No-one is anyone’s

Suraj and Sawan, when they were kids

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

As I spend more and more time as a bereavement support visitor, helping those who have lost a loved one to get through their suffering, I would have thought that I’d be pretty good at loosening my own emotional grip on the people I care about.

Yet, as time goes on, I seem to feel more and more heartache at the thought that those closest to me will inevitably one day be no more – in particular, my kid bro.

Sometimes I envision how I might receive the news about his death, or react to finding out about him being hurt in some serious way.

I imagine myself frozen in time, initially standing like a stone cold statue, riddled with shock, and then the next moment collapsing to the floor overcome with the pain of my insides being crushed by the grip of my very own hands.

The grip of my attachement. The pain of my loss.

Nobody is for anybody

In the timeless Jain tradition, there is a reflection titled “anyatva bhavana” which (in Gujarati) states:

“Aa sansaar ma koi koinu nathi.”

This roughly translates to:

“In this worldly life, no-one is anyone’s.”

So why do we feel such strong attachments to our younger siblings, and how can the “anyatva bhavana” reflection help us reduce the torment we relentlessly place on ourselves?

This perplexing attachment toward our siblings

The feeling we have towards our younger siblings, particularly when we grow up after all those initial years of teasing and squabbling, is of care and concern for them, blended with pride of what they have achieved in life so far.

When I look at my brother (he turned thirty this week), I see a confident caring man who has the company of a loving wife, a stable roof over his head, doing work he is committed to and the loyalty of friendships he has been growing and strengthening since childhood.

However, beneath his confident and joyful exterior, I notice his fears and his concerns. Somehow, I can feel his deepest pains that he appears to cover up. The same pains and doubts and fears that we all have – each and every one of us.

The daily discomforts of our body. The financial constraints of hectic western life. The busy-ness and habits of a time-poor society gradually creeping in.

So yes, I notice his incredible strengths, and I notice the depths of his hurt caused by the strain on a typically fractured worldly life.

It makes me want to hold him high above my head and boast about him to the world, while embracing him with a tight grip, to let him know that everything will be ok.

This is my attachment to my kid bro. The very same attachment you may also be having to those you adore.

Understanding that nobody is for anybody

In this world we realise that nomatter how much we try to help take away someone’s suffering or ask others to reduce our pain, we are ultimately truly alone.

If I am deep in debt and someone hands me a bundle of cash, that may temporarily alleviate my financial problems, but it will not cure me of the greed that led me to that state.

That greed is my own that I need to work on and resolve, so that it need not trouble me forever more.

Whatever we currently experience is a result of our past actions. All the trouble, torment and harm we have caused to others in our past has resulted in troublesome situations for us right here, right now.

Someone may run a red light and crash into the back of the car, or your house may get burned down, or business become bankrupt, or get kicked out of your job, or racially abused or anything else under the sun that causes pain, suffering, disease, despair.

But it needn’t cause pain, suffering, disease or despair.

No-one, nomatter how much they may love and care for us, can truly take that situation away from us. We have to endure it ourselves, witness it, and calmly let it pass.

If we don’t stay calm and let it pass, then what will happen? We get consumed by it, wishing that we didn’t have to deal with it, fighting to shift it from our lives, indulging in anger and causing more harm. This inevitably leads to more trouble for us in the future.

What you do now massively impacts the situations that arise for you at a later point in time.


So we must understand that everything happening to us right now is completely our own doing, our fault, our responsibility.

It doesn’t mean sit back and do nothing – we need to deal with the situation appropriately.

But while dealing with it, remain calm and let the matter gradually pass.

No-one can truly take away our pain, nor can we truly alleviate anyone’s suffering.

However, our compassionate hearts give us an opportunity to reach out to another.

When you see someone suffering, you can help them out practically and emotionally, all the while knowing that in all honesty, the only true beneficiary… is you.

(picture: Suraj with his younger brother Sawan when they were kids)

Losing a second child

Written by Suraj Shah. Inspired by greatness.

It’s difficult enough losing one son. But to lose a second to the same medical condition — that’s not easy for any mother to deal with.

Earlier this week I spoke with the mother of a classmate who passed away. Her son was a decent guy, a talented musician and got on well with most people. When I read about his death in the school magazine, I attempted to make contact with his family via the school. His mother called me back.

My friend was 31 years old when he died. I had last spoken with him 15 years ago, but had lost touch with him since leaving school.

His mother explained that when his younger brother died due to the same medical condition, my friend’s health suddenly deteriorated too – almost as though he had given up hope.

But today’s post isn’t about hope or regaining lost hope. It is about the painful reality of a mother’s second loss.

So here we are, a mother who had lost two sons. There is of course a third son who lives, the eldest son. Some may indelicately state that “at least you still have him, your eldest son” — but that doesn’t make it any better. That doesn’t make the loss any less.

Some may say “at least both your sons are no longer suffering” — but that doesn’t make a mother’s loss any less either.

Others may still fumble “ok, it’s time now for you to get on with your life and make the most of what you have left” — but a mother’s loss takes time to deal with, to live out its course in its own natural time.

I’m reminded of the mother of another school friend (a friend who passed away in a car accident almost a decade ago). Since then she has become a grandmother, twice. But it doesn’t take away the loss of her son.

Family events will come and go. Families will expand and grow and transition through bad times and good. But a son lost will never be forgotten, nomatter how much outside forces may insist it should.

My thoughts right now are with all the mothers who have raised and lost. Lost through distance. Lost through misunderstandings. Lost through death.

A mother’s loss doesn’t get easier, regardless of how many times she experiences it. I hope that the suffering mothers in the world around us find some comfort and courage to feel lighter, to grow stronger, to live with love.

Falling silent after a patient’s death

Written by Suraj Shah.

I feel like when my patients die, I definitely do spend a moment reflecting on the patient but mostly thinking of the families and those moments always truly humble me, because it reminds me that in a few days I will likely not think of that moment, but those families will never forget.

In a recent BBC news article, surgeon Pauline Chen suggests that doctors and nurses should be obliged to pause for silent reflection when someone they are treating dies. It would be good for them, she says, and may make them better carers.

In summary, the article highlights:

  • there should be a mandatory 5 minutes silence when a patient dies.
  • all carers would gather round the bedside and reflect in silence on that person’s life and death.
  • most caregivers, particularly doctors in the west avoid confronting the reality because a patient who dies represents a professional failure.
  • having a five minute pause for silence will give closure.
  • the conscious pause will also establish a ritual, which leads to offering great comfort at difficult moments.
  • also the five minute pause will allow caregivers to acknowledge their own feelings.
  • by denying the acknowledgement of feelings, doctors and other caregivers end up being restrained by them.

I asked a bunch of friends who are in the medical profession what they thought about it.

One friend wrote:

“What a heartfelt story. I think that a moment of silence for patients who have passed is actually something that is not only good for that person but for the families and the medical doctors and registered nurses.

I feel like when my patients die, I definitely do spend a moment reflecting on the patient but mostly thinking of the families, and those moments always truly humble me, because it reminds me that in a few days I will likely not think of that moment, but those families will never forget. Thank you for sharing this with me. I think I will be more conscious in those moments to come.”

Another friend wrote:

“Interesting article. I do think that we could do more to respect a patient who has died. We as doctors could also do a lot better to respect the woes of patients who are living.

From the point of view of an ER doctor, I think that 5 minutes is not possible in that environment. Also, it would be nice to have some tradition that reflects and acknowledges the death of a patient, but it would be better if it came from a tradition of spirituality or compassion (universal spirituality is better than any particular religion in our society, mostly) rather than one of hospital policy. The culture in the ER that I see is that some people would like this very much, and others would just scoff at it.

Overall, a tradition of some moments of silence, and then a protocol of supporting family, etc, would be good. I sort of do that in my own way, but it would be nice to have more of a protocol that gets people on the same page, and also has room for exceptions (i.e. it is not appropriate to have a moment of silence if a family member is freaking out … you have to support them first and do what is right for them, silence otherwise).

Perhaps that protocol would also one day become tradition and influence us a bit deeper. There are many medical professionals who are compassionate, and there are many that are not (maybe selectively compassionate depending on mood etc.) We are a pretty diverse and intense bunch of people.

I think that our society has to be more compassionate in general. That is the real issue. Compassionate and intelligent in conjunction with each other. We are way too materialistic and not compassionate enough.”

Are you a carer of some form where you face death more often than most other people? If so, how do you feel about observing silence after a patient’s death?