January 2020 – New Year Special

Sunita Behl

I am delighted to have been asked to be Editor of GRIT and to help support the Women Empowered community. I believe words have the power to change lives. You can change someone’s point of view, their aspirations and even their beliefs. If you have a passion, an inspirational story or a cause that’s close to your heart then we want to hear from you. GRIT is our newsletter where the WE Community share their experiences. Our contributors come from all backgrounds and walks of life and some have never written before. This is your opportunity to have your say and read about the things in life that aren’t often talked about, but probably should be. Words have the power to change lives. And WE can’t wait to hear yours.

Missing You

A new year is often a time of reflection. An opportunity to look back but also to look forward to the future. This issue is dedicated to the memory of all who have lost loved ones. WE would like to express a very special thanks to our contributors for sharing very personal stories on the impact of loss – a topic which sadly affects all of us but is rarely discussed. WE hope their moving words about the bereavement of a loved one, may help provide comfort for anyone in a similar position and highlight the significance of being grateful for every day.

Our Spring issue of GRIT is on the important topic of health. Has your life been touched by any illness including cancer, diabetes, heart disease or mental health?  Please share your story to help raise awareness of any medical condition or health-related advice so others can benefit from your experience. Please send your article on ‘Health Matters’ (400-700 words) to grit@womenempowered.co.uk before 24th February 2020.

Wishing everyone in our Women Empowered community a very happy and healthy year ahead.

WE look forward to hearing from, and seeing you, during 2020.

Sunita Behl

Missing my lovely sister

By Sherry Hans
Chartered Company Secretary

I am the eldest of three sisters. We lost our Mum when I was only 11 years old followed by our very loving grandparents, who were our primary care takers at the time. As one can imagine, these were major life-changing events for us young girls. You would think these incidents would have prepared me for anything that life had to throw at me. But there are some things you can never be prepared for, no matter what you have been through.

In December 2018 I lost my younger sister which shook me like nothing I have ever experienced. She had suffered for years following a life-threatening operation in 2013 for a ruptured aortic aneurysm. Her chance of survival was less than 2%. Although she survived, she never fully recovered, and in 2018 she had a relapse which wasn’t diagnosed in time to save her. It has now been a year since her passing but there has never been a moment when I haven’t missed her. Even now, I wake up every morning with an urge to call her in India and have our morning catch-up on my way to work.

She always told me after her operation, that she felt like she was putting up a fight against death. She was conscious that her little girl (who was only 5 years old at the time) was too young to be without a mother. She felt she needed to conquer death for her. At the time of her relapse, despite all my fears, I had hoped that she would, once again, win her fight against death but it wasn’t meant to be.

During this time, the hardest thing for me was to tell my 11-year-old niece that her mother was no more. After I shared the news, she broke down and told me everyone says that God is nice and never hurts his children but how is God being nice to me? To this day, I do not have an answer to her question. Whatever explanation I can give is not going to take away the fact that she cannot speak to or hug her mum anymore. As adults we feel we should know the answers to all the questions and be able to comfort those around us. However, I have learnt that although this is our intention, there will always be times where we must accept that it isn’t possible. It is in these moments where I have relied on my faith and hope that life will work itself out. Some things are just meant to be.

At the time of her cremation I remember standing with my youngest sister, both of us holding our niece tightly close to us, promising our sister that we will always look after and be there for her little girl for as long as we live, just like our grandparents were for us. Looking back, I now realise that at the time I wasn’t only grieving for my sister but also for my mum. I had been too young to fully comprehend the magnitude of her loss at the time of her passing. I now understand how the lack of answers for my niece’s questions will loom over her.

2019 was the most emotionally testing year for me personally but it was also a year of profound learning. I have discovered that life is really made up of defining moments. It’s about celebrating the small things in life to continue to create memories. But it is also about acceptance and being grateful for what is and wilfully letting go of what can’t be.

I feel eternally grateful that I am there for my family and my children. To be able to see them growing up and to hug them. I have learnt to value my own self, by looking after my health and my mental well-being. I am trying to make more effort to spend quality time with my family and friends and I am now on a journey where it’s not about perfecting life, but rather living it to the best.

“A beautiful memory, clearer than gold,
Of a sister whose worth can never be told,
There is a place in my heart no one can fill,
I miss you my lovely sister, and always will.”

Rest in peace our brave Prince

By Bhavna Bhargava

I went into spontaneous labour at 39 weeks and 5 days. The day had started with the sun shining and life felt good. We had taken our six-year-old to watch a movie followed by dinner. By evening my contractions were stronger so we told the hospital we were coming in. I then noticed I was bleeding and started to worry.

By the time we arrived at hospital the pain was excruciating. I knew instantly that something didn’t feel right. I was in so much pain I was unable to sign a consent form. My husband signed on my behalf and I was rushed into theatre for an emergency C-section. We weren’t told why.

We waited to hear the cries of our new-born but instead all we could hear were the sound of compressions 3,2,1… 3,2,1. The theatre filled with staff. Neonatal were called. It was complete pandemonium. No one communicated with us. We didn’t even know if we had a boy or a girl. All we could see was that our baby was very poorly. After 15 minutes a midwife informed us that we had a baby boy and they were trying to establish a heart rate. Teams were on hand to transfer him to another hospital for treatment. I then went into shock and began to lose consciousness.

As I underwent emergency surgery, my husband sat alone, not knowing if either I or our son would make it. He texted parents and siblings, in the hope that someone would be awake at 4am. We were drifting away and he began to imagine life as a single Dad.

At 5am, the consultant came to see him. He explained that my uterus had ruptured but luckily he had repaired it and I should make a full recovery. However, as I came out of the theatre my husband told me our son’s prognosis was not good. The doctors wanted to know if we would like to hold him with or without the ventilator. I felt completely numb and emotionless. Maybe it was the shock, or perhaps the morphine or anaesthetic but I couldn’t even shed a tear. I simply said, ‘without the ventilator, let’s not let him suffer any longer than he should.’

The doctors placed our baby son Joshan in my arms. He was absolutely perfect. Beautiful hair and a little button nose. I was so weak I was unable to hold him for long so passed him to my husband. Joshan took his last breaths in my husband’s arms. It was 7:45am exactly. Our baby had only experienced 7 hours on this earth.

That Bank Holiday Monday was a bleak day. Parents and siblings arrived. What should have been a joyous visit was one of much sadness. We all cried and tried to comfort one another the best way we could. A bereavement midwife talked us through grief, support and memory boxes. Our post-recovery midwife was amazing. She brought Joshan into our room whenever family members came for a cuddle, took photos, and was a great support.

Leaving the hospital was bittersweet. Instead of leaving with our baby boy, I had a bag full of antibiotics and injections. Entering our home was even more emotional. Thankfully my husband had put all the baby stuff back into the loft. The only thing visible was our new changing table full of neatly folded baby grows.

During those first few weeks, we were visited by community midwives, safeguarding teams, friends and family. The world kept on moving forward but all I wanted was for it to stand still, so I could process what had happened. Instead of planning our first family photo shoot, I was planning a funeral. We decided on a simple service followed by afternoon tea. It was perfect with just our immediate family.

I felt slightly lighter after the funeral knowing that Joshan was now at peace. Unfortunately, we will never have the answers as to why our Joshan is no longer with us but, lessons always need to be learned in any case of baby loss. We are now working hard to make changes to ensure other parents get the right support if they find themselves in a similar tragic situation.

Our beautiful baby boy may have only spent hours in our life, but he will forever spend a lifetime in our hearts.

The day my life changed

By Sona Mehta
Senior Lecturer, City Law School, City, University of London

August 1st, 2004 was the day my life changed forever. My baby brother, my best friend and confidante was declared brain dead. I was filled with unanswered questions. Why? Why him? Why had this happened to my family? We’re good people.

That day our family dynamics changed completely. I had recently married the year before but suddenly I was an only child and felt a huge responsibility for my aging parents. I visited more frequently, called more often and involved them in more decisions. I felt I needed to keep them busy so they couldn’t wallow in self-pity.

My Mum was a star. She had grown up in a family of 6 girls and no boys so had an instant support line to each of her 5 sisters. My father was not so lucky and became more reclusive. Thankfully, Mum was able to provide him with some emotional support, as hard as that must have been.

I wondered around in a state of shock. Not quite knowing how time passed and how day became night and night became day. Life had no meaning. It all seemed so futile. Why did I care about making agreements or writing to individuals in my day job? Didn’t people realise that my life had changed forever? My brother was never coming back. NEVER.

Grief affects people in different ways. I kept a diary, recording my emotions and every thought. I had bereavement counselling. For an hour a week, I shared my innermost thoughts with a stranger and felt a sense of release, albeit short-lived.

I reached out to my brother’s friends. I was their big sister too. I had ferried them to each other’s houses over the years and let them stay over at my flat – I’d seen them grow up. Now, I reminisced with them over our life before death. The good old days. The days WITH him. I became his surrogate ear. And I so needed it. It made me feel better and made me feel proud of him. As I heard more tales of his support and compassion, I realised that he was a good man – not just as my brother, but also as a friend. I would swell up with pride. Pride at being his sister. Pride at being part of his life.

I took each day as it came and gradually let LIFE take over. Every now and then, more so when I was alone, I allowed myself to think. To remember the good old days. His words would ring in my head “If you’re happy, I’m happy.” I’d have a cry and just read his diaries and my journals. I allowed myself to be sad and to miss him. Then I had a dream. He came to me and said “It’s OK. I’m OK.” That’s when I let myself move on. I let myself smile and enjoy the little things.

Now, life is very different. I’ve matured and many more people around me have experienced death. I’m now a Mum and an Aunt. I feel fortunate to have memories and tales to tell. And people in my life who want to listen.

We will meet in heaven

By  Kalpana Doshi

Over the years I have lost several people dear to me however their passing has impacted me in very different ways.

My first experience of death was of my first infatuation/love. We met in Sunday school and I was extremely fond of him. At the age of 17, I left Kenya to come to London.  He visited once and we met briefly. We were too young and shy to talk openly and honestly about our feelings. He returned to Kenya and we never spoke again.

He married and had children but then suddenly died in a terrible car crash at a very young age. I cried and mourned for the tragedy of his short-lived life for many years. Soon after, while I was still quite young, I lost both my grandparents. I don’t recall feeling the same strong emotions I had done previously with my friend. I was sad but this felt more like the natural order of life as they were both elderly and unwell.

However, about a decade ago, I lost both of my parents within months of each other and it crippled me emotionally. I had months of bereavement counselling and ended up taking antidepressants for nearly 3 years. I found their passing particularly difficult as I had only just rebuilt my relationship with them a few years earlier. They had disowned me when I married someone they didn’t want me to spend my life with, so we had not spoken for years.

I coped with their loss by talking to everyone who knew them. I kept reassuring myself that I had spent a few wonderful years with them in their last stages doing the things they loved and had been able to fulfil their last wishes.  My dad had always wanted to see the pyramids and the Dead Sea. So, when he was 79, we had made a fantastic trip to Egypt and Jordan. We stayed overlooking the Nile, visited the pink city of Petra and he even managed to realise his dream of taking a dip in the Dead Sea. I also took my mum to her spiritual haven in Gujarat where she met her Guru. This was heaven on earth for her. Until today I cherish and live with those memories.

In addition to this, I have also lost both of my ex-husbands. The first one died age 62 after a stroke and the second one (father to my daughter) passed away at the young age of 51 after suffering from lung cancer for 3 years.

Experiencing so much grief and bereavement has made me a different person.  Today I live each day as it comes, make the most of it and try to make others happy. I don’t take anything for granted and am grateful for every little thing I experience.  Spiritual practice, personal development, a full-time job, family and friends keep me living life to the full.  Every day is about creating another special memory, helping someone, making someone’s day, having fun and living my purpose.

I trained as a laughter yoga leader 7 years ago and practice it in old people’s homes, community centres, and corporate team building events. For me living a life of service and contribution has been the answer. Whenever you help others, you automatically and naturally feel better, so this is now my life purpose. To make as much difference as possible to as many people as I can.

I miss you all so much. We will meet in heaven one day.

Do you want to write for GRIT?

Each article needs to be submitted to grit@womenempowered.co.uk by the stated submission date. The newsletter will be sent to our subscribers and will be uploaded on our website and our social media will direct to it.

All submissions should be between 400-700 words. They can be written in the first person where appropriate. They will be edited for content to ensure suitability. Please ensure they are verified with source if it contains factual content. If the topic is personal then please ensure that you have been mindful of others where appropriate and ensure your account is as accurate as possible. Articles submitted will be chosen at the discretion of the editor. Please also be sure to include a photo and your name as you would like to be credited (title / position etc if applicable)

2020 GRIT Topics

How has your life been impacted by loss? Have you lost a loved one through bereavement, a relationship through divorce, suffered an unexpected redundancy or become a recent empty nester?  We want to hear your advice and thoughts on how you coped and learned to move on.
Submission deadline: 13th December 2019

Has your life been touched by a major illness such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or mental health?  Please share your story to help raise awareness of any medical condition or health-related advice so others can benefit from your experience.
Submission deadline: February 24th 2020

If you could turn back the clock what words of wisdom would you pass on to your younger self? What have been your biggest ‘life lessons’? Would you approach or do anything differently in your personal or professional life knowing what you do now?
Submission deadline: May 23rd 2020

Please share your views and thoughts on any topic which you feel is not discussed often enough and that you would like to raise awareness of.
Submission deadline 26th October 2020

A review of our highlights over the past 12 months featuring our most popular 2020 contributors.

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