Finding God in Death

This one’s not easy…I had to write a Memoir Essay for school. I’m not sure why I tackled this particular subject, but it was akin to stabbing a vein and writing in blood. I am choosing to publish it here in the hopes that it may help someone, somewhere, deal with loss.

I was raised by a non-practicing Hindu father and a hostile, anti-church, anti-anything religious mother. As a child growing up under such circumstances, finding God wasn’t an easy task. In fact, it was a damn near impossible one, but that didn’t stop me from trying. I went to church with my friends and read the Bible, but without anyone to tell me what I was reading, it felt as though I was slogging through mud while wearing weights on my ankles.

I had my first experience with possibilities when my older sister went into church with a growth on the back of her hand and by the time she came out a few hours later, it was completely gone. So I knew miracles existed. I just wasn’t sure about God Himself, and Jesus wasn’t even a blip on the map.

When my father died many years later, it was pain-filled, traumatic and exhausting. I was barely three months pregnant and overwhelmed by his clinical insanity, my mother’s desperate need for him to survive and worry over a possible miscarriage.

But his release brought me to God.

A scant three months before he died, my father was on a six month sabbatical from his position as a professor at California State University, Northridge.  A very kind man, devoted to learning and to teaching others, he spent his sabbaticals teaching literacy in the villages in India. On this trip, he’d only been there a month before my mother called me to meet his plane in Atlanta, as he was coming home unexpectedly. He had, she said, suffered a stroke and wanted to come home for further testing.

That was the beginning of the end of his life.

What we believed was a stroke was, in reality, two brain tumors. One of them was growing at a frightening rate and already covered roughly half of his brain; the other was located at the base of his skull and, due to its location, was deemed to be inoperable.  The doctors told my father the tumors would kill him inside a month. He told my mother he wanted to go back to India; that he could cure himself of the tumors by meditation and willpower. My mother believed him, so they made all the necessary travel arrangements. Two weeks later found them staying with me for a week to say goodbye. I didn’t realize one of the tumors was pressing down so hard upon his brain pan that it completely changed his personality until after I’d picked them up from the airport and brought them home. It started almost immediately. He decided our couches had bad karma and threw them out onto the front lawn at 4 am, demanded fresh vegetables every single day (which meant additional grocery shopping) and spent money as though it was water.  The tumors he carried had turned off all his internal guidelines. He said, and acted, precisely how he felt. There was no tact in what he said, no sparing of any feelings in his words. It was hell. But there were nuggets of joy amid all that. The God I wasn’t sure existed gave me time with him, before the madness took hold, to say goodbye. I had the blessing of being able to tell him he did every single thing right, and of hearing him tell me he loved me, was proud of who I’d become and that he had no regrets in the type of father he had been. He was at peace with the circumstances of his death when he was lucid. It was only when the madness manifested itself that he couldn’t accept his mortality.

I prayed for a swift death during that week. Every night, I fell to my knees and cried out in prayer, turning to a being I wasn’t sure I believed in. Most people, when given such devastating news, pray for complete healing; a removal of the tumors; something to bring their loved one back to full health. I couldn’t even conceive of such a thing. I simply wanted it to stop. For all our sakes, but most especially for his.

God saw fit to grant our prayers. It took him three months to die, but it was a true blessing it didn’t take longer. There were other, smaller, blessings on the way to his death. He didn’t descend into full blown dementia until after my parents arrived in India. Even a single week later would have forced my mother to cancel the trip, as no airline in the world would have allowed him on board. He was able, inasmuch as he could, to say goodbye to his brother, sister-in-law and other relatives who were staying in a nearby village to support my mother. My mother was able to grant him his last lucid, dying wish: he had all the rituals and ceremonies associated with his Hindu Brahman upbringing performed at his pyre. He was able to die being cradled in the arms of the woman he’d loved deeply for thirty-seven years. I firmly believe God had a hand in every step of that pain-filled journey. My father didn’t believe in a Christian God, and I don’t know if that held any importance for him. But I know it held a tremendous amount of importance for me under those circumstances. Not because he became ‘saved’ in his final moments, but because even at his last breath, there was a blessing waiting.

He smiled and laughed in those final moments. My mother chooses to believe he saw his mother, father and older brother in that blink of an eye. I agree. Death, for him, became a release from a life that had grown unbearably painful and there was joy in that fact.

Because of my loss, I became a believer. God was at work… He worked in my life, to my benefit, to heal me and grant me the deepest wish of my broken heart: A death in the name of love.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Finding God in Death

  1. So very emotional…thank you for sharing this…((hugs))

  2. This is beautiful Shanti. ❤ I can see why it hurt to write this, but you did such an excellent job. I say it's an A+.

  3. Thank you, Laura. I’m glad I was able to write it, but holy hell… I’m so glad I’m done! ❤

  4. Helaine

    Wow Shanti That was so moving especially since I knew and grew up with your dad also! I miss him to…. God is good and the love of long term friends is awesome… A+ work 🙂

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