If you have something to say to someone, then don’t wait. Say it now. Don’t wait to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I am sorry’ to someone because tomorrow they may not be there and you might end up living with the disappointment and guilt that you never said it while they were around. I live with this thought every day and no matter how much I try, I cannot get it out of my head. It echoes in my thoughts all the time. Initially, the thought was so deafening that I would sometimes cover my ears to make it stop. But every time I look at his photograph, every time I think about a memory of him, every time someone else talks about him, I again hear this ‘What did he want to say?’ So, I was unable to control my thoughts after losing him with this innumerable guilt on my conscience and not discussing this with anyone in my family. I had the difficult choice of selecting a psychologist for me. Considering that my brain's operating system has an inbuilt bug that doesn’t allow the installation of any outside software, I knew that it would indeed be a difficult journey. Don’t get me wrong, I was not worried about myself. I was more concerned about the psychologist who would have to listen to me. That wouldn't be an exquisite journey for him or her, to say the least. Anyways, some people close to me, outside my family, suggested a few, but after the first session, I never saw most. Few made it till the second session but that was it and I decided to give up. This was when I found writing to be the best counselor or psychologist, whatever it is you want to call. I didn’t have to pay it (writing) to treat me. In fact, it paid me back with something no money could’ve gotten me, peace of mind. I could not run away with the guilt and the pain of losing him but it helped me live with it. If you can’t run away from it, start enjoying what is happening. Every time I miss him, writing helps me to get close to him. He talks to me through my books. I might sound like a crazy writer but try writing once a while and you might feel the difference. I saw my dad take his last breath after the hospital where he was admitted. They told us to take him home because they had done everything they could do. So now all we could do was pray. They moved him out of the ICU with a portable ventilator into an ambulance. Right after they got the stretcher inside the ambulance, they removed the ventilator. The doors closed and I sat beside him as the ambulance moved towards our house. The beacon on top of the ambulance roared, making way for us at around eight in the morning on the busy Gurgaon streets. But, inside the ambulance, I sat with him, oblivious of the chaos outside. It was peaceful inside, he was calm now. ‘After eleven days of struggle, he is finally at peace’, I thought, looking at him. ‘I am bringing dad home', I told mom and sister waiting at home. As I watched him closely in the ambulance, I knew that this was the last time I saw him breathe. My eyes were full of tears as I called on him, ‘dad.’ I wanted him to open his eyes and talk to me. I wanted him to say all the things he wanted to say for the past eleven days but couldn’t because the ventilator pipe pushed down his throat. But he remained quiet and his eyes were closed just like they had been for the past five days. I realized that it was the ventilator that had kept him alive all this while. He had already left us on the sixth day when he stopped responding to us. I called him again, holding his hand many times but there was no response. Suddenly he started taking shallow breaths and that was it. Everything went silent, his body was cold and he was at peace. I kissed his hand and placed both his hands on his chest. My support, my pillar of strength, was gone. I felt lost. I felt empty. He had been struggling for more than five years from chronic stomach problems, two strokes, extreme weight loss and bedridden most of the time. So, his pain was gone and he was indeed at peace. But he left me with an unsolved puzzle. What did he want to say when he was in the ICU? December 2012 He had been unwell for a few days and the doctor was regularly coming to our house for a check up. He also had a fever for which the treatment was going on. Suddenly on the cold night of January 04, 2013, his health deteriorated and we scrambled to call the doctor. Our family doctor, Dr Pasricha, was always available whenever we needed him. He asked us to give him medicines for fever and bring him to his hospital in the morning. But, by early next morning, dad had stopped responding and we called Dr Gagan to our house. He had a small clinic close by. Dr Gagan suggested that we immediately take him to the hospital to look at his pulse and blood pressure. My brother and I moved him to the car and we immediately rushed him to the doctor. I had his head in my lap on the back seat while mom and brother were at the front. Mom called on him many times and so did I, but his eyes were closed. I could barely feel his heartbeat as I kept my hand on his chest. Mom was teary-eyed and my brother was trying to comfort her while driving the car. Dad was treated at one of the hospitals for two strokes. So, instead of taking dad to our family doctor, we took him there. It must have been around six in the morning and we got him in the OPD where they checked his vitals. ‘Since when has he been unwell?’ the doctor on duty asked us. ‘Since late last night’, my brother replied. ‘And you are bringing him here now?’ the doctor asked rudely. We all remained quiet. ‘Must have been too cold last night, isn’t it?’ he continued looking at all of us, not even caring that my mother had been crying inconsolably. We all stood there quietly, looking at the doctor. ‘Look, his vitals are almost gone. We have to put him on a ventilator immediately’, he said, passing on the declaration form. You know that time when grief and sadness have taken over your mind and you are incapable of making decisions? Guess what? This was the situation with the three of us at that time. Hearing him making taunts about us not being able to get him to the hospital at night, we all felt guilty and signed the form without asking any questions and he was immediately shifted to ICU. Doctors are God, so we put our faith in God and agreed to whatever they asked us to do or whatever forms they asked us to sign. The guilt created by his taunts blinded us, so we followed their instructions to the core because we all wanted him back with us. None of us had ever seen anyone on a ventilator in our life and neither did we know about the effects of a ventilator on a human body before. I am not criticizing ventilators. I am sure ventilators have saved many lives. This is just my frustration talking because my father could not speak because of a ventilator before he passed away. Looking back now, I know that we should’ve never signed the form knowing the horrors that awaited him in the next few days. We should’ve taken him back home because we had already lost him even before we reached the hospital that day. Seeing him every day for the next eleven days was the most painful thing I had ever done. I can’t possibly imagine the kind of pain he must have gone through during those days. We were not allowed to see him till the evening. With the ventilator tube pushed through his mouth, we could see that he was breathing now. His chest moved up and down and we all took a sigh of relief that, yes, things did look promising. The following day I was delighted to see him open his eyes as I called on him. ‘Dad, are you alright?’ I asked. He moved his eyelids to answer. I was satisfied when he responded that he was alright. He tried to move his lips but couldn’t speak because of the ventilator tube in his mouth. ‘Can you please remove this tube for a while? He wants to say something’, I pleaded with the doctor on duty. ‘We can’t remove the pipe because he can’t sustain breathing on his own’, she replied. The same reply was given the next day and the following days, till on the sixth day his eyes were closed and he did not respond even if we touched him. ‘There’s an infection in his body and it is growing fast. We are starting with some new medicines today and hope that the infection will go down’, the doctor said as we all listened to him outside the ICU. I stopped hearing anything after the word ‘infection’ and all I could see was his lips moving. That was the ‘God’ talking, so I trusted in whatever God said and waited outside the ICU patiently. We never saw any response in his body after that day. His body had started swelling because they were continuously pumping liquids via drips but his body wasn’t getting it out. His eyes were shut and we could only hope that he wasn’t in any pain now. ‘Is he in pain?’ we asked as the doctor on duty looked at us. They had allowed all of us to visit him. This was the day before the fateful day when I had brought him back home. ‘He is in a deep sleep and cannot feel anything’, she said, trying to sound as courteous as possible. The next day I was almost out of patience so, as mom and brother left for home to freshen up, I asked the doctor to lay it on me, honestly. She thought for a while and then left without replying. ***** ‘I am sorry, dad. I am sorry for all the mistakes. I am sorry for walking in on you drunk countless time., I am sorry I yelled at you. I am sorry that I was rude to you’, I kept mumbling, holding his hand, hoping that he could hear me. Yes, as you just read, I was no angel. Suddenly, I heard the voice of God. ‘Keep talking to him’, she said, standing beside me. She was back with another doctor. ‘Is he going to make it?’ I asked her, looking for answers. ‘He isn’t going to survive if we take off the ventilator. We have tried our best’, she said and looked at me and waited. ‘So, this is what politics is about’, I thought, looking at her. Like a true politician, she left the burden on me to decide my father's fate but when it came to choosing expensive treatment and medicines and billing it to us, they could decide that for us. ‘I want to take him home’, I said with virtually no expressions on my face. She looked at me and then picked up a form from the table in front of her. It was as if she had waited for me to ask this question. The form was already on the table, ready to be filled and signed by me. ‘Look, we can’t mention that you are taking him home. But, what we can do is prepare the paperwork for him to be shifted to a better hospital for a higher level of treatment and then you can take him home’, she said with a weird expression. I call this expression, ‘I have taken all your money now.' ‘Higher treatment?’ I asked and they looked back silently. ‘You mean higher than yours?’ I continued, looking around the ICU. She simply nodded nervously, ‘Aahan.’ I didn’t argue. I just agreed and signed whatever papers God wanted me to sign again. Dad had already left us by the time the ambulance reached home. I saw him leave that day with my own eyes. I feel so fortunate that I was with my father during his last few moments on the earth. But, the mystery about what he had wanted to say in the hospital will always remain like a sickening thought with me forever, one that was eating me from inside. Grief has got to be the deadliest sickness. It silently eats you from inside and by the time you realize, it is already too late. I have learnt to live with the grief and guilt of not hearing him one last time, not being able to apologize for all the mistakes I had made in life. I use it as strength now and help people make sound decisions for their loved ones during sickness. We had no one to guide us that morning. The doctors made us feel guilty and we made a snap decision to put him on a ventilator that day. Our choice may not have been right but it indeed wasn’t wrong either.
***** My message to all who carry the guilt because of such situations is that, ’Guilt will not bring your loved ones back. Guilt will only harm you and others who are still around you. You decided thinking it would help the one who was unwell or was in pain but it backfired. You meant no ill-will, so stop blaming yourself for their death. Honour their memory by living your life to the fullest, guilt-free.’
Read more such stories in my book 'Ensemble - A collection of short stories and essays'