an open letter 

 

to our extended family, our friends from around the world, the community that grew around sharing our home

27th March 2020

Dear family,

thank you for your patience, kindness and support.

It’s been an awful twelve months since Manjula died, a pot-holed, rocky roller-coaster ride. Being able to speak to you directly, through my writing and sharing my feelings has been tremendously helpful. Your direct responses and visits have helped me through these difficult times. Thank you for those who’ve also been here to provide direct practical and emotional support, you know who you are and have made an impossible situation manageable.

Thank you for being a witness as Kessler writes:

“Each person’s grief is as unique as their fingerprint. But what everyone has in common is no matter how they grieve, they share a need for their grief to be witnessed……… they need to feel their grief acknowledged and reflected by others.”

As you know, I’ve shared and its helped. Thank you for letting me share with you, gain your support and help me to manage this tragic loss. I’ve most definitely been through the five stages (Kubler-Ross) of loss: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, often all at the same time and what I hadn’t realised was the anticipatory grief years before Manjula actually died that we also had to experience. 

Loss of a lover, loss of a life, loss of control, loss of the opportunity to do things differently, loss and the grief that results from it, is for me the hardest thing in life.

I also know now that: Grief unites us.

“You will never forget that person, never be able to fill the unique hole that has been left in your heart,” 

I’m so pleased you met and go to know my beautiful smiling brilliant wife directly through visiting us, or introduced through these pages. She leaves a wonderful legacy in what she created and leaves part of her in all of our hearts.

It goes without saying that she will always be with me and I know the grieving will never be over but I look forward to finding the right balance in Manjula continuing to be part of me and me finding meaning and growing beyond that loss, then ……….  “the time will come when memory will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eyes” (Kessler)

We’ve now recognised Manjula’s death anniversary with a Hindu Pooja ceremony and lunch for immediate friends on the 12th March (the official Hindu anniversary), shared the BIG photo album (a copy is on this site) then on the 23rd I cycled Manjula through the city, sponsored meals for older people at a local ashram, and had a few drinks here at home. We still have Manjula’s shoes carefully positioned around the house in case she returns and needs them. (Didion) 

Over the year I’ve been careful to do the Hindu rituals, placed flowers at her two main photos in our living rooms monthly, some times weekly, sited benches in our park and at a city museum. I’ve printed t shirts in her memory, hoisted bunting made from her clothing, created a memory tree (Teckentrup) (please ask how you can add a memory or wish) and given gifts of Manjula’s pens. 

We plan to celebrate Manjula’s life in August, around her birthday, please do join us in person or virtually, that’s when we’ll also re-open Mysore Bed and Breakfast, if we’re through these challenging virus times. I plan to keep this place going for at least a few more years (our first season without Manjula was bitter sweet but worked OK)  and so invite you to continue to share our home.

Manjula will always be here.

I have been trying to write to Manjula for months and failed, I need to share my remorse for things I feel I could have done better and more, to ask for her forgiveness and to thank her for our wonderful, funny, life enhancing nine years together. It will be posted soon.

I’ll continue to post on www.meandmycycle.com which is the best place to follow. Writings will be varied: about life in India, more factly fiction stories and I promise there will be a lot less of the grief. I’ve committed to Manjula to write our story.  I’ve verbally shared bits and people have liked it, I just need to write better to do it justice. Who knows when that gets finished and released, we’ll just have to wait and see. In the meantime there’s many of our times together and challenges of living in India already featured here and I’ll add more, including her funny videos.

Thanks for becoming Manjula and my family and I look forward to travelling together on the next chapter of our journey.

Your loving friend

Stephen

and Lucie

PS

Manjula would joke that I as I was bringing so many books into the house it would become a library when I was 75 and no longer leading cycle tours. Well, the quantity and variety of books have grown and grown and now include sections on grief and writing (guess why?)  and so Manjula’s library is now at our house. 😉 and no I’m not 75 yet. Do pay a visit or ask for recommendations.

The one’s referred to in the letter are:

On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the five stages of loss by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler

Finding Meaning: the Sixth stage of grieving by David Kessler

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion 

The Memory Tree by Britta Teckentrup

 

Happiness is a choice you make

Great insights from older people. accepting ‘what is’ and it’s proving to be very helpful in my current situation. Loss is being human, shared by everyone. Quality of life is how we react to events not the event itself. Being thankful for everyday.

I chose Manjula and she chose me. That made us very happy for which I am very grateful.

Secrets of Happiness from the Oldest of the Old

A journalist spent a year following six people 85 and older. He found life lessons for all ages.

From The Guardian

 Mary Kane

Photo by Getty Images

Many of us worry about what our lives will be like in our final years. But after spending a year following six people ages 85 and older, The New York Times reporter John Leland came to some surprising conclusions about old age and contentment later in life. His work inspired his book, Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons From a Year Among the Oldest Old (Sarah Crichton Books, $16), which comes out in paperback in January. In this lightly edited conversation with Associate Editor Mary Kane, Leland talks about applying the wisdom of the oldest old to our lives at any age.

You write, “If you want to be happy, think like an older person.” Can you explain how that works?

We know from a lot of research that older people are more content with their lives than younger people are. Thinking like an older person is thinking about resilience and focusing on what is as opposed to what is not. Accepting your mortality by not being so afraid of it. When you are older, you view the time horizons in front of you differently. You understand the days are finite, and we might as well enjoy the ones we have left. The big lesson for me, the really practical one, is waking up in the morning and saying, “Thank God for another day.” It’s the conscious practice of gratitude.

Can you explain what you call “selective forgetting”?

We do forget the horrible things in our lives to a great extent but not entirely. The traumas of our lives stay with us. But we’re constantly writing the stories of our lives, and there are lots of things we’re filtering out. Usually our stories are about the positive things. That flu that almost killed you—you forget about how miserable you were. You just remember that it didn’t kill you. That friend you made when you were 14—that’s something you remember.

[The people I interviewed] saw loss as part of what it is to be human. It doesn’t make loss any more fun. But you’re not being singled out for punishment. You’re sharing that same experience with every other person that’s ever lived.

What do you mean when you say happiness is a choice?

You come to understand that the quality of our lives isn’t based in the events of our lives. It’s really in the reaction to the events in our lives. That’s a really useful thing, to realize “I don’t have control over some of the events in my life, like the weather, but I actively have a say in how I respond to the weather.” The title of the book is Happiness Is a Choice You Make, but the key word isn’t happiness. It’s choice. It’s declaring that you won’t be defined or determined by the circumstances of your life. You have a say in this. That declaration is liberating. That liberation is happiness. Happiness isn’t just the thing you choose; it’s the act of choosing it that makes you happy.

You talk about the essence of what you learned: “to shut down the noise and fears and desires that buffet our days and think about how amazing, really amazing, life is.” Can we all do this?

There are things we can do to change our ways of thinking and improve the quality of our lives. I’m not talking about depression, which is a serious illness that kills people and needs to be treated. But you can be focusing on what is, not what you don’t have and what you’re missing. Optimism doesn’t mean the future is going to necessarily be better. It means seeing that the present is better.

We are so detached from the oldest old, in a way previous generations were not. How can we address that?

We think of old age as some sort of place to visit—and not a pleasant place. But just spending time with the old is sometimes all we can do, and the most important thing we can do. Give older people a chance to talk. Find out what they care about, and what’s important to them. Older people aren’t being asked about what they need. They are being told what they need by people who have never been old.

This article was written with the support of a journalism fellowship from the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations and Silver Century Foundation.

This post originally appeared on Kiplinger and was published December 31, 2018. This article is republished here without permission.