The Stuff of Stars

Sunita - Chicago, Illinois
Entered on May 14, 2008

I believe that I am free to lose it over my father’s impending death, with snot running down my nose, in my car without Kleenex, listening to “Say It Isn’t So” by Hall and Oats. I want to stay here in 1983 where everything’s warm and cozy.

But I know it’s 2007, and I have to buck up after this cry. Dad’s dying, after living with Alzheimer’s disease for nearly 10 years.

He was diagnosed at the age of 63, at the peak of his career as a neurosurgeon. The irony didn’t escape me, but I was in no place to ponder how Shakespeare or Sophocles might have channeled the experience. The news of the disease hit me the year before I got married, soaking every act of wedding planning with indifference and guilt. I had always thought that Alzheimer’s disease was something that only afflicted really old people, and I don’t think I even knew what it was definitively. Inside, I was tumbling down a rocky slope, with one sharp emotional trauma followed by another: dad can’t go back to work; we’re driving to Cleveland Clinic for tests; Dad is asking the same question over and over: did I feed the dogs? Did I feed the dogs? I forgot, did I feed the dogs?

But on the outside I stood straight, I had to for my mother’s sake, but only by leaning heavily on my soon to be husband, Ashok.

My dad once responded sternly after I gently inquired about his memory loss, “I will never forget the brain.” He mostly kept his feelings to himself, and I think now, what a burden that must have been.

Dad was a philosopher and a lover of poetry, and his words wafted through our house like incense. He sang Malayalam poetry with the mirth of a child, and when he was together with his childhood friends in India, they would sing for hours from memory. When my brother and I fought over some trifling thing he would say, There is nothing called yours and mine here. We were sufficiently terrified to believe it. I believe it still. In addition to being a neurosurgeon, as if that wasn’t enough, he had a PhD in zoology, a pilot’s license, and a passion for photography, yet he would always proclaim, What we know is very limited.

Some evenings he would lie in bed, with the lights on, staring at his index finger or his open palm. At 8 or 9, I didn’t know that this was his meditation on the one consciousness that appears as many different things. I would just climb into bed with him silently and watch him watching, with my head on his chest, listening to the beats of his heart. Even at that young age, I remember thinking that I didn’t want his heart to stop.

I believe that I am my father. I not only have his eyes, his hands, and his attraction to the color blue, but I am him, literally. Our connection goes beyond genetics. We are the same consciousness—that mysterious ether that is everything, that stuff of stars.

I believe I am free to cry unabashedly one moment, and the next, sit in wonder and watchful silence at how little we know or ever will know with our minds.

This, I believe.