dock under cloudy sky in front of mountain

Every year on May 3rd, I order a dark chocolate ganache cake, light it up with blue candles, and cut into it along with my mother. We do not make any wishes while blowing out the candles. We just remember the person it is for — my father. It is his birthday, which we have celebrated for seven years just as we would if he was alive.

I have come to understand birthdays with a different meaning. It is a day when we celebrate the privilege of living another 365 days on Earth. Life can be very fickle,  and many are not fortunate to witness each birthday: for me, it is a day for gratitude and reflection.

Every year, on my father’s birthday, I remember him and reflect on what he would think about the woman I have become.

2015 was the most difficult year. It had only been five months since we lost him, so my mother and I were still grieving. The day opened up our dam of memories. As per the Hindu traditions, we performed a small religious ceremony in his memory and didn’t even want to talk to each other. But my maternal grandmother ordered his favorite cake and urged us to celebrate him. She said, “He was a man worthy to be remembered with laughter and not tears.”

2016 was a blur. In hindsight, my mother and I were not processing the loss well. We became distant from each other and our own emotions. We celebrated his birthday, but it was a defense mechanism to prove that we were doing fine. Not something he would have been proud of. We could not celebrate his birthday with the same enthusiasm with which he lived his life.

In 2017, grief did not dominate my tears anymore. I started to understand the effect of the emotional prison we found ourselves locked in. I was learning about Psychology and constantly reliving memories. Things had changed, they were bound to, but in a very negative way. I barely spoke to my mother or made new friends. 

So with tiny steps, I started to share my day with her. We started having movie nights again, which became an opportunity to begin reconnecting with her. We also began to search for hobbies she could take up. And she was able to reconnect with some of her friends. We still truly could not celebrate him, but it was an effort in the right direction.

2018 brought a sense of normalcy. During 2017-18, I had started to dive deep into psychological theories to understand the best ways to deal with grief and the loss of a loved one. I started attending meditation sessions, and I continued to have conversations with my mother. She also began to speak with her friends, and most importantly, she established her own catering business.

I completed high school with excellent grades, enrolled in my choice of college, and graduated with a near-perfect GPA. While my father never really pressured me to study, I knew he would have been proud of me. It was also the first birthday we went out for dinner to his favorite Thai restaurant.

2019 was a year of reflection and changes. My mother’s business was thriving. I started my career as a marketing professional. And the year also brought my first love. While the relationship was an exhilarating experience, it was not meant to be. He was a married man.

My father would have been proud of my work ethic and my relationship with my mom. But he would certainly not have been happy that I loved a married man. He would have wanted me to experience the love he always spoke about, the one he shared with my mother. But he would undoubtedly be proud that I expressed my feelings to the man respectfully and became his friend. 

As a reflection, I would agree with Freud that one tries to find their parents in their lovers. I did find my dad in the man.  Accepting my feelings and letting them go was cathartic. I was able to make peace with my father’s absence finally.

2020 was another challenging year. My mother started experiencing severe back pains to the extent she could not get up. After lots of reports and checks, we discovered she had cervical spondylosis in its initial stages. This meant she could not continue with her business, and she had to take better care of herself. To fill the void, I accompanied her to her acupuncture sessions, started cooking with her, hosted movie nights, and was there for her. I began to fear that  I might lose my mother as well. I had a few nightmares, but I immediately addressed them with my best friend. 

And I also became the sole earner for both of us. But I was ready for it. I had already funded my Master degree and took care of my expenses, and I had to become more frugal to fulfill my mother’s needs. My father would have been proud to see his little princess turn into a queen managing the kingdom of their life.

Achieved tranquility in 2021. The year when humanity witnessed the worst pandemic, I was fortunate enough to have a stable job and keep my family healthy. But the year had a silver lining as I achieved something my father always hoped I would. I explored myself and indulged in my creative pursuits.

He was an interior designer by profession, and while he loved it, he believed that when your passion becomes your source of income, you sometimes lose touch with your creative side and become mediocre. So he undertook many passion projects and indulged in his other love, playing squash. I always loved reading films and dabbled in drawing as well. But after his death, I did not pursue my creativity at all. My profession in marketing is my passion, and I gave my all to it. But being in quarantine with myself, I started to discover my other passions: films, reading, and writing! My decision to start writing and publishing online has been the most productive, and he would have loved every bit of my journey.

Today, I am not the girl he left behind but a woman who understands loss, love, relationships, and, most importantly herself. I am independent, confident, and building a life I love. Along the journey, I made mistakes and will make more in the future, maybe some things my father would not be proud of. But I don’t let it burden me with expectations. He did not raise me like that. He always supported me even if I was wrong, as long as I did it with love and empathy in my heart. He always gave his opinion but gave me the freedom to learn from my mistakes.

So instead of wondering if he would be proud, I think about tucking into his warm embrace and crying when my decisions lead to bad outcomes. I no longer have his embrace, but a sprinkle of his favorite cologne and a warm cup of his favorite white tea has been doing fine too.

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