You always read about how daughters feel when coping with the loss of their mother on Mother's Day, or how hard it is for sons to come to terms with a father's passing. This story is different.
As soon as I met my father-in-law, he welcomed me into his family. He quickly became Appa to me (the Tamil word for father). He was an optimist. When we would get together and discuss anything from politics to personal matters, he was always able to find the good. His laugh was loud, one-of-a-kind and he often used it to diffuse situations that were sad or tense. He had two settings: super speed and complete and utter relaxation. Both were exceptionally delightful. In his mind everything took five minutes. "Five minutes, all done," was a catchphrase he used whether cooking a meal for 20 or making an incredible cup of coffee.
Last June, Appa embarked upon the adventure of a lifetime. He left Toronto to take a journey—a religious pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash, a place fabled in the Hindu scriptures as being home to Lord Shiva (the destroyer of obstacles) and the stairway to the afterlife, where Hindus become one with God. You could say it's similar to our version of Heaven. He made sure we knew he would be thinking of us, and we would all be there with him—at this miraculous location—in spirit.
A couple weeks went by and then, early one morning, the phone rang. It was so early that I knew it wasn't going to be the kind of call anyone wants to receive. My father-in-law had suffered a major cardiac event. He passed away suddenly while on his pilgrimage.
There's a concept in Hinduism called Seva, where you demonstrate faith and commitment through service. It's an individual concept and can be anything from supporting your community or giving your all to your family. To me, Appa practised his Seva with us.
His commitment, dedication and pure unconditional love shined through when my husband and I had our daughter and he transitioned from Appa to Thatha (grandfather). When our daughter was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at 11 months, his immediate reaction was to reassure us that he was with us every step of the way. He was our emergency contact. Whenever our daughter had an appointment we couldn't get to, he was the first to offer. He covered everything from PA days to spending the day with her when she was sick and home from school. I was able to go back to work because of his support.
To him, this was all just logistical support. But to us, it was so much more. It was a foundational pillar that allowed us to rally and thrive despite the extra challenges in our path. Without him, our world feels heavier.
Eleven years of knowing him has left an impact and an imprint. Though life isn't the same, there have been glimmers of joy and beauty that have revealed themselves in his absence. I can see these things because Appa taught me how. I'm watching my husband develop into the man his father truly believed he could be; like Appa, he's choosing to see the good in every situation we face. I'm watching my daughter develop empathy and sensitivity as she learns how to process loss and death. I'm seeing the true impact Appa had in the lives of so many when they share a story or anecdote with me.
On this first Father's Day without him, I will let myself feel the loss and the sadness, but I'll counter those emotions with joy, happiness and gratitude, which is exactly what Appa would have done. I will revel in the closeness of family and the loved ones we are still blessed to spend time with, including my own father.
I often hear the echo of his voice and gregarious laughter that would boom from his small frame, and it reminds me of something my daughter said shortly after he died: "Thatha is all around us. He is in everything." It's true. He lives in all of us who were lucky enough to know him.