Father, brother, husband, son, son-in-law and then grandsons – these are the important men in our lives. One expects that fathers will predecease you, and whether bothers do is a matter of the order of sib-ship. Each of us hopes to predecease our spouse. But things don’t work the way we want them to!
My father, Vava, like all fathers, was a great influence in my life. He was a heavy smoker and my early memories of him are with a cigarette in hand. He had a ‘heart attack’ in 1971, when he was just 52 yrs and spent many years after that struggling to quit the smoking, succeeding in his post-retirement life. He was otherwise healthy, without any diabetes or blood pressure problems. He adjusted to his compromised cardiac state and lived well. His problems recurred in 1985 and he decided to get his bypass surgery done in Mumbai in 1986, at a time when people who could afford got it done abroad and the procedure was still a rarity in this country. And 6 years later, in 1992, he died of an unusual form of cancer, a T cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, at the age of 72. It is a disease for which smoking is not even listed among the risk factors and for which the 5 year survival rate at that time was far lower than the 60 -70% currently quoted. He lived for only a few weeks after the diagnosis, but in that time talked to my mother more than he had probably ever had! And he prepared her in every way to face life alone. This she has done with remarkable strength and fortitude, of course, with my younger brother providing the support every day.
Subhash was not just my husband, but also my best friend, scientific collaborator and the ‘constant’ in my life for close to 4 decades. He was disciplined in his habits, and maintained his trim figure with a measure of pride. He was a warm and loving son, husband, father, teacher and friend. But, after this essentially healthy person vomited his breakfast in his office one morning in May, 2001, nothing was the same again. Surgery and chemotherapy did not really work against a cancer of the stomach, which even today has a poor 5 year survival rate. He was a few weeks short of his 58th birthday at the time, and he had only 13 months to wind up an active and productive life. He did it with such composure and cheer, that those around him dared not show remorse or sorrow.
More recently, I am slowly losing the elder of my 2 brothers (both are younger than me), to a degenerative neurological disease. Most of our lives, we lived on separate continents. But, we had a bonding that I suppose only brothers and sisters can have. He was a caring and sensitive person. However, over just the last 24 months, his memory bank has been wiped clean of most of his life between his early years and a few moments ago! He is physically fit and is just past 60.
Tomorrow it will be exactly a decade since Subhash left us and later in the month two decades since we lost Vava; my brother is just about with us. These men in my life have been taken away by illness that is varied in their manifestations, but ill understood and untreatable even today. Unexpected and untimely death is something most of us have faced. The loss is irreplaceable, but as time passes, we make the slow adjustments, try to come to terms with the loss and learn to live in the changed environment, especially when the loss is of near ones. Most of the time, I think I have done a good job of this. But then, at unexpected moments and in a flash, the decade or two seem to disappear and all the events of that period, flash past as though it was yesterday.