Special issue with the Sunday Magazine
TRANSITIONS : September 12, 1999
Death - an exodus
Change is common to every living thing. The first big change in my life happened when I got married and had to adapt myself to living with another person. The second was when I had my first baby and had to share my whole being with another demanding personality. While the first two agents of change were happy, exciting ones, the changes brought about by the death of my husband have been the saddest and the most traumatic. The death of a spouse plunges one into a well of confusion, uncertainties and losses. Overnight, one becomes a single parent with one or no extra income and the family's finances plummet. Often one loses not only a husband, but also a comfortable and familiar lifestyle and the home that one has lived in for many years. The emotional security and the protection that a husband provides is suddenly snatched away. And often, close friends and family too, drift away.
Probably the most frightening and humiliating aspect of the change brought about by the death of one's husband is the loss of one's identity. A few hours after my husband died, I was introduced to one of his friends as "Kumar's widow". It struck me so hard then that I was no longer a wife, but a widow. The word "widow" conjured up fearful images of shadowy, lonely, women who stood on the fringe of things as life passed them by. For almost two decades a great part of my identity was as Mrs. Kumar Jesudasan. I had a status within the family and community not only as Kumar's wife, but also as a doctor's wife. I knew my role, what was expected of me and performed this with joy and ease. Now there was inner confusion as my role and identity had changed overnight. I was no longer a wife. The "perks" of being a wife no longer applied. I was the sole breadwinner and provider for the family. I was alone. There were no rules to follow. Part of the confusion occurred because the way other people perceived me had changed too.
It takes a long while to get adjusted to being a widow, to being a single person again, to being half of a whole. During this period, the most important aspect of change occurs on the inside, where no one can see it. An acceptance of the blow life has dealt and the search for a new identity with which one is comfortable and which brings meaning to one's torn life can lead to a period of self-awareness and intense personal growth. It is a time too, when one can take stock of one's assets and strengths and re-evaluate one's goals and plans for the next phase as one begins to create a new identity and life. An easy way to adapt to this kind of change is to focus our thoughts not on our losses, but on all our blessings and all that we still have, and to look forward to the positive things that this period can bring. If we resist and fight against the inevitable changes, if we turn bitter and resentful, it can stunt us to the point where we will end up living in an emotional slaughterhouse, where we become mere robots going through the routine of daily living.
When death tears a family apart, it is not only a husband that is taken away, but also a father. And this can so easily break up a whole, happy family. The feeling of being a family is gone as sad reminders hit from every angle - the empty chair at the dining table, a birthday no longer celebrated, no good-night hug and kiss for the children. It is easy to become four people living together in the same house, a mother and children of assorted ages coming together just to eat and sleep.
Manoj K. Jain
One of the challenges at this point, is to usher in a new sense of family. Children more than ever need a solid foundation based on love now, and spending time together, grieving and sharing the tears and sadness helps knit the family together in a very special way. For us, as we strove to find a new meaning to the word family, we shared decision making, responsibilities and endlessly discussed new plans and goals. We made it a point of doing things together and sharing our thoughts on almost everything. In trying to redefine the concept of family, it was essential for the children to have a new structure to their lives, and to recognise and accept different boundaries as the old ones of father being the breadwinner and head of the household had gone. Now, they had a mother who was the sole provider, who looked after not only material things but also all things emotional. She was also the only figure of authority whose time and commitments were already stretched by various demands. For them too, life as they had known it had changed so suddenly. The children accepted their loss and all the changes it brought with dignity and stoicism and grew up quickly in many ways. They became very protective of me and sensitive to my moods. They learnt to be aware of our finances in a new way and to be responsible about the house. They brought me flowers on my bad days, and learnt to please in little ways. We learnt to knit our family together with a lot of love and humour.
One of the many changes I face now is learning to channel my needs as a woman - such as the need for touch and affection - into areas where it can take on a different meaning and still bring a sense of fulfilment. There is a great need for a variety of loving relationships and learning to love all kinds of people is more of a challenge than before. Similarly, adapting to new directions at work, being a single parent, trying out new ideas and developing a constant loving relationship with my children, learning to rely on myself more in some situations and asking for help in others, are all some of the plus points that change has brought about in my life. By accepting my loss as an unusual gift and realising that this is not just an accident of fate, or a cruel trick played on me, I can allow the events which led my life to turn upside down, to actually work for the better for me now. Change, I hope, has made me into a better woman, more sensitive, more compassionate and more open to others' suffering.
I have come to look upon this time in my life as an Exodus, a leaving behind of the old - old comforts, old routines, old identities - to venture out in hope and faith that this period too will bring joy and fulfillment.
Copyrights © 1999, The Hindu.
Republication or redissemination ofthe contents of this screen are expressly prohibited
without the written consent of The Hindu.