My father-in-law (Pa) would have been 65 today.
He would have been surrounded by his beloveds, and the love of his life, my mother-in-law (Ma), and he would have liked to have a barbecue in the front garage, roasting a slew of meats that my husband and Ma would have marinated, the menu having been discussed for days.
ABBA or maybe Kishore Kumar would be playing in the background – some of his favourite music. The mosquito coil would be smoking gently, lights flickering lazily, the air redolent with the delicious smell of meat, laughter and love. He may have danced with his wife, or they may have held hands and looked into each other’s eyes, lovers for a lifetime. Then, we would have finished the day off with a smoky whiskey, for which he had developed a taste for during his sailing days as a marine engineer.
It would have been a party for the ages, a time to celebrate Pa’s legacy and his retirement. Not that he had stopped working entirely, if you know what I mean. Pa came from a specific stock of men, very much like my own father, who worshipped and respected their professions, whose lives were so deeply impacted by their labour. Pa liked to keep himself busy even after he retired, working on one project or another. I noticed often that he was most animated when he worked – a lightness in his voice, spine straighter, eyes brighter.
We would have shared stories about his numerous adventures and escapades in the mountains because Pa was also a trekker. He discovered his joy for trekking later in his life, and truly embraced the beauty it had to offer. That’s something I have in common with my father-in-law, though I have far fewer mountains to my name, adventures no less harrowing, I’m sure.
The first letter I wrote to Pa said something about mountains – I’m sure I was trying my best to impress him because it was the first time I was my meeting my future in-laws. He was very protective about his son and here I was, a strange looking woman whom he barely knew, nudging my way into his family. I have always been most comfortable speaking through letters, and what better way to try to start a new relationship than by writing one? I must confess, I am not sure whether it worked, but I do know that we had his blessings when I eventually married my husband.
The last letter I wrote to Pa also said something about mountains – this time I had a feeling he was looking forward to reading it because he asked me, as if to make sure, did you handwrite it. I said, yes, and gave him a hug before leaving for the airport. That is the last image I have of him, his voice echoing in my ears as he wished me safe travels.
My father-in-law would have been 65 today.
Thirteen days ago, Pa breathed his last, after a valiant battle with cancer. He was surrounded by his beloveds while the love of his life held his hand and transitioned peacefully to the next part of his journey.
It still seems surreal, as Ma says, as if it is all a dream. My husband often tells me, in the hushed darkness of the night, that he half-expects Pa to enter through the main door, or to hear his loud, booming laughter in the house.
Death is cataclysmic in several ways.
Witnessing someone’s life leave is a brutally humbling and devastating experience. Then there’s everything that comes after it – the after-effects are ripples crashing against the shore of your soul, most times when you least expect it. The seemingly innocuous – the glances across the living room, the breadth of shoulders silhouetted against a work desk, the companionable silence while watching Netflix – suddenly disappear. What’s left is an emptiness that pulses and hurts, that brings a rush of tears to eyes in the middle of a bright afternoon. The little things that bring about big feelings that never really go away.
Yet, death is universal; it leaves no one untouched. I have written about this many times – that the only certainty in life is that one day, we too must die; that we come to this Earth alone, and leave alone; ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
All we can hope to do while we inhabit the vessels that are our physical bodies is to experience life in the truest and most honest ways, and maybe, touch other lives, in whatever small ways we can.
Pa’s life has been a testament to that. During a virtual condolence meet that we recently held in his honour, we spent hours listening to stories from family and friends. We cried, laughed and talked about the ways Pa touched our lives, sharing memories spanning across the years, countries and life-stages.
I was freshly reminded then, that what is left of us when we are long gone, are the stories that we leave behind with the people we love and who loved us in return; stories that then get passed on from one heart to another, one generation to the next.
My father-in-law would have been 65 today.
He left us way too soon.
The world and our homes are emptier without him. Yet, our hearts and minds are richer for the love and wisdom he has bestowed upon his sons and now, daughters.
The trek continues, and I know he will continue watching us from whichever peak he is currently scaling, unencumbered, surrounded by snow and light, free from pain and sorrow.
Onwards we go. Aun Aprendo.