Sweet elderly lady

Poem by Suraj Shah.

Sweet elderly lady, that lives just three doors down,
Used to smile broadly, now carries a slight frown.
Lived with her husband for sixty magnificent years,
With his recent passing, she is overcome with tears.

She struggles to cook, craves help from her man,
Can’t manage alone, can’t even lift a saucepan.
It’s been only four months, but feels more like eleven,
Places demands on God, to also whisk her to heaven.

Sons live far far away, with their own pretty wives,
Busy working away to maintain their expensive lives.
They encourage her to move, to somewhere nearby,
Yet such rushed upheavel, would make anyone cry.

She reminisces about their love, missing him so much,
The long country drives, and his soft and gentle touch.
To get where she wanted, he would take her in the car,
Now she depends on others, to reach places near and far.

A beautiful garden, he had worked hard to maintain,
Now looks more like a picture with a horrible stain.
He grew all types of vegetables on the green patch,
Now remains a reminder of her man unfairly snatched.

On warm summer days, in the garden they had sat,
Sharing a glass of wine, discussing this and that.
Now she’s alone, with no-one home to enjoy a drink,
Instead stays indoors, with plenty of time to think.

She thinks and she thinks, thinking more and more,
Pondering on days to come, wondering what’s in store.
Acknowledging she will be alone, and that’s actually ok,
Happy in her own company, she’s decided to stay.

Never forgetting the kind man, who once shared her life,
With conviction she will overcome, any kind of strife.
The sweet elderly lady, that lives three doors away,
Affirms she will lead a full life, starting from today.

Missing mum, 5 years on

Written by Suraj Shah.

Who has been present in the major events of your life?

In a timeline exercise I did one evening last week, I discovered a common thread – the importance of one single person throughout my life.

Timeline’s are more powerful than you realise. They help trace out the major events that took place at various stages of your life, and they help you remember, using the memory of your senses, what was going on at that time, who was around, and how you felt.

Some major moments in my life

Here is how some of my timeline looks (although ages may be a little skewed as memory has ways of playing tricks on you):

  • Age 5: Attended primary school.
  • Age 9: Won a competition.
  • Age 10: Moved house.
  • Age 10: House burgled.
  • Age 12: Started high school.
  • Age 13: Moved to a private school.
  • Age 14/15: Tutor died.
  • Age 15: Penpal died.
  • Age 16: Grandma died.
  • Age 16: Moved school.
  • Age 18: Went to uni
  • Age 18: Grandfather died.
  • Age 22: Finished uni – got my degree.
  • Age 22: Best friend died.
  • Age 23: Travelled around India for over 3 months.
  • Age 25: Mum terribly unwell. Mum died. Mum’s uncle died. Dad’s uncle died.
  • Age 26: Met Heena (now my wife). The best summer of my life.
  • Age 27: Got married. Other grandma died.
  • etc.

As I was recalling these major events of my life, I was recollecting who was around me, what was going on, and how I felt. A common thread emerged.

Mum was around for it – she was a part of the big moments in my life

Whilst I was at primary school at age 5, at a time when we all had to wear shorts, I once tripped in the playground and my right knee was so badly grazed that it was bleeding non-stop for over 5 minutes. At that age, it felt like decades! I remember how mum came to collect me from school to take me home and nurse me.

One Saturday morning, aged 9, I was feeling unwell and couldn’t make it to music school. So while I was resting on the sofa watching cartoons, I heard the doorbell ring, and mum answered the door. The postman had delivered a package, with my name on it. It was a brand new Nintendo Gameboy – I had won a competition! That became my prized possession. I suddenly didn’t feel so unwell!

At age 10, we moved house, but dad was so busy in the shop at that time that we hadn’t managed to unpack every single box. In the spare room upstairs, there were boxes of mum’s jewellery, our video camera, and a collection of home movies that hadn’t yet been transferred onto VHS. Within weeks of moving house, we were burgled. It was bad enough that they stole some of the expensive digital equipment and the jewellery, but why the video tapes too? Mum was distraught – all her precious memories from my brother and I as young children – gone.

At age 12, I started high school. The night before, while I was trying on my new uniform and getting my books and pens ready, I remember tears rolling down my eyes. I was scared about going to this new school, mum was in hospital undergoing surgery, and I didn’t want dad to see me cry. I missed mum and wished she was there to comfort me.

At age 13, mum tried her hardest to get me into a better school. Together we succeeded. I started at a private school, and luckily my fees were all paid for me by the school. Mum was over the moon, as education was so important to her.

Around the age of 14 or 15, my physics tutor died. I remember mum telling me the news after she got off the phone with the tutor’s wife. I didn’t know how to react. Then my penpal died. Then my grandma died. Mum wanted to support me through all of that, but we never really spoke more than a few words about each incident.

Soon I went to Manchester to start university, and within months, my grandfather died. I rushed back to London to be with the family. Four years later, I graduated from uni and my best friend died. Mum wanted to support me through that too, but once again we never really spoke more than a few words about it.

And then, mum wasn’t around…

Over the years, mum’s health deteriorated further and further, with several major operations along the way. When I was 25, mum was in hospital for several months and eventually passed away. Clearly, she wasn’t there to support me through that. Within weeks, her uncle died. A couple of months later, my dad’s uncle died. Mum wasn’t around to support me through any of that.

The following year I met Heena, and then we got married. Mum wasn’t around for that. My cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that.

The following year, my brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

The following year, another cousin brother got married. Mum wasn’t around for that either.

This year, my cousin sister is getting married. Mum won’t be around for that either.

September 26th, 2011, marks five years since mum passed away, and I certainly do miss her presence in my life. Some days I feel numb. Many days I feel lost. But then the clouds clear and the sun shines through, and I realise that I am blessed with such great people in my life, and that a purposeful and inspired life is inevitable.

The power of the timeline

Before this timeline exercise, I hadn’t realised just how much of an important force my mum was in my life. She was present, in some way or another, in almost all the major events that took place in my life.

If you have a spare half-hour, give the timeline exercise a go. Perhaps share what you discover, by writing in the comments below.

(Photo courtesy of Alice Lim)

Interview: Premal Shah on the loss of his cousin brother

Written by Suraj Shah.

“We talked at home openly about him, shared memories of him, laughed at the things he used to say and do.”

Premal Shah is a 37 year old Chartered Physiotherapist, married with two children aged 9 and 6. He is currently preparing to participate in the Everest Basecamp Trek in 2012, in memory of his cousin brother who recently passed away due to a brain tumour.

In this interview, Premal talks about the loss of his cousin brother, how he discussed the topic with his own children, and preparation for his trek to the Everest Basecamp.

You recently lost your cousin brother. Tell us about him.

Amit was 45. He ran his own very successful pharmacy business in Hackney, and also did a lot on work with the NHS in improving the lives of local people. He was married with two boys.

What were the last few months and days of his life like for him, for you, how did he die, and how was that for you?

Amit died because of a brain tumour that was diagnosed last year after a sudden downturn in his health. The family was devastated, but somehow he always managed to look at the funnier side of life. After his diagnosis, he committed his remaining time for his wife and children. We didn’t really see him, but communicated via phone and email. Time was precious to him, so it was important that he spent his time with those closest to him.

What were some of the biggest challenges for you, and how did you manage to deal with them?

For me personally, the biggest challenge was dealing with the idea that his life was soon to end, and that the treatment he was undergoing was unlikely to help him. I had no problem in explaining to my children what was happening. Honesty and frankness is vital. Sometimes the truth is painful.

What did you do to bring about peace within yourself at the time of Amit’s declining health and eventual death?

We talked at home openly about him, shared memories of him, laughed at the things he used to say and do. He was an amazing character, and one that should be celebrated.

What are the most important lessons you have learnt from his life, his illness, and his death?

Life is precious, time can be short. Family and close friends should be valued.

You are planning a trek to Everest next year – tell us a bit about that.

In February 2012, I am going to trek up to the base camp on Mount Everest. I will be reaching an altitude of around 18,000 feet and trekking 8 hours a day for 10 days. I will be sleeping at times in temperatures close to -15. This is all in aid of raising money for Brainstrust, the charity Amit wanted to be supported. Amit was an amazing person. I want to do something amazing to honour him. I am out of shape and lazy, so the challenge will be that much more for someone like me.

Editor’s note: If you wish to support Premal’s trek in memory of his cousin, and through him donate to Brainstrust, Amit’s chosen charity, please visit¬†http://www.justgiving.com/premshah

(Photo caption: Premal Shah proudly supporting the charity Brainstrust)