Writings

Grief Journal

He used to call me, “sweet cheeks”, “hussy” (inside joke), his “squeeze” and, of course, “babe”. When he was trying to be funny in front of his brothers, he would call me, “Puneet” instead of Taneet, and then I would reply with, “who the HELLLL is Puneet?” and we all laughed.

Sometimes he made me laugh really hard. Other times I made him laugh really hard. Lots of times we both just laughed and laughed, especially with our daughters. There were little things about me that he mocked which was actually hilarious to me. For instance, when he found out my family’s nickname for me has always been Mattu (pronounced ma-two if you don’t have an Indian accent), he (being a big Star Wars fan) called me “R2-D2”. Or whenever I made my weird Chewbacca sounds he echoed it so loud that my belly would ache from laughing. He knew how to be extra silly, and I think it came out more around me and our girls. He could be really quick-witted and I loved that about him.

The thing about having a partner/spouse is that you get to see all sides of them. Others only see just their professional side, or sporty side. I saw who he was as a son, a brother, a father, a cousin, a nephew, a grandson. And because we worked together in the same office, I also got to see him in the role of a manager, co-worker, businessman, and all-knowing insurance/sales guy. He showed me his vulnerable side time and time again. Outside of our home I knew when he was pretending in front of others and when he put up his walls. That’s what marriage is. Seeing, experiencing and accepting all truths, the ones nobody else sees.

He taught me so much. I knew nothing about sports when I met him. I was just a nerd getting through life with my nose constantly in a book. But he brought me into the world of horse racing, football, baseball, hockey, soccer. So I wouldn’t get bored when a game was on, he explained every rule, not to mention background stories, biographies of the players/coaches and history of the teams. Before I met him, I never attempted to reverse park. But he taught me how. And to this day, I still use his technique. And whenever Soca/Reggae/Calypso/Caribbean was on (and it was on a lot) he explained what the lyrics meant and where it all originated from. Since I didn’t grow up watching shows like The Simpsons and King of the Hill, he made sure I dove into that world as well.

He was basically obsessed with his brothers and parents. After we started dating for about two months, he asked me if he could introduce me to his family. He wanted the two things he loved most to come together. I became as attached as he was to his brothers; it was hard not to. They were an extension of him.

He loved wearing plaid. Actually, much of his plaid collection came from me. His favourite football team was the Denver Broncos (fave player was Peyton Manning, number 18), his favourite soccer team was Real Madrid (fave player was Cristiano Ronaldo, number 7 – which is also his birthdate), which reminds me; he loved soccer so much that a couple of days after our second baby was born and we were still in the hospital, he asked me if he could go home for a bit to watch the World Cup. I was like, “reeeeallly, dude?” (in my head though – but on the outside I just smiled and nodded because I knew how badly he wanted to see it. I did roll my eyes so hard that I’m pretty sure I felt it in my c-section stitches!)

Also – he was unusually obsessed with ice. Every morning he woke up, walked to the kitchen, opened the freezer and popped a few ice cubes into his mouth and chewed them very loudly. And he could not get through the morning without asking me to “squeeze” his head. I usually didn’t mind it because he had such soft, thick, lovely hair before having to get ready for work and putting that Axe hair product in it.

I knew what his favourite meals were that his mom made; spinach and chicken, and pumpkin and shrimp, but we both shared a deep love for Mexican food, specifically burritos, tacos, fajitas and quesadillas. When we wanted to really treat ourselves, we would look at each other and say, “BURRITOS FROM CHIPOTLE.” It was our thing. He also loved when I tucked him into bed so tight that he was a human burrito.

Just as I saw all sides of him, he saw all sides of me. He saw me in my truest form; a really messy, emotional nerd who hoarded books, documented everything and spoke in too many accents.
He always knew when I was in the washroom taking a poop because I would flush more than once (sorry – TMI) and he would say, “droppin’ a deuce in there?” and turn on the fan because the switch was on the outside of the washroom. I still remember the first time he farted in front of me when we were still dating, he just casually said, “excuse me”, but the first time he heard me fart was in the middle of the night when Annabella was a newborn and I was rocking her to sleep. He looked up from the bed and asked, “did you just fart?” and mortified, I said, “noooooo, that was the BABY.”

We could complain about our family members to each other, or talk smack about certain co-workers, and share our “dutty” jokes with each other (i.e. that’s-what-she-said jokes). Oh, he loved the show, The Office and Michael Scott was his favourite character. But he wasn’t into it as much when Michael left the show.

We shared a mutual love for Batman. I’ll never forget when we went to see The Dark Knight Rises in theatres. Our favourite scene was when all the bats emerged as Bruce finally escaped that cave. But again, he taught me a lot about superheroes and the original comic book stories that I didn’t know growing up. On the day of our wedding reception (which was two days after our ceremony) he pretended to be Christian Bale driving the Tumbler (in his Nissan 350Z) and yelled to me, “RACHELLLLLLLLL! HANG ON RACHELLLLLL!” And when I was on maternity leave, every morning when he left for work I would send him a quote from a Batman movie to his work email so that he would see it as soon as he got to the office.

The sweeter side of him told me I was beautiful, gorgeous, and recognized my strengths and talents. One day at work, I used my lunch break to walk around the office and get people to sign a birthday card for my team leader that I had made out of bristol board, and when I got to his office, he said to me, “this is what makes you so special.” He would tell people how easily I could personalize things through my writing.

He helped me pay off my student loan early in our marriage. Most of the downpayment for our condo came from his many years of savings. He used his line of credit to buy me and our girls a car after we separated. And when that car was totalled in an accident, he was the one I called first and the one to bring me home from the hospital.

When I got food poisoning at work one day, he was the one I called to pick me up (this is when we were separated) and he brought me home (to the condo we all used to live in) and then picked up the girls from daycare. We all stayed together that night and the next few days. When I fainted twice from having literally no energy or food in my system, he was the one who lifted me off the floor and carried me to bed.

Some of my favourite gifts from him are: one year for my birthday, Disney re-released Cinderella from the ‘vault’, as the Diamond Edition, and knowing it was my favourite, he got it for me; another time he got me a Kindle because I love reading (and also because he thought it would stop me from buying so many books – I didn’t stop by the way); a little Flamingo pin (which is currently sitting on my dresser), a tiny bear made out of glass with my birthstone in it for mother’s day, a random bouquet of flowers, and my absolute FAVOURITE; tickets to see Aladdin live in theatres, where I cried during the “a whole new world” scene and he looked at me and said, “are you CRYING?” and I said, “shut up.”

Of course, there were much darker times in our marriage which led to our separation, but after some time apart, although we lived at different addresses (five minutes away from each other and eventually an hour away from each other), we still managed to stay connected, every day. Mostly because of our daughters, but also because we were great friends. He didn’t agree with many things I shared through my writing, but he also made sure to applaud my parenting and my role as our daughters’ mother.

We worked together to ensure our girls knew we are still always a family.

I sometimes catch myself picking up my phone to call him and tell him something and have the sudden realization that he isn’t there to answer me.

And that’s when the pain hits.

I’ve read about the different stages of grief and mine are all over the place. It’s not linear and clear cut. One day I feel I’ve accepted his death. The next I’m screaming in my head, “HE CAN’T BE GONE.”

When I sleep, I dream of him – about him coming back to life.
When I’m awake, I see his face in the casket. And it’s like the wind gets knocked out of me.

I miss hugging him. He was so tall that my head was at his chest and my arms would wrap around his torso. We always greeted each other with a hug and kiss on the cheek whenever I dropped the girls off with him, and again when I picked them up. I always said, “I love you” before getting in the car and he always said it back. It was important to me that our girls saw this exchange so they understood, parents can be separated and still love and respect each other.

I’m remembering a time last year when I couldn’t sleep, it was around 3am. He couldn’t sleep either and he called me. We talked and laughed. I don’t know anymore what we said to each other but I remember a huge smile on my face.

photo from our honeymoon

Short Stories

A Bird at Breakfast

He sits down next to me on the bench we have on our front porch. I want to reach my fingers up to the hair falling over his forehead but the warm breeze beats me to it. Instead I straighten out the scraggly hairs on his left eyebrow like I’ve done for so many years. Usually, he would jokingly swat my hand away but this time he just looks into my face. Searching, waiting.

“What’s wrong, Taneet?” he asks me.

I can’t look him in his big, brown eyes, the same as Annabella’s, so full of love. I drop my hands in my lap and play with my two karas.

“I feel like a fraud”, I whisper. He places his hand over mine so I stop fidgeting. The feeling of his hand on mine is like medicine on a festering wound. I clear my throat.

“It’s like…I was so quick to start calling you my ex-husband after I left. And since you’ve left me, I’ve been calling you my husband again. It’s weird and selfish. I have no right. I built this whole single mom life while we were separated and felt so proud of it. But since you’ve been gone, I’ve felt nothing but a complete void. An emptiness. A huge loss. Suddenly I’m a widow. I just feel like such a fraud. I don’t deserve-“

“Taneet. Taneet, stop. Stop”, he says.

“But I know what people have been thinking and saying about me. They think I have no right to grieve your loss. I used to just let people assume we were divorced when we weren’t. I tried to make myself appear stronger than I actually am. I could never bring myself to divorce you. I wanted to be a family again. For the girls. They wanted it so badly. I did, too. And when we were finally planning for you to move in here with us this summer…” I can’t catch my breath.

“Taneet. Stop. Look at me.”

I bring my gaze up to his and lower it again. I can’t look him in the eyes.

“Taneet. You only need to worry about two things: the girls. That’s it. I don’t care about anyone else. People are stupid. Who cares what they think?”

“Unfortunately, I do”, I say, looking down at my lap again.

He’s reaching into the pocket of his hoodie. I look over.

“This”, he says, “this is all that matters.”

He shows me a crumpled photo of the four of us in Cuba.

“Remember, Taneet. You are the captain of our ship. You hold us together.”

I take the photo with shaky hands and bite my lower lip.

“I’m sorry”, I begin to sob, “I’m so sorry, Andrew, I’m so sorry. I failed. I failed! I couldn’t keep our family together! I couldn’t keep you safe and healthy. I couldn’t take away your pain!”

I’m choking and hiccuping on tears now. He was never the best at comforting me when I cried. It made him uncomfortable. But he takes my face with both hands now and wipes my tears. He smiles and shakes his head.

“You gave me everything, Taneet. Our girls. You’ve done an amazing job. You’re a wonderful mother. Hey, hey, hey, stop.”

My snot is now shooting out of my nose and mixing in with my tears around my chin as he uses his sleeve to wipe my face.

“Taneet”, he continues, “people are always going to talk. It doesn’t matter. I was my happiest when I was with you. You know that.”

I continue to cry. I can’t seem to stop.

“We miss you. So much. The girls. The girls need you. I’m not enough for them. They need their daddy. Annabella will be a teenager in a few years! I can’t do this without you!”

“I’m here, I’m here!”

“No! You’re dead! You left us, you left us! You died! Why did you have to die?”

I’m shouting now, my throat raw, but he still looks at me and smiles.

“I’m always with you. Always.” He wraps his arms around me. He’s warm. The last time I touched him he was cold as ice. I allow myself to melt into him. I feel the summer breeze again, passing through our embrace. It feels like we are sitting here for hours and hours.

“I finally figured out the song you were always humming”, I say into his chest, my eyes closed, “when the girls were watching the Wizard of Oz the other day, it was like a light bulb went on and then- “

He’s gone. I can feel his warmth but I don’t see him anywhere. A familiar song takes my attention from the seat next to me and past the porch to the sugar maple tree in the front yard. There sits a brilliantly red cardinal looking right back at me. Singing loudly, assuredly.

I exhale into the passing breeze and it flows back into the cardinal’s song. Sweet, strong and familiar.

Short Stories

Another Morning

Something’s wrong.

I open my eyes and look around, laying still. Is it morning already? To my right I see my eldest daughter is sitting up, her back to me, facing the wall. Both girls have been sleeping with me every night lately. They refuse to sleep in their own room, in their cozy bunkbeds.

I wince without my glasses and prop myself up.

“Annabella?”

She turns slowly and I see her little face is wet. Her eyes, usually bright and inviting, are dark and glistening with grief.

“What happened?” I say.

She lets out a sob, “daddy!”

My heart plunges down and pierces into my heaving belly. I move towards her, over my younger daughter and wrap her up in my arms. I want to scoop her back into my womb where I can keep her safe from all this pain.

She looks up at me and says, “I had a bad dream.”

“Do you want to share it with me?”

“It was about daddy. I dreamed that I went back in time. He was sitting on the couch at Papa’s house. I went over to him and whispered in his ear what was going to happen to him, to warn him. I asked him to please be healthy. I didn’t want to come back to the future, mommy.”

She continues to cry.

“I know”, I tell her, “I know.”

She looks into my eyes, pleading. Wipes her face on the sleeve of her blue astronaut pyjamas.

“I wish I was a doctor”, she says, “so I could’ve saved daddy.”

I look back into her eyes, big and round like his, unable to find the right words.

“Maybe when you’re big, you can be a doctor and save lots of people”, I offer.

“Maybe…” she ponders briefly. “Did daddy have a good doctor? Did they give him medicine?”

“Yes”, I tell her, “he had lots of good doctors and they helped him very much. They did everything they could.”

She shifts her body and lays her head down on the bunched up comforter.

“It’s not fair, mommy.”

I place my hand on her head and comb her thick, dark hair with my fingers. Talia snores softly beside us.

“It’s not”, I say.

“I don’t want to go back to sleep”, she decides, “can I stay with you?”

“Always”, I tell her.

We head downstairs to cuddle on the couch. I open the blinds and let in the morning sun. Another day without him.

Something will always feel wrong.