Heartspeak - To Love and to Lose
by Atul Gurtu
Promila has prepared herself for passing away, but you are not yet prepared,” said the doctor. I was driving him to VT station so that he could catch a cab back home from there. I had just watched and helped him do the dressing of the bleeding cancer tumour in my wife’s right breast. She was suffering: a lot of blood was oozing out daily and her digestion was shot to pieces so she couldn’t get sufficient nutrition. How many days would she survive? And how would I survive without her, after having lived a wonderfully happy married life for 36 years? Once I was back home, I paced around the house, knowing I had to do something, but what?
When Promila had tested positive for cancer seven years back, I had been miserable for many days. The usual question: why us, oh, God? had haunted me. There was a struggle, the eternal struggle that we humans go through, to come to terms with reality followed by introspection, analysis and a conclusion. Mine was that everyone, everything has a time-span and every object, animate or inanimate has to perish one day. The only truth about life is death. Do we cry when a leaf falls? Or when the sun sets? Or at the end of the day? No! Then why defy my wife’s future? I no longer had the privilege to complain to God; after all, I had had a wonderful married life for so long.
I realised that what I was going through was grief and all grief is nothing but self-pity. The one who will die is liberated, it’s us survivors who grieve, for what we will miss. That’s it. But why should there be self-pity after a lifetime of happiness? Anyhow she is alive right now, so why not make the most of what I have? Why not make the few moments of togetherness so beautiful that they defy time and stay in my mind for years to come? Let’s enjoy every moment we have with each other, I told my wife and that became our motto.
Her health being fragile, we didn’t go in for the usual cancer treatment comprising of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Alternative medicine, Ayurveda, was the preferred choice at a well-known clinic near Lonavala. Every trip there was a picnic, a reason for celebration. In fact, we bought a new car, relishing every delicious moment of our journey through this holiday called life.
Time passed and there was some relief to Promila. An assignment took us abroad and what a learning ground it became for Promila. She learned Chinese painting and chakra therapy. Painting became such a passion that almost every emotion of hers found expression on the canvas. She painted, and painted, and all of us, family and friends, enjoyed her splash of colours, her vibrant spirit shining through her art. We had a few of our best months abroad – learning, unlearning the lessons of life.
We were back in India after 18 months. She began lecturing on yoga, chakra therapy, and continued painting with fervour. Her health improved, now having been through both Ayurveda and chakra healing. But the tumour kept growing, slowly but steadily. And now finally, the doctor’s words: “Promila has prepared herself...”
Desperate measures were needed. Hospital visits, examinations, doctors but, above all, the reassurance that it’s still controllable. Hormone therapy came as a magic wand. The tumour reduced by 30 per cent in two months. Both the surgery and radiation therapy went off successfully. Month after month, day and night, I ran hither and thither, carrying hope in my heart. She asked me one day, “Don’t you get irritated sometimes? Frustrated?” My immediate reply was, “No, no, no, a thousand times no! Doing something for you, everything for you, through days and through nights, is a spiritual experience for me. I do it not out of any sense of duty or deliberate responsibility, but out of sheer love, compassion, a feeling that what’s to be done is to be done lovingly.” My answer and its intensity came as a surprise to me. I was known to be a very practical and intellectual person and yet I came to realise that, at the end of the day, practicality and love merge. The only practical thing was to love so much that every little thing done for another becomes an expression of it. I found so much contentment in loving Promila unthinkingly, irrationally, unconditionally. Her treatment got over, the doctor declared her as good as new and we went abroad for another month to be with friends, and created a heaven on earth for ourselves.
Epilogue: We came back home after the trip and Promila started experiencing a loss of appetite; must be infection, we told ourselves, after all we just came back from a foreign land. However, nothing seemed to help. Once again we were back to the hospital and tests confirmed that the cancer had spread to her liver. Twelve days later she died in the ICU, while I sat by her bedside, caressing her arm and forehead, moment by moment watching with dread her life slip away on the screen displaying her life functions. So was it a sad ending? No, again a thousand times no. There is a feeling of terrible loss, yes. But to have lived and loved and to have been loved and done all that had to be done and found fulfilment in that, can never be a sad ending. It’s the stuff life is made up of. Struggles ahead? Of course, but who doesn’t struggle in this world? But to be left with such cherished memories that will never die. That’s a life lived.
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