COPING WITH LOSS OF A PARENT-Dr.Dallep Mukharji
1974 was a very special year in my life.
I got married on 22nd February and in September my wife and I were to go to London for my postgraduate studies. I had got a scholarship at a prestigious University College. There was so much to look forward to and it could have been the happiest year in my life.
On 8th May 1974 my wife and I went to our home in Hyderabad from the rural hospital where I worked to spend the day with my parents. We discussed plans to travel to London and had a wonderful time together. My father asked us to stay home for the night before we took the 100- mile journey back late in the evening. I wanted to get to work the next day.
When we reached the hospital, I was informed we were to return home immediately as my father had taken ill. When we got home, we were shocked to hear my father had passed away from a severe heart attack a couple of hours after we left home. He was only 57 years old, I was the eldest child, the only son and only 28. I was shattered. My world was turned upside down and I was not at all prepared for it.
Why did my dad die without me saying goodbye and thanks? Why so suddenly? I was angry with God. I needed to support my mother in her grief while I dealt with my own. Should we go to London and could I leave my mother alone? I was confused, bitter and feeling uncertain about the future. As a doctor I knew that death would come to all and a heart attack could be sudden. My father did not really suffer. It was his family who were suffering, sad, experiencing the loss and in a state of severe grief. Somehow, I felt I needed to take the lead to help the family.
Yet I was broken myself and concerned about the future.
What could I do to handle this situation?
My mother was very brave and from the start made it clear that we should still travel to London for my studies which we did. My family and friends were very supportive to my mother and to us. I was assured they would take care of her while I was away. There was much to be done about our affairs as my father took most of the responsibility for all this. So, we had to learn to manage and take over. I was forced to grow up and take responsibility and cope. This was not always easy.
As I look back at how I got through the pain and loneliness of that year I was helped with some specific steps and support.
First, I had to come to terms with the fact of my father’s sudden death and our situation. I was not the first person who had lost a father so tragically. I also read a lot about how one could face the pain and deal with loss. In all this my wife, my faith and the support of my family was crucial. It was alright to relax, to laugh and to enjoy life fully.
My friends were great, and they helped me in many ways to look at the wider context and to think beyond my predicament. We remembered the happy times with my father and all that he did for us and meant to us. I was sorry that my children would not get to know this wonderful man, their grandfather. He would not share in my life, my career and my achievements.
I have never really forgotten him and remember with affection all he stood for and did. As I write this, I feel the sadness and pain even after 45 years!
What can I suggest to others in such a situation?
One cannot ever really prepare for it. It is always important to build a good network of support and love. My friends and family provided this, and they were fantastic. Having a deep faith and regular conversations with people of faith was crucial. Be prepared to talk to others when one is sad, lonely and upset.
Do not feel ashamed to ask for help.
Do not bottle up your feelings and worries.
Search out ways to cope and to face the problem.
Dealing with the everyday practical and real problems of handling family matters and life was made easier by this support system.
Some years later my mother came to stay and make her home with us. She stayed 17 years with my family though she visited my sisters and her wider family often. I am glad I could look after her and her affairs with the support of my wife. She saw my children, accompanied me through my career and achievements. I am glad that I had this.
I was blessed with wonderful parents who had done so much for me. While I lost one so suddenly and so early my mother was a part of my life and family for years. My children got to know her and in some way through her their grandfather.
I thank God for the love and encouragement I received in 1974 and the years since then. I could not have coped alone.
Dr Daleep Mukarji,
London. December 2018.