On Death & Survival

Picture this.

As far as you can see on the horizon, there is green paddy fields. The paddy is swaying wildly in the strong winds that are howling through your ears. Thunder starts rolling. The sky is darkening with black clouds as she is crossing the fields and heading back home in a rush. She is careful as she rushes…because she is carrying precious cargo in her womb. She pauses for breathe under a tall straight lean tree and hoping she can get back home before it starts pouring.

That is when lightning strikes that tree, rages through the trunk, cuts through it like a sharp razor and splits it in half. Sparks fly off. She screams and holds on to our womb in a instinctive movement that humanity has perfected neuromuscularly to protect its off spring.

That is one of the first stories of my early life that she told me over and over again. She instilled deep strength and incredible power within me by highlighting the fact that even lightning couldn’t hurt me.

She called me “A survivor”.

That is what I told myself over and over again as I grew up and struggled through every curve ball that life threw me and every time I got lost – “I am a survivor.”

That is what I told myself when life threw me into dark pits that I had to claw myself out of – “I am a survivor.”

She also said that that stormy day on the fields, the dark sky eventually cleared and the sun came out, shone bright and made the rain drops on the paddy fields sparkle like diamonds.

Over the last 4 decades she reminded me (her Leo daughter) to look up hopefully at the sky during the dark stormy times because the bright sun (Leo) will eventually appear.

On Sunday (July 30) evening, it was a bright beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies.
There were no dark clouds.
There was no lightning.
There was no storm.

Well, except for the storm that raged in my heart which was filled with grief and sorrow.

I looked at her lifeless beautiful face. I moved my face to her heart hoping it would rise and sink rhythmically.

Perhaps, this was just a bad dream that I could wake from.
Perhaps, if I remembered what she said and, if I looked up at the sky with hope…. perhaps, the storm in my heart would pass.

So, I moved my gaze from her heart and looked up at the bright sky. Tears welled up. I knew she would hate to see me crying. She wanted me to be always dignified…no matter what the situation was. I tried to keep my eyes dry.

I told myself over and over again – “I am a survivor.”

I gathered up every ounce of strength in the body, mind and soul that she had blessed and nourished me with.

And, then, I did the unthinkable.

The one that gave me life,
The one that cooked and fed me all my favorite food,
The one that strived hard to give me the great equalizer (education) of all,
The one that shared her love for prose and poetry with me,
The one that urged me to live a happy and good life filled with positivity,
The one that held me inside her womb for 9 long months,
The one that carried me in her heart for the last four decades,
The one I called Mommy,
THE ONE,
I fed her to the fire and watched her be consumed by it.

The crematory played Poet Vairamuthu lyrics that my brain failed to comprehend (but appreciated) as I sauntered out.

Then, I found a spot under a tree, closed my eyes, focused on my breathe and tried to meditate to soothe my incredibly brave and strong heart that had been ripped apart in places that can never heal during this lifetime.

That is when a gentle breeze came by to brush my cheeks and hair. Mom loved a gentle breeze (called ilan thendral in Tamil) as much as I do. I figured it was her away of trying to soothe me. So, I took the focus away from my pain. I turned my attention to appreciating the breeze, to feeling utter gratitude for her and the moments I shared with her.

My mom, T.S. Devaki, is survived by by a family that adored her, friends whose life she touched and her “survivor” daughter.


Thank you to my dear friends Subashini Ganesan and Punitha Nagarajan who dropped everything to rush to pick me up at the airport and drove me all the way across the state to get me to Daddy as quickly as possible. Even with all rush, Suba remembered to bring a big thermos filled with coffee to perk up my spirit.

Thank you to Chander Thathamanji Jayachander Uncle for rushing to spend the last few moments with his cousin (Mom) and bringing a beautiful and fragrant flower garland to adorn her.

Thank you to my brother in law Srinivasan Nagarajan (and his family) for rushing to be with Daddy and me and for carrying Mom during the last rites ceremony.

Thank you to my sister’s family members Karthikeya Sivasenapathy who have moved heaven, earth and everything in between to not only provide care for Mom but also arrange for a beautiful funeral ceremony for her.

Thank you to Chittapa (Daddy’s younger brother and Mom’s cousin) and Chitthi for being my pillars of support during these last few days and guiding Daddy through all the funeral proceedings.

Thanks to Kumar Nagarajan for rocking the airline reservation system to get me across the globe to be with family.

Friends – My heartfelt thanks to all of you for the outpour of your condolences messages. I am sorry that I have been unable to return each of your messages personally… please know that I deeply appreciate all of your thoughtfulness and encouraging words.


The crematorium played a Poet Vairamuthu song that soothed my heart last Sunday evening. But, due to my grief, I couldn’t comprehend or remember the words. I asked many folks who attended the funeral for the lyrics…but they didn’t know it.
One of the drivers who had brought me to the crematorium, drove me around town last week. I asked him if he remembered the lyrics. As luck would have it, he is a poetry lover like me. So, he did remember the lyrics. The song is called “Jenmam niRaindhadhu

Lyrics and meaning here.

Even if you don’t understand a single word of Tamil, the pathos in the song will evoke healing in your heart.


Also published on Medium.

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Ambal Balakrishnan

Global Content Marketer #Cloud #DevOps #IBMer #Author #Blogger #Wharton #Purdue Alum #Mom to 2 boys #DogOwner #Mountain #Climber #TEDx Curator #ViewsMyOwn

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