how the act that hurt or offended you, has you in its vice like grip. You still continue to give the person control in a way of hurting you even when they are not physically present.  You are the one who has put a wall around you to protect yourself from hurt, so who have you given the charge to? You have in a way acknowledged that the other person has a bigger impact on you and so you have your arms and ammunition on your back. They are living their life, with no inkling of the extent of anguish you are going through. So who is suffering more? When you forgive and let go, you are liberated from that grip, and you wrench yourself out of the control of the person who harmed you.

  • Resolving the hurt, letting go, and focusing on emerging from the incident brings a peace that helps you move forward. “Always move forward,” is a good motto to have.

Let me bring this home. Here are all the ways in which forgiving benefits us.

The benefits of forgiving are many, they affect health across psychological and physical benefits, and also fosters healthier relationships:

  • Improved overall mental health more so when it comes to psychological hardiness, or our ability to bounce back from failures, hurt, and disappointments, our ability to love and nurture ourselves, enabling a fostering of hope and optimism.

  • Higher self-esteem

  • Less anxiety, stress, hostility; fewer symptoms of depression

  • Improved heart health

  • A stronger immune system

If it is so awesome, why is forgiveness such a difficult concept for us to fathom as adults?

It’s because empathy cultivation rarely or never happened when we were children. By empathy I mean connecting to the other person; putting yourself in his/her shoes; feeling “with” that person; however their equation with you may be. When it comes to someone offending us, it is the ability to hold ourselves through the hurt, but also to see the situation from the other person’s perspective and attempting to understand what might have contributed to the behavior that caused harm. We weren’t socialized much with the concept of forgiveness and empathy and hence as adults we find it difficult to work with because we haven’t practiced it enough.

So where do we start when we talk about reaching a state of forgiveness?

A basic understanding of human nature helps because from there stems our behavior. At the center, core, or essence, we have the ability to be “aware;” to see clearly, without defensiveness and distortion. And then we always, always have “free will”- the ability to choose how we respond to situations. This core nature and fundamental capacity for clarity, conscious choice, and action is referred to as the Self.

The Self over the years and our experiences usually is covered by layers of our subpersonalities: “happy,” “manipulative,” “angry,” “guilty,” “perfectionist,” “control freak,” “critical”, “victim…” you get the drift. And we lose that Self. Till we focus on reclaiming it and returning to our core, our center, our essence.

Letting go often comes as the tool to bring the focus back to the Self, unadulterated, untainted, pure, a clean slate.

When you’re ready to move away from suffering, consider letting go, and commit to embracing forgiveness into your life, you might start with the following basic steps:

  • Recognize how forgiveness can truly alter your life. Focus on yourself, and on moving forward. Work through the resistances that the mind may throw in why you shouldn’t move onto this journey.

  • Identify what aspects of your broken Self need healing, who needs to be forgiven, and for what. Acknowledge your emotions and the harm done to you, and how it affected you personally, your relationships, and your behavior in general, and work to release them. Seek the help of a mental health professional to work this through if unable to do so on your own.

  • Choose to let go of the victim role and reframe it to being in charge of yourself so that you can let go of the vindictive grip, power, and control the offending person and the situation have

  • Engage in loving-kindness meditation, towards self and others. The world needs more love for sure 😊

Some questions may remain: What happens if I can’t forgive someone? Does forgiveness guarantee a reconciliation? Will the other person change his/her behavior? What if I’m the one who needs forgiveness?

The conversation continues next week, in Part 2 of Forgiveness: The Key to Freeing Ourselves 😊

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Every Life Tells A Story

I had written this story on July 18th, 2018. A lot has changed in these 14 months, but yesterday a phone call from a friend whose mother is truly suffering because of a terminal illness made me pause and reflect again.

“Divya, I want to know how you do this.”
“This what?” I asked gently
"The ‘end of life’ discussions with families, and especially the one you had with your own parents.”

And so the story goes…

Hi Doctor, I wanted to speak to you about my father if you have a minute.”

And in walked Rohit (name changed), conversations with whom led me to assess my own beliefs and practices about medicine and what we as professionals, from surgeons to nurses to those in allied health, work towards.

I had just returned from a 6-month stay in the US and Rohit’s Dad had been in the hospital for 3 months, in intensive care for the most of it. A man in his mid-80s, a fall in the bathroom had led to a C3-C4 level spinal cord injury. He could not move below his neck, and a tracheostomy (down his throat to help clear the chest congestion through a whirring suction machine every few hours thus helping him breathe) made any spoken communication impossible.

“He’s been refusing to come to the Rehabilitation department for his physical and occupational therapy, and is also refusing to eat,” Rohit informed me.

I started gathering more information on Uncle, his medical condition, who the primary caregiver was—in this case, his wife of 53 years. I learnt about his sense of autonomy before the accident, his stance towards illness and health, and that he had been working up until his injury, as a Consultant and also as a tutor to his grandkids.

Uncle’s response to any sort of conversation was minimal. The inability to utter a spoken word made counseling difficult. Even when the psychologist asked him basic questions, his responses were what we psychologists would call “socially desirable.”

“Are you sleeping well?” “Yes,” he would nod.
“Eating well?” “Yes.”
“Are you feeling any sadness?” “No.”

This is what my colleague reported on her attempts to communicate with him. I sensed something more was up in Uncle’s unwillingness to communicate. We decided I would give it a go as well.

I had seen Uncle in the department engaging in his physiotherapy and had seen a distant, vacant, and lost look in his eyes. That look said more to me than any word he could have managed to utter. I spoke to his physical and occupational therapists to know how Uncle was doing.

“He was putting in the effort initially, but lately he just doesn’t engage actively. Earlier he would respond to our ‘Namaste’ but now we get nothing.”

“What goals are we working towards?” I asked pointedly. “What do we see Uncle doing at the end of his rehabilitation?”

At best he could sit for longer periods in the wheelchair. It was too soon to even tell if he would be able to eat on his own, let alone read the newspaper, or write, both of which were valued activities for him.

And how would he exert his fierce sense of independence? How would Uncle script his story hereon? These were answers that only he could give me.

I walked into his room and saw Uncle lying in the bed with his eyes closed, his face turned to one side.

“Hello Uncle. I’m Divya, and we have met briefly before, while you were doing your therapy.”

He opened his eyes but continued to look away.

“I’m here to listen to you today, Uncle. I know many people have given you advice on how to stay strong, and be motivated, and keep fighting. I’m not going to say anything of that sort. I’m here to listen to what you have to say.” He turned and looked to me, and that lost, resigned look pierced through my heart.

I reached out and touched his frail, wrinkled hand, a cannula sticking out of it which fed him his medicines.

“You’re as old as my Dad, Uncle. If this were him, I would want to listen to him too. I would want to know what he wants to do, what makes him happy, what makes him pensive. I would want to know how he would want to script his story from now on. Please talk to me, Uncle. I want to know what is going through your mind.”

I saw tears trickle down his eyes, as he looked on helplessly at the oxygen cylinder next to him, his other hand resting on his side, refusing to respond to any command that he would make, and as he looked into my eyes, imploring, I found myself choking up as well.

In an earlier conversation, Rohit had mentioned how Uncle had been asking the family to take him home, how he felt he was being a burden on everyone. His wife was in significant pain due to severely arthritic knees and was due for a Total Knee Replacement (TKR) when Uncle had his accident. Rohit had a stressful job which often involved night shifts, but he would unfailingly be by Uncle’s bedside first thing in the morning. Extended family members who themselves were in their 70s came in to help. Uncle saw all this support but saw no improvement in his physical status.

I continued to hold Uncle’s hand in silence, trying to see if he would be willing to let me through those well-guarded walls. I couldn’t tell if his silence was an act of defiance.

From his point of view, no one was listening to him and were subjecting him to one thing after another. Medical interventions for his infections, feeding, clearing his chest of congestions, two hourly turning in bed, to catheterization to empty his bladder, and the arduous task of engaging in rehabilitation.

“This, Divya, I can control. This at least. Where I don’t talk to you.”

Or was it sheer hopelessness where he knew nothing was improving his condition? Had he reconciled himself to the fact that the efforts of his family and the team of professionals to try and make things better might not improve anything?

“Better.” “Improvement.” What were we looking at in terms of it translating into Uncle’s life? As far as I knew, all that he valued in terms of bringing meaning to his life was lost. So what were we all working towards?

What do you say to someone whose eyes speak volumes but who can’t express it in spoken word? I ran the risk of saying something that could stir up a cauldron of emotions without getting to the root of it, and also the risk of giving up too soon. The medium of my intervention – communication and responsive interaction – was compromised. I persisted, and waited to see how he emoted to every word I spoke.

I spoke about the expected disruption in mood after a severe incident like a spinal cord injury. How it affects not only the person but the whole family, but how a supportive, cohesive family itself is one of the biggest determinants of a successful rehabilitation outcome. And how I know he had that on his side.

A fresh tear welled up. I continued about how common it is to feel like a burden on them, but how it would be best to see it as a blessing.

“Because, Uncle, wouldn’t you be there for them if they needed you?”

He nodded.

We spoke about small the steps of progress he had taken since the time of his admission and how it was possible because of his own effort in therapy. How the therapists were working towards increasing his muscle power so that he could use assistive devices at least to regain a certain level of functionality, though the high level injury made that possibility quite remote. He looked on, continuing to make eye contact.

He was listening. I couldn’t ask him open ended questions because of his inability to speak, but anything to get closer to what he was feeling is what I chose to tread the path of.

“So, Uncle, tell me, do you think we could give it one more shot at active participation in therapy? We just need your best effort and then let’s see where this goes?”

He nodded. I couldn’t offer him false hope because I myself didn’t know how he would progress in therapy and whether he would be able to make any gains towards modified independence, but we had to see how he worked this through.

“Would you like to go home, Uncle?” I needed to be sure I wasn’t missing his intent. He shook his head.

“And you’ll eat your meals?” He smiled and nodded.

The next thing I know was that Uncle asked to go to the rehab department to resume his therapy. He started eating again, and yet, something in me told me that this achievement was temporary. And I would later be proved right.

Regardless, I would meet him every day, just to say hello, to hold his hand, to tell him I was there to listen to him, to do as he told me. I was there, because that’s the best I could do in that circumstance. No empty words of reassurance, no “pep talks,” just being there, telling him I understood that the journey wasn’t easy. I’ve learnt over time that sometimes all it takes for it to become better, is that someone understands, and shares the joys and the sorrows.

He started telling me when he was “not good,” when he was “fine,” and I knew he was feeling his brightest when he would smile and ask me how I was doing. Visiting him every day became the best part of my morning, because it almost felt like he looked forward to it as much as I did. His smile would say it all.

Uncle kept vacillating between hope and despair. I would see him cringe each time the care attendants would shift him to the wheelchair and back. Or when the suction tube was shoved down his throat, or when Aunty would stand next to him, masking her pain, to carefully put a spoonful of food in his mouth, because he just would not let anyone else feed him. And just like that, for that same family, Uncle wanted to get better, because that is what they wanted for him.

He fought through the disorientation and weakness brought on by hyponatremia (low sodium levels commonly found in the elderly), the oxygen desaturation that often ran the risk of leading to hypoxia, and being on constant oxygen support. Fight he did, till one day…

I could barely focus on delivering my presentation because I was waiting for that one call from home. Finally, as my colleague and I walked to have our morning cup of coffee after my talk at the internal meeting, my phone rang. “So, Mom’s reports are out and she has a moderate restrictive ventilatory defect. Her 6-minute walk test showed that her oxygen saturation falls to 86% on walking.” I turned myself away into a corner and cried shamelessly while being on the phone with him. I felt incapacitated and helpless in that very moment. What will this mean for Mom? For us? What next? My mind was a blur as I struggled to bring myself back to the present moment of being at work, and for the patients I had to see.

You always think your parents are invincible. You think they will always be there, until one day you are confronted with the harsh reality of their mortality, and you just don’t know how to react.

I found myself being over-protective, over-bearing, over-everything as we attempted to get accustomed to this “new normal.” The doctor advised us to keep Mom away from any forms of dust and pollutants, dogs, plants, and cooking. This was going to be a challenge. Mom always had a green thumb and loved gardening, and our 13-year-old Labrador, Jopu, has slept in their room since he was brought into our home.

“Mom, did you do your spirometer exercises?”

“We’ll take Jopu to our room and he can sleep there.”

“Did you eat your medicines?”

“Did you wear your mask before you stepped out of the home?”

“Did you do this… Did you do that… Mom, take care of this…Mom don’t do that.”

And poor Mom, was caught between a rock and a hard place…between her own wishes of leading a life she wanted to, on her own terms, and what we wanted for her…her safety, her presence, and a longer, healthy life for her.

The next morning, Jopu (who had spent the night in our room) and she were both miserable when they were reunited, and this was the beginning of my realization that I would soon be rethinking how we approached health and aging.

One day not long after, I was on my usual round to see Uncle, and I noticed a flurry of activity in the ward. Uncle was being shifted to the High Dependency Unit because he was having difficulty breathing and needed to be put on a ventilator.

That vacant look had returned. It soon turned into completely shut eyes as he barred us all from his world. No one could reach him again, not even his family, nor the doctor in charge. This was it. He wanted no more of this poking, prodding, scans, x-rays, tubes being inserted through his mouth and nose, no more prolonging his life when he couldn’t live it the way he wanted to, with dignity.

As I think back, I never really saw fear in Uncle’s eyes. Fear of death or dying every time his breath was raspy, or not enough oxygen was reaching him; or fear of what the future had in store. There was always this determined look, one that said, “Let me go.” But we all held on. And I wondered why. Whose was that call to take?

At home, we were getting better at managing Mom’s new healthcare needs. Dad was taking care of the medical prescriptions and I was focusing on ensuring that she was engaging in the activities that have brought meaning and purpose to her life. She loved taking care of the neighborhood we live in, enjoyed meeting people, and had her band of friends she would meet at least once in two weeks. She wanted to continue being active despite her illness.

There is a mental calibration needed when you realize that the body isn’t keeping up with what the mind wants to do, and Mom was finding her balance with just that. She was used to walking fast, but the pulse oximeter would start shrieking, telling her that her oxygen was falling below normal levels and she needed to slow down. With the help of a portable oxygenator, we started going out. On the days I was home, she and I went out for lunches, or to her office next door, or her hospital visits as we trialed and errored our way to figuring out the optimum setting of the oxygen supply on the machine.

I started pondering on what path lay ahead of us.

In his brilliantly insightful and compelling book, “Being Mortal,” Atul Gawande talks about how human beings find life meaningful because they craft it like a story. The story has a sense of a whole, and its arc is determined by the significant moments, where something happens. And in stories, endings matter. And as we age, or as disability threatens our very meaning of life and living, the ending may be confined by narrower options. Yet, we have the chance to shape our story by focusing on what is essential to sustaining meaning and purpose in life, rather than merely prolonging life.

Rohit and I found ourselves increasingly talking about what the next steps should be for Uncle. It had been seven months in the hospital, and Uncle was now at his defiant best.

“He’s saying something to us through his defiance,” I told Rohit, “and instead of just focusing on the medical interventions, talk to him before it’s too late. Ask him what he wants to do, what is important to him, and how he imagines the time hereon. Come together as a family to help Uncle shape his story without imposing what you want for him.” And Rohit set out to do just that.

Uncle wanted to go home, to be with his grandkids, to sit in his lounging chair, to have single malt with his sons, to see Aunty pain-free, to feel the taste of home-cooked food, to not have tubes running through his body, to not be subjected to another MRI, another blood test, another procedure.

“But in case there was an emergency, there may not be enough time to bring him to the hospital,” was the family’s concern. And Uncle’s directive was simple: “Let me go. I’ve lived my life well. No more suffering.”

He had laid out his story’s ending.

It just so happened that today Mom, Dad, and I were discussing the condition of J. Uncle, one of Dad’s friend who was on a ventilator in a hospital for three months, battling septicemia, with one organ after another shutting down. And we spoke about when to stop all efforts, how the hopes of the family for a miracle cure kept the life support going, J. Uncle’s suffering, and what he would have liked to do if he was conscious to take a decision.

With a steely resolve I told Mom and Dad that conversations like these are important to know what the family can do to respect their loved one’s wishes towards their own treatment, even if it is not in agreement with how we perceive their story to be. This is the rethinking I had come to as I faced questions on mortality around me. Mom started laying out her wishes. As I heard her, I made a mental note of what she was saying to us, and saw how those wishes were based on her strong sense of self, her independence, and her wanting to be active and in charge till the end.

No one really knows how their stories will end, but knowing that there is a basic road map drawn from the life led, a map based on the meanings ascribed to that life, the purpose they have, the goals they want to pursue, how one defines well-being and a life of quality, and the trade offs they are willing to make to achieve that sense of self, that itself is a good beginning of an inevitable end.

Today is September 18th, 2019. Mom passed away on December 26th, 2018, on her own terms. We respected her wish of not being on a ventilator to prolong her life when we knew her body was failing her. The breath we take for granted was being fought for by her, and the heart that lets us know we are alive, and well, and have a purpose to our existence, failed her. There was no hope even for the optimist in me, for the one who believed we should not give up till the end. But the end was here. The family along with the doctors decided to wean her off the ventilator after 36 hours when we knew her organs weren’t supporting her. I did not leave her bedside when they started weaning her off because I knew Mom wanted her loved ones by her side, and as far as I was concerned, I was her poonch (tail) from childhood till her last day. For four hours we chanted the Mahamritunjay Mantra as I worked her rosary in one hand, while the other held hers. “Go gently, Mom. I love you,” is what I continued to whisper in her ear, not knowing whether she heard me or not but I believe the sense of hearing is the last one that leaves the body. So she must have. She went on her own terms, just the way she wanted.

The conversations around end of life may have been heartbreaking but they helped me acknowledge her wishes on how she chose to go, with dignity.

December 2nd, 2018, on our last vacation together. Mom got to soak in the sun, knit away to her heart’s content, spent time with us chatting about life & the mundane, and got to visit the school she started for underprivileged kids in the early 1990s.

December 2nd, 2018, on our last vacation together. Mom got to soak in the sun, knit away to her heart’s content, spent time with us chatting about life & the mundane, and got to visit the school she started for underprivileged kids in the early 1990s.