On your 9th birthday

Losing Zoey to the deadliest pediatric brain cancer there is, has opened my eyes to a lot of things I never imagined I’d experience in this lifetime. Yes there is this undying grief and heartache that I feel constantly. But there are so many positive experiences as well. I say positive because it has helped me grow spiritually and understand this universe in a way, I never would have, had my girl been alive. One of those positive life experiences is to look and feel beyond the physical nature of our existence. I have come to believe in the afterlife. The physical form is just clothing and we all shed this clothing when we die. But our soul/spirit never dies. It continues to live and blossom. We are so caught up in the physical and material nature of our existence that we cannot see the concrete signs and messages sent by our loved ones from the other side. It has truly been a very humbling, and pleasantly surprising life experience. I typically don’t write about this aspect of my life because I don’t think I am capable of capturing its emotions completely. However I’m going to try to pen one such incident that happened on the day Zoey would have turned 9. I’m doing this for her baby brother Anay and her amazing dad. I want Anay to know how much he was and will continue to be loved by his gorgeous big sister, his one and only one: Zoey Akka.

So it was supposed to be Zoey’s 9th birthday. We had told the boys it was their Akka’s birthday and so like every child’s birthday, Anay wondered about the birthday celebrations. Every time he asked for Zoey my heart broke a little. How to tell a toddler that his big sister passed away from the deadliest pediatric brain cancer there is ? We have always told Anay, that Zoey is playing with her little Krishna and that she lives on the moon. Most days he seems happy with that answer, however on her birthday he probably thought he would actually get to see her in person. He kept asking for her. After we dropped cupcakes and toys at the hospital, we decided to go to her favorite Krishna temple in Edison, NJ.

This one place was very dear to her and her dad. She visited this temple all the time with her dada, especially during those difficult 12 weeks, post diagnosis. She would give flying kisses to the deity there and claim how she was in love with “her Krishna”.( I truly believe it was her undying faith in HIM that kept her so normal till the end.) So when Anay asked again to see Zoey, Karthik told him, he would see her at the temple.

At the temple Karthik, Anay and I sat right in front of the deity to pray. Anay was sitting on his dad’s lap, while the littlest one (Hari) was happily running around in circles. Anay asked for Zoey again. Karthik pointed straight at the deity in front of him and said “Zoey Akka is right there with Krishna”. Just as he said that, a little girl (about 4 years old) tip-toed in front of us to enter the restricted area near the deity, while looking straight at Anay, smiling. Anay pointed at her and said “That’s Zoey Akka”. Karthik and I didn’t know what to say to this boy of ours. While we were still wondering what to tell our child, her parents came and took her away from the restricted area. Anay was convinced he saw Zoey Akka.
We spent the remaining time at the temple reminiscing about our beautiful baby girl and thanking the Lord for blessing us abundantly with our children. On our way out I noticed the little girl’s dad was distributing sweets to everyone. I overheard him say that it was his daughter’s birthday as well. Then it dawned on me “That’s my Zoey”. It was Zoey’s way of making sure Anay gets to see her on her birthday. It was her gift to her ‘soccer ball’ and her dada on her birthday. As I realized this, I was filled with overwhelming gratitude at the turn of events, and once again, felt so much pride at what she had just accomplished. I know, I am her mom and so I tend to be biased , but I think I have an amazing child . Don’t I ?

Yes to an analytical mind, all these events may seem like a mere coincidence. But let me tell you, we have never met a child on his/her birthday at this temple before and we visit that temple every Sunday. Also it is one strong coincidence for us to be at the temple at the same time as this family on their child’s birthday, and for the girl to look at Anay and give a knowing smile and for Anay to claim he saw Zoey in her. I mean any one of these incidents could have happened at a different time and the outcome wouldn’t be the same.

My lovely and amazing Zoey, thank you for showing us how much you love and care for your little brother. We missed you a lot on your birthday ( like everyday ). But we know you are there when we need you and you are always around your little brothers, playing and dancing with them ( just like you promised soccer-ball in November 2012). Sometimes your poor mom gets jealous and she wishes to trade places with your brothers. She has no doubt that they see you and play with you all the time. If only your mom’s grown-up eyes could see you as well.
Love you baby girl. To the moon and back as always.

That family of 4 (10 days prior to her passing). Look at Zoey adoring her little soccer-ball.
Family of 4

Zoey and I after she got to see her soccer-ball via ultrasound:
Zoey and I

Happy 9th Birthday

My Dear Zoey,
Today you would have turned 9. Yes all of 9. I wonder how you would look as a 9 year old girl? You’d probably look gorgeous with that straight black hair, a beautiful smile going from cheek to cheek and those big honey-bun eyes….. I still remember how a stranger saw you at age 2 and complimented “Look at those big eyes … They are cathedral windows to the soul.” I now understand it completely. You were an old and beautiful soul. You were so wise, intelligent and empathetic beyond your years. You were just, kind and generous and loved anyone and everyone that came your way. I remember clearly an incident that happened at your preschool.
I believe it was Halloween and you had made those little goody bags for every kid in your classroom. You were distributing them among the kid’s bins, and due to my impeccable ability to count, you were short by one. You seemed a bit sad that you wouldn’t get to take one home. ( And yes you had so painstakingly assembled them the previous night) . So in an attempt to not upset you, without giving it a second thought, I did something that I’m not proud of. I took one bag from this other kid’s bin and put it in yours. You gave me such a disappointed and sad look. You looked at me and said without hesitation “But mom that’s not right. This kid won’t get to take one home.” I was surprised and quickly realized what I had just done. You almost said “Mom don’t steal.” You put me right back in my place. All of 4 years old then…. I still remember it so clearly. We left all the goody bags there and I promised you a another treat to make up for the one you were missing. I remember coming home and proudly mentioning it to your dad. Yes baby girl, you had great moral fiber and you definitely didn’t get that from me.

Today you should have turned 9. The world is missing the beautiful person you would have been. It is our loss , our completely irrecoverable loss. We weren’t destined to see you grow past 5 and 1/2 years and with so much difficulty I say this, it’s our unfortunate destiny. To survive your loss, is unimaginable, but we are doing it one day at a time. It’s a constant heartache that will last a lifetime. The only hope that makes this grief remotely bearable is the hope that we will see you and be with you in the afterlife.

So today there won’t be a typical 9-year-old’s birthday celebration at our home. Instead in your memory, kids on the pediatric oncology floor at the hospital at which you were treated, will be enjoying some toys and sweet treats. And about 300 kids that are undergoing cancer treatment in India will get books and school supplies via the Samiksha Foundation. Hope you like what we do for your birthday every year. Hope you are proud of us and we aren’t letting you down.
As far as your brothers, your dada and I are concerned, we will have a low-key day at home with your memories, lots of ice cream, chocolate and pizza ( pizza being your brothers all-time favorite).

Love you baby girl. Have a fantastic birthday with your little Krishna wherever you are. Know that your mom and dad think of you every waking minute and love you to the moon and back.

As always.
Your loving mom
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