“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.”¹
I am most awake when I want to sleep. Finally having found silence in a room, my thoughts gather in rebellion to create a noise loud enough to deafen it.
“We will not allow you to forget!” they scream.
Isn’t it ironic that no matter how far you go, you can’t ever lose your loss?
I think I’ve done a fairly decent job of tidying up my grief, storing it in a cupboard only I can open, and finding a torchlight when it gets really dark. But there are reminders everywhere.
All the words that make me think of my father are spoken so often, so easily, in so many of the sound bites that surround me.
Daddy, family, parent, abbu, appa, home, child, daughter, mother, grandmother—words which spoken in any context, by any person, still take me back to the same place.
A friend asked me once if I have any regrets, if I wish I had done more with daddy. ‘No,’ I replied immediately and sincerely—because I knew I had spent my time with him unreserved and unguarded. He took me to my first rock concert, and my first opera. He taught me how to wire a surround sound system, and tie my shoelaces. He knew all my secrets, even the ones I didn’t tell him.
But that question stuck with me. Not because of more I could have done, but because of what else I could have asked.
I spoke to my father more than most—multiple times a day—on the phone, through emails, on BBM, and late night Google chats.
Because I wanted to know the thoughts that might be making noise in his head, I asked him:
Did you ever do drugs?
Would you like it if you were famous?
Do you dance in the shower?
What’s your favorite chocolate?
Why do people die?
If you only had one day, where would you go?
How did you know you wanted to marry mummy?
But those were just a few questions, thrown at him over a span of 26 years. I would have asked a lot more, a lot sooner.
I would have asked:
Did you ever get your heart broken?
What do you say in your prayers?
If you painted a canvas, what colour would it be?
Is there anybody you’ve disappointed?
Do you think I’d be a good mother?
Are you scared?
What’s your favorite thing about your children?
What makes you nervous?
If you could capture one memory to replay forever, which would it be?
When you look in the mirror, who do you see?
Some of them sound difficult, but we only have to ask to realize how easily they can be answered.
I learned a lot about my father from knowing his favorite photograph, time of day, and type of paper. I ask people similar questions now, in the hopes I’ll discover who they are in the details.
As we struggle to establish ourselves within our families—juggling identities, values, and cultural expectations—maybe it’s time to start asking. You don’t have to pose serious questions to get sincere answers.
There’s still noise in my head. With every answer I get, a new opportunity for stillness arises. The sound tells me I can’t lose what I’ve lost. But even more loudly, it reminds me that I can lose what I’ve still got.
So before we go to sleep at night–when a thought floats around in anticipation of action; a question mark hangs hopelessly at the end of an intention–if there’s only one question we’re brave enough to ask when we wake up, perhaps it should be this:
What are you waiting for?