I lost my father when I was four. However, I had no tangible memories of him, as no one breathed a word about his demise to me. Everything I had gathered about him during my growing up-years was through eavesdropping on adult conversations. I noticed how uncomfortable everyone got in my presence, as if they were hiding something.
I only later got to know that my Baba was diagnosed with schizophrenia and committed suicide in his ancestral home. He had returned to Ma’s family years after their separation. She took care of his medical treatment, institutional rehabs, and made sure to keep all sharp objects away from him. However, we lost him when he went to visit his parents and committed suicide.
As in most average, middle-class Indian families who lack access to trauma counselling and are unversed with the right vocabulary to discuss mental health and suicide, Baba’s untimely death remained a taboo subject that no one really touched.
I grappled with a gnawing emptiness as the years wore on, feeling his omnipresent absence everywhere: in conversations, at boisterous birthday parties, family weddings, school functions, and my mother’s pensive silences. Ma never talked about him, but I noticed how she was ostracized at auspicious social gatherings, where the presence of a widow was unwelcome. No one consoled Ma or celebrated her personhood, which should have mattered over and above her marital status.
On my 40th birthday, I decided to honor my Baba by doing a small funeral ceremony. As a means of celebrating his legacy and acknowledging his presence in my life, I also arranged for Baba’s 70th birthday party. That night, my mother and I finally talked openly about him and mourned him together.
Commemorating him on his birthday served as a healing process for all of us. We could, at last, navigate our grief with all its myriad layers and let him go happily. I shared his battle with Schizophrenia openly with everyone, and also about us as a survivor family in the wake of his suicide, who live on unnoticed, shrouded in abject neglect and claustrophobic silence.
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