September feels like a tricky month to me. September 21, 2018 was when I was rushed to the ER. September is when one of my closest friend’s husbands was admitted to the ICU. I still remember doctors moving around me, trying to figure out what had happened. The machines, the gurneys, the medical staff, the whispers. Was I on a movie set? The doctors couldn’t grasp what made my friend’s husband’s heart fail. When she needed me, I was fighting for my life. When I needed her, she was preparing for her husband’s funeral.
September 21st was the day when I saw death closely. What were my husband and doctor cousin whispering about? Was it humanly possible to be in so much pain? I eat healthy, I exercise every day. I practice asanas, do pranayama, and meditate twice a day. I donate time and money to organizations that make the world safer for women. Why me? Less than a month ago, I hiked inside caves in Croatia. My novel, “Louisiana Catch,” had become a big hit, and I had won the VOTY award for it. Previous recipients include Chelsea Clinton. Our three-week trip to central Europe was to celebrate my hard work and success — my first break in eight months. How could this be happening?
There was a point where I couldn’t breathe, so I closed my eyes. I believed my time had come. What a sad way to go, I thought to myself. I was forlorn; I didn’t get to say goodbye to my dad. I looked at the people in the room, one last time, and passed out.
Across boroughs, in a different hospital, my friend’s husband started to respond to his treatment. One of the first things he asked my friend for was a cup of coffee. While she was relieved, he was doing better, my friend couldn’t tell that she was sick to her stomach. Much like in an 80s B-grade Bollywood film, when she was out, her husband’s business partner paid him a visit. Taking advantage of his foggy brain and sedated state, she had him sign over all the business to her. How does a business partner of almost four decades betray you while you are fighting for your life? My friend had to re-negotiate her commitments and beg for more work. They were down to one income, insurmountable hospital bills and expensive rent to pay in Manhattan.
“I will get it for you when I come back,” she told her husband as she stepped out to meet with the lawyer. While she was at their lawyer’s, my friend’s husband passed away.
When I woke up a few hours later in the ICU, it hit me: Just because you take care of your health and make right eating decisions, it doesn’t mean you won’t fall sick. Just because you do good in the world, doesn’t mean you are shielded from the bad. For 5 months, I could barely walk or eat or breathe. I lost 50 pounds in 10 weeks. My husband had to swaddle me because I was a frail bag of bones. I was homebound and sick while the seasons changed, and people continued to live their lives. It took my friend the same time to learn to sleep again. After 20 years of being with a partner whom she loved very much, she was in the big city with no family and few friends. She downsized, moved to a different borough, paid all the hospital bills, learned to forgive her husband’s business partner, and got more responsibility at work — both for financial security and to keep her mind busy.
Even after I started to heal, ER scenes in movies triggered me. I would see New York Presbyterian anywhere, and my heart rate would change. A friend once invited me to his meditation talk at the hospital where he practiced. I froze at the entrance. I literally couldn’t breathe and had to call my husband. I’m a person who has traveled alone to remote, non-English speaking parts of the world.
In her home, my friend placed her husband’s picture at the altar. Every morning, she continues to keep a fresh cup of coffee by his picture when she drinks her cup.
“I wish I had bought him that cup of coffee he wanted,” she said to me.
“You couldn’t have known those were going to be his last words,” I said to her.
In the beginning, I had survivor’s guilt when I saw her. I am sure she thought how come I made it back from the hospital, but her husband didn’t. Healing, like grief, comes in waves.
On September 21, 2021, Modern History Press published my book of personal essays, “A Piece of Peace.” Three years after I had flirted with death, I had a book that would help others in their emotional, physical, and mental healing journey. On the day the book came out, I did a virtual book launch with a library in Chicago, which was amazing. But not doing an in-person book launch or signing copies of my book or hanging out with my readers made me realize my life was always going to be different. I’m a person with compromised immunity. My friend, who bought a copy of my book, said it helps her in her healing journey. It makes her feel less alone knowing that grief and loss are universal.
Last week, my friend and I visited our alma mater, Columbia University, with a copy of “A Piece of Peace.” We celebrated the book’s almost one-year-anniversary. I embraced that my life is different but so much richer. I live on my terms, and I have the most meaningful relationships. On the way back, after lunch, we walked through every street she and her husband had ever rented a place. I asked if she wanted to visit the neighborhood where they had last lived and where he passed away.
“Yes, I want to,” she said. In one afternoon, we both became freer, and our healing became deeper. It probably happened because we never once told the other person how they should heal and what they should feel.
Many people have lost loved ones to the coronavirus. The world becomes a dangerous place when we walk into it with our unhealed wounds and add to the existing brokenness. If you are looking for a book that will serve you as a guide, and you want to keep it on your nightstand, here is the link to purchasing “A Piece of Peace.” If you are looking for an Ayurvedic and yoga counselor to help you navigate your emotions, from a holistic diet and lifestyle perspective (yes, how we eat and how we move impacts everything!), contact me today. Your healing is your responsibility.
“As soon as healing takes place, go out and heal somebody else.” ~ Maya Angelou