Surinder has been a Single Living member for around two years. Outwardly cheerful and energetic, in reality she is struggling to come to terms with a series of almost unimaginable personal tragedies, including the loss of her daughter and husband in the space of just a year. In an act of extraordinary courage, she has agreed to look back over her life and tell her story for the first time.
This morning I was awoken by the phone ringing - it was one of my friends asking how my weekend went. You see, I have a big social circle and there's always something happening somewhere, which makes them envious.
"It was OK, I suppose."
"OK? OK? is that all you can say? You went to two parties and a steel band show. Is that all you can say?"
"It's not like you to be down - what's up?"
What I wanted to say was: "All that's happened in my life and you really want to know that?" But I couldn't. I didn't even make the effort. I put the phone down and went back to sleep. I feel I could sleep for a year and a half and when I wake up perhaps it will be just another bad dream.
I feel such a bad mother for not even waking up this morning for my son to give him his breakfast. I suppose he's seen this before, and knew it was coming, so he got himself cereal and a drink and asked if I'd like coffee or something. I don't remember what sound I made. For a 14 year old he is very good and caring, a very loving child. The same as my daughter, who is at university now If it hadn't been for their love and support, I hate to think where I'd be ? probably in a mental institution. You see when families go through bereavements, children suffer, and they suffer silently, because they don't want to create any more pain for the remaining parent, so they struggle with their own problems plus their mother's in this case. They know if they can survive those blue periods and get their mother on her feet, life's not so bad. It's just getting her up that's the key.
Another phone call: "Aren't you up yet? Come on it's not like you! You're full of beans normally - what's the matter? Think positive. girl. Time will heal; life goes on; pull yourself together," and so forth. "You're such a strong person; we all give you as an example." Little do they know the solid person they talk about is in a million pieces inside, afraid to show my sad side.
I tend to make excuses to avoid attending events, and put the phone down without sounding too miserable. Sometimes I feel angry that people don't understand what I'm going through, but there again it could be my fault because I never let them know how I really feel. Well, whether they know or not, I'm here and I'm not getting out of bed for anybody today: to hell with work! Time just doesn't seem to matter any more, pain doesn't seem to hurt, and happiness, well, what's that? Some would say I'm surviving, but I think I am just existing, nothing to look forward to or worry about, it's happened and you're there and you can't get out of it.
Believe it or not, the phone rings again. "I'm not going to pick it up," I decide. I let it ring, then I think "What if it's the school trying to get hold of me because my son's hurt or ill?" Typical of me to fear the worst.
In fact it wasn't the school, it was Mike from Single Living. "Hi, how are you? Have you written anything yet?" He had rung on Friday, telling me to put pen to paper (as I had promised some time ago) to get me out of this misery period, and threatened to ring back to check!
I'll be honest with you - that was one voice I was not afraid of showing my sad side to. Well I think I must have poured my heart out: floods of tears were just running down uncontrollably. I tried to stop - after all Mike is not a counsellor or a Samaritan, but maybe because he has suffered pain and is an understanding kind of a guy, I just let go. I didn't need to put a brave face on or act as if all was well. Poor fellow, he didn't know this woman on the end of the phone was going to cost him that much. After all, he only rang regarding the script. I owe you Mikey - sorry!
Begin at the beginning
Well, here it is Mike - where do I start? Usually at the beginning is good, but I don't know where that is any more. Anyway, here goes...
I am Punjabi and come from the Punjab state of India. I came over here as a child in the mid-Sixties so most of my upbringing has been in this country. I have three brothers, much older than myself, and I am their little sister, who will always remain so to them, and did I give them a hard time! I was a very loveable child but a spoilt brat who had to have her own way. I still remember the naughty things I did, and when my youngest brother would try to stop me I'd give a yell, somebody would come to my rescue and my brother would cop it. It worked every time.
They had it hard then, my brothers, but little did they know how much heartache I would give them later in life. My family loved me so dearly that nothing but nothing was too much. My put-upon youngest brother even got me an MG car. I was the envy of all. At that time there were far fewer women drivers, especially Indian ladies. Well this one was different, she was into motorbikes and cars, and anything that my brothers did, I did too.
Eventually the painful time came for the family to get rid of me. Finding a suitable partner was not going to be easy With the hard work and investigation that goes into arranging a marriage ritual, one could be a member of the Royal Family! It's like filling in a 20-page questionnaire on your partner's family: wealth, health and physique, even down to genetic disorders, not to mention vices or bad characters in the family.
Well, it was done and he was found. I thought I was the bee's knees but he was the pick of the crop, so to speak Six feet tall and breathtakingly handsome. Again I was envied by my mates. Looking back, it was a marriage made in heaven, too good to last. Two tall, slim, good-looking people out to have fun, and what fun we had. We didn't have a care in the world, or any enemies. Who said arranged marriages are dull and don't work? Not me!
After a year and a half our first angel was born. She was so cute, with deep blue eyes and rosy cheeks, so my brother named her Rosy. Sometimes I look at this big baby card in my daughter's room. and think back how my husband bought a bouquet of flowers and this massive card. She was his dream girl.
It was a Sunday morning when the first tragedy struck We got a phone call from back home in India. They had been trying to reach us the previous day but we were with our relatives, discussing going back home for holidays and my meeting my husband's family for the first time. Although I had never met them in person, I felt I knew them better than my husband. My brother in law was now my penpal, and my in laws had taken to me so much that my husband came second. The same went for my family - my dad was so chuffed with of his choice of husband, you could see the glow in his cheeks every time they met.
Anyway, that phone call, it was not good news. My father in law had been in a motorbike accident and had been in a coma with head injuries for over a week. Not only that but - big shock - my brother in law had suffered a heart attack and passed away. We caught the first plane out, feeling dumbfounded, as only the day before we had been making plans to go back and visit. Why didn't we do it sooner!
We took our daughter with us and she helped in the recovery of my father in law, when he came out of the coma. It was a terrible shock for him to find he had lost his son; he sort of blamed himself, saying that if he had not had the accident, his son would be here today.
We stayed out there for a couple of months while everything was being taken care of. Our daughter was a great comfort to her grandparents as they no longer had any children of their own left. Although my late brother in law was 21 years old, he was still their baby. When the time came to return home, we knew it would break their hearts to see her go. It was not an easy decision but we made the sacrifice and left her with them. This made the two of us very sad, but hearing how well my father in law was doing lifted our spirits up.
Occasionally, I would find my husband in a sort of trance. Sometimes he would say he had lost the right hand side of his body. I knew he was grieving badly inside for his brother and of course he was missing our daughter, who was no longer around to be cuddled. Sometimes I noticed him take a drink but I didn't say anything and left him alone to have a cry. Men have this feeling that they must not show their weakness and I didn't want to intrude.
Little did we realise what further tragedies were to follow ...
In the first episode of this story, Surinder explained how her idyllic early life started to unravel with the tragic death of her brother in law. Subsequent years were to see a series of further tragedies. In quick succession Surinder's husband lost his father to a fatal heart attack, his mother with a brain haemorrhage, and then his grandmother. Surinder's own father battled against a series of strokes before finally succumbing.
For Surinder's husband, the loss of so many beloved family members was hard to take. He succumbed to depression and spent long periods in black despair, alone with his thoughts. However, his main source of comfort was his family - now two daughters and a son - to whom he was an attentive and loving father.
It was Christmas and my children were growing up - my son was 9 and the two girls were 12 and 14. For the first time in ages it felt like we were having fun again. After we had finished our Christmas dinner, my husband announced that he was now going to look forward and let the past rest. We all drank to that; even our children took a sip of wine and we all sang "For he's a jolly good fellow."
But it wasn't to be. A few weeks later, yet another bombshell fell. Jessica, our 12-year-old, started feeling unwell one Saturday afternoon. I called my GP and she told me there was a bug going round. She advised me to give Jess some Dioralyte if she vomited, or else boiled water with freshly squeezed lemon juice. I went to the corner shop to get the lemons, and happened to run into my GP. I told her I was really worried about Jessica because she looked very pale. She told me that I worried too much, but got the chemist to give me some Stemetil to stop the feeling of nausea.
By the evening, Jess was very quiet - no more of her usual running round causing havoc. She was still quite cheerful and cracked a few jokes here and there. But she really did look ill and I called the doctor to ask her to come over. She reassured me again and said she would come over. Another two hours went by and I phoned my husband to tell him I wouldn't be coming to work in our sandwich bar.
By this time Jess was very weak, I asked her if anything was hurting and she said no, but her back was sore from lying on the bed. So I sat next to her and cuddled and supported her. I noticed how hard her tummy was and asked if it was normally like that. She said 'Yes, because you never feed me!' We laughed at that but I was even more worried. I called the doctor one more time and she said she would be over soon.
I decided to go and get my husband and children from the shop. In the meantime Jessica was recording a football programme for Dad and my son - they all used to watch football together, and argue about whose team was best.
In the car on the way back my husband said if anything was to happen to Jess he wouldn't survive, and he was quite serious, I told him she was OK - she was even recording his football game for him.
At last the doorbell rang - it was a locum doctor. We helped Jess downstairs and into bed in the spare room. She seemed in a bad way, but with Jess it was hard to tell if she was play-acting - she was a born actress and comedian. The doctor checked her pulse and her hard tummy, and said that sometimes children get this if they have been vomiting. While he was looking her over, she said 'My ears are popping.' He didn't seem worried but at my insistence he agreed to call a paediatrician.
He called the hospital from the phone next to the bed and was speaking to a paediatrician when Jess just turned away from me and said "Don't push Mum." I wasn't pushing her, I was pulling her towards me. Those were her last words - she was gone, with everyone in the room panicking and crying.
I tried desperately to revive Jess with cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but nothing - it was too late. This medically trained person who had saved so many lives as part of an ambulance crew was unable to do anything for her own child. The GP was so shocked he just stood there holding her hand, the phone still off the hook.
The people at the other end could hear everything but they didn't know where to send the ambulance to, so my husband gave the address and ran outside to wait for the ambulance. He was in a panic, running back and forth, checking to see if she was all right, had she come round? The ambulance seemed to take forever.
The paramedic was one of my former colleagues. He tried his best to revive Jess with defibrillators. He knew and I knew it was too late but he carried on trying anyway.
Eventually we went to the hospital in the ambulance. My husband stayed behind because he was in bad way. He just couldn't accept what had happened - clinging to the belief that somehow Jess would be all right once she got to hospital. Little did he know that all they would do was to certify her death.
I don't remember much after that; I was on sedatives most of the time. All I recall is speaking to coroners and trying to find out what went wrong. It took us nearly a year for them to tell us. It turned out she had a stomach rupture the day before her death, and died of peritonitis. The good thing was her body had gone into shock so she didn't feel any pain.
We never did find out how our healthy young child's stomach could rupture so suddenly. All the doctors could say was they just didn't know. That seemed to be the final blow for my husband. I knew he was in decline and that I was losing him, but there was nothing I could do for him.
As for the medical people, well on my insistence he tried to get help but they let us down badly. Each time he went he was seen by someone different, who didn't even know his case history. He'd have to explain things time and again and in the end he gave up on everyone including me. Some nights he would go outside to check if Jessica was playing outside, and other times he would phone his sister in India to see if see was over there - he couldn't remember.
A few months passed and things hadn't got any better. Sometimes my husband slept downstairs on the sofa rather than coming upstairs. One night I was in bed asleep when I was woken up by a loud noise. He had suffered a heart attack and had managed to get upstairs before crashing into the bedroom door and falling to the ground unconscious.
I called the children to come quick. My daughter rang for an ambulance while I checked my husband's pulse and administered cardiac massage. He came round and asked what happened and what day it was. He said he had a hospital appointment for his eyes that day. We felt relieved and my daughter just smiled at him, saying "All right Dad, we'll sort something out, you just rest."
Once more it was back in an ambulance for me and the children. They took my husband to the intensive care unit. We spent a while with him and told him he was going to be all right, just hang on in there. At that he said he said he knew he wasn't going to pull through.
As we moved out of the way to let the doctors check him, he had a massive attack and he was gone. I ran to see if I could do anything but the nurses held me back. My children were panicking and they took us to another room to avoid upsetting the other patients. I felt so helpless. A doctor came and explained that the specialists were doing all they could but there wasn't much hope. I already knew that: he had lost the will to live.
Ten minutes later the doctor came over to say sorry. I felt numb and confused but by that time my brothers had arrived. I must have phoned from the hospital while we were waiting, I don't remember. I was trying to console my children. I had to be strong for them.
Well I went through usual stages of grief. I sought help from Cruse, counsellors and self-help groups. I realised I was very angry with my husband for abandoning me like this in my midlife; we used to joke about how he would chase me with his Zimmerframe! Although he had provided for us financially, his absence left a terrible chasm in my life. I felt a terrible guilt too: perhaps I hadn't helped him to take care of his health. Maybe I didn't spend enough time with him: he needed someone to talk to, and I wasn't there!
Like my late husband, I found myself struggling with chronic depression. Having seen the problems this can cause, I decided I must keep myself busy. I joined Single Living, went back to college to study computing, and built up a hectic social life. But the battle continues: depression still catches me unawares and it has affected my immune system, making me very prone to illness.
I know it can take long time to recover from a partner's death, especially if you keep your grief and resentment bottled up but I just don't know how to open up. Perhaps writing this might be my way of accepting that he is gone. I still miss him terribly but I am gradually coming to see the future as less bleak and feeling much more positive about life, thanks to my close friends and family and of course Single Again which has helped me take that first step forward. I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who have suffered even greater tragedies than myself, so I'll try and get on with the rest of my life and walk that lonely road which is full of people like me.
Well my story is finished and it's back to the constant stream of phone calls I get every day. And now there's a knock at the door: my friend Hermi has come to take me out dancing. She thinks a good night out does wonders for the body and soul. She asks what I'm doing and I tell her I've been writing my memoirs! She says good, you can write down today's events when we come back, now get dressed and let's paint the town red. Thanks, Hermi!