11 years …..

My dearest darling Zoey, today you are all of eleven years old. A “tween”, too old to be considered a child and too young to be considered a teenager. I can’t imagine how it would be to parent you at this age. As a 5-year-old you were simply amazing. You were intelligent, outspoken, kind, compassionate and wise beyond your years. As an 11-year-old I can only imagine how beautiful you’d be, both on the inside and the outside. I won’t go into the “wish you were here” or the “what if’s” because frankly I have no idea anymore. I don’t know anything about the likes and dislikes of kids this age. I’ve been quite removed from all the girly stuff and being a mom to your naughty and handful brothers has been quite a different experience. It’s a complete riot at home. Anay is 5-and-a-half and loves reading, board games (scrabble), math and story-telling. Yes, he loves to spin and tell all sorts of stories. And he can go on for hours together. He loves his little brother and is protective of him most of the time. However he does have this fiercely competitive spirit which sometimes gets him into trouble :). Hari is four and loves playing and being naughty with his older brother. He could care less about learning his ABCs and seems to know it all already :). He is polite, soft-spoken and there are so many times his mannerisms remind us of you. These two laugh and play with each other, fight with each other, throw random tantrums and eventually reconcile. Most of all, they are inseparable. I don’t ever have to worry about keeping these two occupied because they have each other. Watching them bond this way, reminds me of your promise to your “soccer ball”. It takes me back to the time you told your newborn baby brother, “Anay, when you grow up we will sing, dance and play all you want”. Because that’s exactly what is happening in this house. I go back to that video of you and your brother time and again and feel like Hari has been sent to us, just for that one reason. Your dad and I believe that it’s your way of keeping your promise. Your brothers are such happy little souls and love your dad and I unconditionally. And yes they love you a lot as well. You get included in their stories and games all the time. I hear things like Zoey Akka is Owlette or Luna girl in their PJ masks games, or how they will go all the way to the moon to meet their dear Akka. Yes, they still believe you live on the moon and until they are older and truly understand what happened to you, I don’t see myself telling them any differently.
They know it’s your birthday today and they have planned an ice-cream trip in the evening to celebrate. We found this cute little ice-cream shop close by and this one would definitely have been your favorite. This shop is filled with all sorts of “shark” paraphernalia. It has these huge sea-life antics hanging from its ceilings. As I mentioned before, in so many ways Hari is exactly like you. He is obsessed with sharks. I still remember you and your many books on sharks. You knew every type of shark out there with the hammerhead shark, being your all time favorite. My geeky little baby girl! I miss you so much. So yes, your dad and I figured this place would be perfect to celebrate your birthday.

Like every year we will also be celebrating your birthday with kids on the pediatric oncology floor at the hospital where you were treated. We will be having a luncheon for those kids and their families next weekend (June 16th).

My dearest Zoey, to say I ( and your dad) miss you, is the most understated sentiment there is. I do believe in the after-life and I know for sure that one day we will all be together. It will be like you never left and I believe it will be beautiful.

Till then …. know that I love you and think of you all the time……And enjoy your birthday wherever you are!

Happy birthday big girl!

A good friend sent this pendant for Zoey’s 11th birthday

Zozo’s 1st birthday

Zoey 1 day old

4th birthday princess

Hammer head shark at the ice cream shop


May 2018

It’s been almost 6 months since my last blog post. I’ve been meaning to write and I thought about it almost every day, but something or the other got in the way. Several excuses …. changes in the work front, family visiting from India, day-to-day activities for the boys… . they are just that ”excuses”. I have been feeling very guilty all along for not being able to carve out the time for my little girl. Like I let her down somehow. Like I made other things more important in this mundane life of mine. So here I am again. It’s May 2018. Anay is five and a half and hari will be four this month. A part of me feels that time is flying by way to fast, and the other part of me …the one waiting to go be with her, feels like it’s crawling at a snail’s pace. How could it only 5.5 years since I heard her beautiful voice, or felt her warm hugs, or felt her silky hair…… the list could go on forever. It feels like an entire lifetime has gone by….

That being said, this week was very bittersweet. I had to go to my older boy’s kindergarten orientation … and I was right back there with Zoey in May of 2012 ( for her kindergarten orientation). I relived that day all over again and it brought back some not-so-happy memories. See as parents we try our best to do what’s right for our kids. Sometimes we may have moments that we aren’t proud of….. I remembered one such moment with my Zoey. Zoey was excited about starting kindergarten. She loved the prospect of going to her “big girl” school and accompanied me happily. However she seemed a bit upset when it was over. I was in a hurry to head back home. (Aren’t we all in a hurry all the time?) She refused to follow me to the car and then insisted that she be lifted in my arms. I was four months pregnant with her brother on modified bed-rest and so coul dn’t accommodate her request. The sad part is that I don’t remember sitting down with her to understand why she was upset. Maybe she was tired after a long day. Maybe she was just being a headstrong 4-year-old. Unfortunately I only remember being really annoyed with her.

So I took my boy to his orientation this week. He loves his current school and the idea of going to some new school isn’t appealing to him. So after a lot of persuasion he accompanied me reluctantly. Every attempt of mine to cheer him up and try to get him excited about his new school was met with his obvious refusal to even consider the place. A few friends from his current school were there as well. I asked him to join them to which he flat-out refused. He sat there, next to me, holding my hand, observing everyone around him. As I sat next to him , I was reminded again of my girl. I was reminded of the lesson she taught me. I know first hand … how brittle everything is ….what is there here today may not even exist tomorrow. And that it’s OK if he doesn’t like this school. He is here with me now and that’s all that matters. I made sure he knew I will always be with him in case he was worried about being left alone there. I told him multiple times that he would be just fine. Finally after the first 15 mins, he did overcome his initial anxiety and even enjoyed the activities with his new teacher. He absolutely loved the bus ride they offered at the end of the session. “Amma I like this school. I’ll go here in September” were his words. Music to my ears. Bittersweet nevertheless.
Yes my dear Anay, if I’m am lucky enough and if it is destined to happen we will see you go to this school. Something your dad and I couldn’t experience with your dear sister. We had taken that moment for granted, and it was brutally snatched away from us before we could even realize it’s gone. ….

As I write here I’m in tears. My little boy is awake ( it’s early in the morning ) and he sees me cry. He innocently asks me if I miss Zoey. ( It is a universal truth in this household. Anyone crying must be crying because they miss Zoey). I say yes and then my wise little boy climbs out of his bed, and says with huge smile on his face “Don’t cry Amma. Remember grown-ups come back.” ( From Daniel Tiger “grown ups come back” song). He gives me tight loving hug and smothers me with his kisses. And just like that ……he manages to keep it all real for this bereaved mom.

My dearest Zoey, I miss you, think of you and love you every second of the day. And that’s OK. It’s OK to feel this unending grief because it’s means our love for each other is infinite as well. As usual love you to the moon and back baby girl !

A few pics of us with our baby girl….

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Christmas 2017

It’s that wonderful time of the year again. Time seems to just fly by at this speed that I sometimes cannot even comprehend. This was our 6th Christmas without our darling Zoey. How could that even be possible ? This life that I currently seem to be living is so alien to me … I wonder…. is that even me in there ?
6 years ago in 2011, I woke up on a Christmas morning to my girl rushing down the stairs to find her all her gifts underneath the Christmas tree. A year later I woke up, hoping that my life was a nightmare that I would somehow snap out of ….. She had been gone for exactly a month ….yes can you imagine what a Christmas morning that was ?. I still remember that time vividly. I used to wake up most mornings thinking it was all a frightening nightmare. I’d put my hand out to stroke her soft hair assuming she was sleeping by my side , only to find her darling little brother nestled close to me. Yes her brother was the only reason I got out of bed those days. Fast forward 5 years to this Christmas morning, I woke up to Zoey’s little brothers, who probably didn’t sleep a wink all night due to all the excitement of Christmas. We left cookies and milk for Santa on Christmas Eve, we even had reindeer food for Rudolf. And boy or boy did they love their new toys. It was pure joy to watch them open their gifts and feel that excitement you can only experience as a child. But every happy moment I ( and Karthik ) felt was tinged with this sadness of knowing that our family will never ever be complete. Because one of its main members permanently lives on moon. That is one of the reasons posing for family pictures and sharing them is particularly hard for me. I feel what’s the point. It’s never going to have all my children in it. How do I show the world this gorgeous first-born child of mine? Even if I photoshop her in, is it really the same as having her physically live with me as my child. No it will never be. Yes I understand, she had her journey and I have mine. But knowing that doesn’t help when you are out there holding back your tears because your heart wants what your heart wants. The longing never ceases …. you just get used to living with it. And holidays and festivities do make it worse. Because it’s a constant reminder of what once was in the past and of what will never be in the future.

Sigh! I really sound like downer especially during this season of joy and cheer. And I apologize since that isn’t my intention. However I do think grief needs to be expressed and accepted as a norm. Because ive come to realize that grief is just another form of love. Without love there wouldn’t be grief. So it needs to be given a place along with all the happiness and joy we feel.

Anyway coming back to this current reality of mine. Given the circumstances we had a really good holiday weekend. We are blessed with good friends whom we met over the weekend and today we took our boys to one of Zoey and her Dada’s favorite places : Camden aquarium. The boys had a blast watching the various kind of fish , turtles , sharks and even got to touch a few sting-rays. We came back home after spending much of the day at the aquarium and then later cuddled up together to watch the movie “Finding Dory”. The boys played with each other without us having to intervene and resolve their sibling fights. Actually that means without me having to yell and scream at them. So net net it was a beautiful Christmas! And while I don’t know what Christmas 2018 holds for us, today I choose to be thankful for what we have …….as that’s exactly what my baby girl would do.
Zoey my darling , my love and my one and only one….love you to the moon and back!

Christmas 2010

Christmas 2011

Christmas 2017

5 years

Zoey’s dad’s blog post on the fifth anniversary of her passing.

November 25th marks 5 years since my daughter, Zoey, passed away from an inoperable brain tumor. As my wife and I look at our lives in the 5 years since her passing and compare it to the years prior, there are absolutely no similarities. It’s as if we died with Zoey 5 years ago and are now living another life. A life that is full to anyone who sees us including our family…because they see us as the parents of two extremely naughty boys who constantly keep us on our toes. What isn’t seen is the fact that every happy moment is tinged with an element of “if she was here”. The loss of our child will never leave us and the notion of time heals all wounds is incorrect…time doesn’t heal a wound like this, you just learn to live with the pain.

I don’t want to spend any part of this blog post writing about the pain of losing a child. I’d rather focus this blog on the blessing that it was and is to be her Dad. Zoey was 5.5 years when she passed and those were some of the most beautiful years of my life…I’m sure my wife will agree as well. Holding her for the first time in my arms was perfect in every way and I remember thinking to myself that a moment couldn’t get more perfect than that particular one. There were tons of times over those years with her when I had to redefine perfection.

Kids have a way of keeping things simple and ensuring they are always viewed with the right perspective. When Zoey was four, her mom asked her if she knew what her Dad did for a living…Zoey’s response was priceless in its simplicity. She said her Dad’s job was to pay the bills. After her tumor diagnosis, she and I were driving somewhere and she saw me crying. When she asked me why I was crying, I told her that I was angry with God for giving her a boo-boo in her head. She decided to gently give me the most important life-lesson I’ve ever received by telling me that I was missing the point – God had not given her a boo-boo but was taking it away. The week before she passed, she was in acute pain and on palliative care with high doses of pain management drugs. She and I would spend all day in bed together and then at night she would lean against me in a reclined position to try sleeping because lying flat on the bed probably hurt more. On one of those days, she waited for her mom to leave the room and then told me that she wanted to ask me something but that it was a secret. She then told me matter of factly that Krishna (Hindu God that she fell completely in love with post-diagnosis) had asked her to come and play with him, and she wanted my permission to go to him. While responding to her that she should go ahead and go play with Krishna in a place where she would be pain-free and the boo-boo wouldn’t be there anymore, it struck me that my five-year old in the midst of acute pain had still had the presence of mind to realize that her Mom wouldn’t be able to handle that painful conversation. There are several other such conversations that I choose to think of as blessings, because that is what they were…opportunities for her Mom and Dad to learn from an old soul, our daughter.

Zoey continues to be a part of our lives and our daily conversations. Her brothers hear about her all the time and if asked to discuss their family always make it a point to include her in the picture. When my older boy, who was born the same month that she passed, writes his siblings’ names, he always calls out both Zoey and his little brother Hari. She is their sister who visits them while they’re asleep and lives on the moon based on the stories they’ve heard from me. They know she’s always with them and we know she’s always with us. Even though I can’t see her physical presence, when my mind is really quiet, I can hear her. Hers was the voice that led me down the path of finding inner peace through the teachings of Vedanta. I can feel her continually challenging me to be a better person. She has been my inspiration and guided me on my spiritual journey, gently coaxing me to go deeper within. I see her guiding hand in my wife Suman’s blogs which continue to be a source of inspiration for hundreds of readers who see her not just living but thriving as a mother in the aftermath of a deep personal tragedy.

Here’s the reason why I wanted to share this deeply personal story with you. Our lives are filled with challenges and how we deal with them defines the quality of our lives and our mental states of happiness or sadness. We are constantly faced with forks in the road where we need to make choices. Virtually every single action, verbal or physical, is based on a personal choice. What if when we encounter these choice-oriented forks in the road, we focus on the one person we don’t want to disappoint and ask ourselves if the chosen path would meet their approval? Wouldn’t knowing that they would approve make you a better person and more comfortable about where you’re headed? People who feel they are doing the right things are generally happier and lead more fulfilled lives. I find myself constantly asking myself if Zoey would be proud of her Dad or disappointed if I did a certain thing and I’ve found it to be an invaluable method to do more things right than not. Right in this case is a matter of perspective with you being the judge, because only you have to live with your choices and the associated consequences.

To our friends and family, thank you for being there for us.

Zoey’s Dad

A family that once was ….

Miss her so much.

Our three kids

Zoey’s soccer-ball is five

This week, the day after Halloween, my strong-willed middle child turned five. Yes Zoey’s soccer-ball is not a preschooler anymore and is officially in the big kid league 😊. I know, it seems like these babies grow up way too fast. Last evening at a local book store, a well-wishing stranger commented on my littlest “He is so cute. Enjoy this age because before you know it, he will be in high school”. Well the old me would have probably shared the same sentiment. But not this version of me. See losing your first-born changes you and your perspective on everything. I don’t have the luxury to think beyond the present. I just don’t. I don’t even think about these boys going to kindergarten……high-school is light years away. All I can say is that, I feel lucky to witness these boys grow each day and I remind myself to count my blessings.

Oh how could my “Nini” be five already. I still remember the night he was born. Hurricane Sandy had just passed causing wreckage through most of New Jersey. While everyone on the outside, was recovering from the storm, our own little world was falling apart. Zoey had just finished radiation and was doing considerably well given her condition. We had a lot of hope back then, and we were sure that her boo-boo (cancer) would disappear in no time. It was October 31st and Zoey had been excited about Halloween. But due to hurricane Sandy, the township had postponed Halloween celebrations by a week. So,we had taken Zoey and her grandparents to one of her favorite restaurants (PF Chang’s) for lunch earlier in the day. I was only 36 weeks along. That night as usual Zoey slept, tucked in, right between her dad and I. However I woke up a little before mid-night only to find my water had broken. I told myself there’s still time as I couldn’t feel any contractions. But Zoey’s dad insisted that we rush to the hospital. We reached the hospital and went straight to labor and delivery. Since we knew the boy was in the breach position they thought a C-section would be required. The nurse checked, only to find out that he was already feet down in the birth canal waiting to be born. So a C-section was ruled out. My OB wasn’t comfortable with breach deliveries….. Luckily there was this specialist Dr Joe something who was making rounds that night. He was called and bless him, he reached just in time. He looked at me, smiled and said, “Shall we get this boy out?” And minutes later he effortlessly pulled Anay out. I shudder to think what would have happened had we reached the hospital later or if that specialist wouldn’t be making rounds that night. Just like that Zoey’s soccer ball came into this world, feet-first, sliding down a water slide ( as his dad puts it ). Oh boy was he in a hurry! And yes he kept his sister’s word. He was the first child to be born at that hospital for the month of November.

When Zoey came to see her brother the next morning, she was filled with excitement and immediately noticed his blue feet ( due to mild bruising that had occurred duration delivery) . She said “Mom Krishna is here !”. (For those who don’t know, Lord Krishna is always depicted to be blue skinned). Yes my darling little girl saw Krishna in her new-born brother …..And she was absolutely right!. Anay came into our lives and brought joy and happiness during a time of such heart-ache and grief. He is the reason this family is where it is today. Zoey’s dad and I are eternally grateful to him for choosing us as his parents.
Thank you my big boy, we love you and your little brother to the moon and back. Wish your sister was here to see you and all your smashing antics, but whom am I kidding……She is always there, right by your side !

Once again a very happy 5th birthday to you !

See his blue feet

Happy 10th birthday.

My darling Zoey,
June 11 2017, you are all of 10 years old today. It’s been a decade since your dad and I embarked on a life-changing journey without having a clue of what was ahead. Today, we should be planning your sassy yet geeky big-girl birthday party. Maybe you would insist on having a sleepover with your friends at home or maybe your dada and I would have taken you to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower or maybe we’d all go to Hawaii for a good long vacation. Or I could be completely wrong and you’d surprise me and insist on a low-key birthday with your parents and little brother. Sadly, all of the above is occurring only in an alternate reality of mine . Even though that reality ceased to exist way back in 2012, for some unknown karmic destiny, I was forced to continue and breathe on.

So Zoey, your dada and I celebrate with you today in that alternate universe. We miss you like crazy … words fail to describe the feeling. Your little brothers love you as their Zoey Akka and they faces light up knowing its your birthday weekend. They’ve already eaten cake-pops, cupcakes and ice cream at several occasions during this past week ….and every time I smile and I think of your love for ice cream or just the frosting on the cake. This weekend a few of your favorite people visited us, your Asha Pita , Usha Pita and Avanti (Karthik’s aunts and cousin sister) . We laughed at how you always called them Pita instead of Patti (meaning grandma). We reminisced about the good-old days ….especially your pre-k graduation party in June 2012.

Zoey on her 5th birthday.[/caption]

Zoey, Zoey Zoey …. I could keep repeating your name loudly forever and ever. I’ve been asked several times in this past decade about the reason for naming you Zoey. See Zoey isn’t a name of Indian origin. Even after you passed away, many a times, readers of this blog have asked me the same question. So here’s the story behind your name sweetie-pie.

You were given to us after three heart-breaking miscarriages and a very tough pregnancy. For some reason you were always in hurry. At 20 weeks gestation you gave us a scare. We were told you if we didn’t intervene, you would be born in a few days. So your doctor decided to admit me to the hospital and keep me off my feet for the next 3.5 months of my life. I spent most of that time in a tiny hospital room, confined to the bed, praying and begging that you stayed inside safe and sound. I watched a ton of TV to keep myself occupied. So while laying in bed and watching TV I came across a show in which a woman is blessed with a baby girl after years of struggle and she goes on to name her Zoey. I immediately looked up the meaning of the name and loved it. The name Zoey is of Greek origin and it means “Life”. Such a perfect name for the one person who was about to come and breathe a new “life” into our existence. So I called your dad to ask him his opinion. I was still thinking about it, but your sweet dada loved the name instantly. I remember him proclaiming that from then on, Zoey was the only name for you. One and only one Zoey of ours. 4 letters and two perfect syllables. Zoey !

Zoey on her birthday

Every year for your birthday, your dad and I try to do something meaningful to support little kids suffering from cancer. So this year was no different. We celebrated your 10th birthday with a bunch of kids and their families on the oncology floor at the hospital you were treated. We did a make-your-own taco/bowl themed brunch, along with cupcakes and goody-bags for the little kids. I’m sure you were right there in your own way …..

Birthday cupcakes plus desert for her 10th birthday celebrations

I know today would have been entirely different, were you here physically with us. But since you had your own karmic journey (and I have mine) I will try to be happy with the 5.5 years I actually got with you. Your dad, your baby brothers and I will go to your favorite Krishna temple and maybe, just maybe, you will give us a glimpse, in your own magical way.

Happy 10th birthday my dear baby girl !. Love you and miss you to the moon and back , as always.
Your loving mama

Ab to forever

Ab to forever – One song infinite memories

This is about a song from a random Bollywood Hindi movie. It happens to be a dance number and there is absolutely nothing profound or meaningful about its lyrics or music. The title of the song “Ab to forever” means “now till the end of time”.

YouTube link to the song: https://youtu.be/uOcNutyyy20

My initial memories of this song, are of a young dad and his first-born baby girl. This movie was released in 2007, around the time our Zoey was born. I am also reminded of another beautiful number titled “Hey Shona” ( from the same movie), that Zoey’s dad sang while rocking his new-born to sleep. “Ab to forever” was introduced to her much later, probably when she was around 2 years old. I can still visualize Zoey’s dad playing it for her on his laptop while she danced away without any inhibitions, moving every inch of her tiny body. Such a fond memory this is. If only I could go back in time and record it ……

The next distinct memory I have, is of a mother and her daughter sitting on the family room couch. It is September 2012 and their perfect world has been turned upside down. The little girl has terminal brain cancer and the mom is on bed-rest trying to keep a life safe, inside of her. Both have limited mobility. One is by choice, to avoid pre-term labor and the other is restricted by the monster growing in her brain. But both have one thing in common, undying love for each other. In this memory of mine Zoey and I don’t dance. We sit on the couch and move our arms in unison while we replace the words of the chorus by the words “Bring it on, Bring it on, bring down you boo-boo”.
We had so much hope back then, that the boo-boo couldn’t harm our Zoey. How could our Zoey die just like that ? No that wasn’t something that happened to regular people like us. How wrong we were.

Zoey and I

Fast forward 9 weeks into November 2012. In this memory a mother is holding on tightly to her baby girl. The little girl can’t dance on her own due to the aggressive nature of her cancer but the her mom can. In this memory, I hold on to my life, my Zoey, and dance away with silent tears flowing down my face. If I stop dancing Zoey doesn’t like it and she reprimands me. She wants me to hug her and dance forever …..probably just like the song, till the end of time.

Zoey on me after dancing to Ab to forever

The next memory I have is of November 22nd 2012, three days before she took her last breath. Zoey is sitting in the center of our king sized bed. She is surrounded by all her loved ones. Her paternal grandparents, her maternal grandparents, her aunt, her uncle and her unfortunate parents. Her new-born brother is sleeping soundly in the adjacent room. This song is being played over and over till she is tired of it. Zoey is still able to move her body, while sitting up by herself on the bed. (which is a miracle in itself). Zoey finds that her Domi (my mom) is unable to sing (due to tears) and she demands “Domi is not singing. Sing Domi sing!”. And all the adults sing like they have never sung before. We are swaying to the music and smiling while completely being aware of the futility of our actions. No amount of dancing, praying, bargaining or begging is going to save our daughter. We are merely going through the motions just to keep our Zoey happy.
I am so grateful to her dad and her uncle, who actually recorded this memory of mine. I have watched the video several times in the past 4.5 years, and every single time, I am in complete awe of my spirited baby girl.

Zoey in that last week

These days Zoey’s little brothers and I listen to this song sometimes while having breakfast. We typically have some music playing as the boys pick on their breakfast. The boys recognize it as their beloved Akka’s song. As I persuade them to eat yet another bite, I realize that I am making new memories…… in the background plays “Ab to forever”.

And yes, my dear Zoey, I get it completely. Our love for each other is exactly that …….it will last from now till the end of time.
Your loving mom

The extra candle on the cake

Our littlest turned all of three years old this week. Time surely flies….How could Zoey’s Hari be three already ? Wasn’t he just a baby yesterday. How could his older brother be turning five later this year. Wasn’t he just sleeping on his darling sister’s lap as a new-born? Yes these boys are growing and with each additional day, month and year we seem to inch farther away from a world that knew and breathed Zoey. Sigh…. that’s the physical nature of our existence and there isn’t much that can be done to change it.
That being said, our Hari did turn three and we are thankful to have celebrated it with a few of his and brother’s friends. It was a small celebration at one of my Zoey’s favorite places ( The little gym). Birthdays (or any kind of celebration) always bring out bittersweet emotions in me. I get thrown back to the days of meticulously planning the day for my girl. I’m reminded of the fact that I could only have five birthdays with her. Five not sixty or more. Not to mention the guilt of enjoying something without her. Yes these emotions aren’t pretty or sharing-worthy, and most times I do a good job of concealing them. So all along, today I was busy with preparations. I distracted myself as far as I could. Her dad and I spoke briefly about her obvious absence. I even chatted with a friend about not having Zoey at the party today. She tried her best to comfort me and said Zoey will find a way to get through to us …..

The boys had a blast at the party. When it was time to cut the cake the organizer asked me to click a picture before she could put candles on it. Then she asked me if I would like four candles on the cake instead of just three. (3 for Hari and one of good luck). Even though I was not familiar with this custom, I found myself saying “Absolutely”. I knew instantly it was my Zoey. That extra candle was for my Zoey, who was there for her little brother’s birthday. Zoey is that good-luck candle in my life.
I’m sure that extra candle went unnoticed in the chitter-chatter and laughter of the party. Also, to a third person all of this sounds overly sentimental and made-up. But not to a bereaved parent missing a piece of their heart and soul. That candle was just the balm my heart needed today. It connected with me and my baby girl.

Love you my darling Zoey, as always to the moon and back.
Your loving mom

The missing name

On the outside we appear like that textbook family of four. A dad, a mom and two active toddlers. We do all activities any normal family would do. We wake up each morning, have breakfast, go to work , cook and clean, feed our kids , send them to school , go to the park when the weather is good, we shop, and resolve tantrums like any other regular family. To an outsider we probably look content and happy. They aren’t aware of our first-born child, who has turned into this beautiful memory residing only in our hearts. They don’t see the gut-wrenching heart-ache and grief that Zoey’s dad and I experience most days. They don’t see the tears hidden behind those smiles. Mostly they don’t see the struggle. The struggle about when to include our dear Zoey and when to leave her out. Is it OK to bring up your deceased child in a conversation with a neighbor you hardly know ? Is it OK to tell someone that I’ve done this before and I know exactly what it means to have a little girl. This is one of the reasons I cringe at the thought of meeting  people that don’t know Zoey and making new friends. I hesitate to reach out. But we live in a society and I have two little boys. I can’t live on an island …. I so wish I could.

So this weekend we got invited to a birthday party in our neighborhood. We have met this family a couple of times, mostly outside playing in the park. We don’t know each other very well and like us, they are also new to the community. So when the invitation came, I felt nice that this sweet neighbor thought to include us in her child’s celebration. I asked Anay if he wanted to go and he seemed excited. So we bought a birthday gift and I asked Anay to write in the birthday card. He wrote his name and his brother’s name, and looked at me and asked “Can I write Zoey’s name ?” My brain just froze. I didn’t know what to tell him. Karthik and I have always talked about Zoey very openly with the boys. The boys include her in everything. They include her in the stories that they spin and narrate. They include her in the pictures they draw. Zoey’s name is always included in cards and gifts sent to our family. So naturally according to my little boy’s logic , why wouldn’t we include her name on this birthday card ? I just wish we adults thought and acted with equal innocence. I didn’t think through, and I completely regret what I did next. I told him he can write Zoey’s name on his favorite Doodle-pro instead of this card. He looked confused but didn’t question my decision, thankfully. We were getting late and so we left for the party.

Later after returning home, I thought about what happened. I felt so guilty ……. If my boy wanted to include his sister in the card why did I stop him. What was I thinking? What was I trying to circumvent ? Yes I didn’t want to get into an awkward conversation about a departed child at a happy kids party. I didn’t want to face that look of dread when they hear about what happened to my Zoey for the very first time. But frankly they probably wouldn’t even notice her name ….I felt miserable for betraying my only baby girl.

I guess I will handle it better next time. I’m learning as well. I’m learning to find a balance in-spite of this struggle. However in the future, if Anay or Hari want to include their lovely Akka in anything I’m not going to stop them. I just hope Anay would continue to include her and this one incident wouldn’t stop him. I sure hope not.

Zoey, I’m sorry my baby girl. For the first time I felt I betrayed you. I’m sorry …. it’s been over 4 years since you left , but your mom is still learning to survive in this world, without you.
Love you to moon and back (as always)

Family of five

The Doodle

This past weekend we took the kids to visit the Crayola Experience located in Easton, PA. This is one indoor play space for kids where the magic of crayons and color truly comes to life. There are tons of fun activities for kids, to enjoy, learn and explore their creativity. So naturally our boys had a blast. We were about to leave, when I realized we hadn’t taken them to a zone called “Doodle in the dark”. We were getting late but decided to check it out anyway. And I’m so glad we did.

This play zone is dark room that has large doodle boards that make your art glow in the dark. It also has an interactive floor that responds to your motions with a series fun and colorful games. The boys instantly took a liking to this floor and began dancing on it with the other kids. After a while Anay noticed one of the huge doodle boards and began writing on it. This is what he wrote :

My three kids

Seeing Zoey’s name out there I realized this was my first trip to Crayola Experience. We never got a chance to bring Zoey, so naturally I had no memories of my girl here. However Zoey did get to visit as part of her summer school field trip. I remember her coming home with a coloring book and set of special crayons that was given to her as part of the trip. So as I looked at her name on that doodle board I realized my beautiful baby girl was making her presence felt again.
These days ‘Zoey Akka’ has become an essential part of Anay’s vocabulary. He will include her in almost all his stories. Sometimes she is one of the bear children in his narration of Goldilocks and the three bears. Sometimes she becomes Daisy Duck, or she is the naughty villain called Luna Girl from his recent favorite show: The PJ masks. (Well he includes his parents and his brother as well). So to see her name written out there with my boy’s names was enough proof of the fact that she is always around him. It was like she came with us and enjoyed all those activities with her brothers. It also reinforced the fact that I will always be a mom to three beautiful kids. Three and not two. And finally for me, this was also a testament to the fact that love never dies. Zoey’s love just like her eternal soul, will live forever. It will continue to blossom in the hearts of her loved ones.
Thank you Zoey. I feel so blessed to be your mom.
Love you forever.

Zoey at a restaurant eating her favorite buttered pasta