The insistent sound of loud bells crashed abruptly through the silence. Gopinath jerked upright in his bed, groggy with sleep. The ringing continued and he slowly became aware that it was the telephone. The bedside clock read 2.45 a.m. He snatched up the phone. “Hello?”
A distant male voice asked, “Dr.Gopinath?”
“Yes. Who is calling?”
“I’m sub inspector Sadasivam, sir. I’m afraid I have bad news for you”.
Gopinath’s heart began to pound. He looked at his sleeping wife. She was in deep sleep.
The sub inspector continued. “It’s about your son Deepak….”
Gopinath’s hand clenched the phone. “Has…. has my son been in some kind of accident?”
“He’s dead sir. He has committed suicide. He has jumped in front of running train a few hours ago.”
“No!” It was a scream. The call must be a prank call. Some idiot was trying to frighten him. There was nothing wrong with his son.
The sub inspector’s voice was softened. “Sorry sir. I hate to break it to you in this way”
So it was real. It was a nightmare, but it was happening. He could not speak. His mind and his tongue were frozen. Slowly he woke up his wife Anandhi.
Hearing the news, a cold chill went through her. “That’s impossible…… Why would he kill himself? He had everything to live for!” Her voice was ragged. She began to cry…
For three days, Gopinath and Anandhi had no time to think, no time to feel, just time to exist. They functioned as wooden puppets whose jerky movements were the result of strings pulled by an invisible hand. Their relatives and friends quietly kept order in the house in those days. Fourth day they left.
Gopinath and Anandhi were alone in their big house to brood over the painful reality. Gopinath was a busy doctor and Anandhi was an executive in a MNC. They worked hard and earned a lot of money. They gave everything that money could buy to their only son. Deepak had costly bike, costly car, costly dresses, costly education and a lot of pocket money. So the parents thought that their son was living like a prince. But the suicide proved that they were wrong.
Their son left no suicide note or farewell letter. But slowly truth began to surface. His close friends told them that Deepak was in drugs. They said that he was a drug addict for the past two years. The news was a great shock to them. Both of them were too busy to notice their son’s drug addiction. They were in the habit of leaving their home early in the morning for work and arriving very late at night. On holidays they were relaxing in front of television or social networking on smartphones.
With their son’s suicide, something had died in them forever and they were left with guilt and loneliness. They checked Deepak’s room and found some drugs that he used to consume and his diaries. Deepak had written about his loneliness. He had written that his parents were seldom home, and he was raised mostly by the maid, who was also his primary companion. He had described about spending much of his childhood in their big house, playing with toy soldiers, alone. They couldn’t read further. But they wanted to understand why their son had committed suicide.
Gopinath gave the diaries to his psychiatrist friend. The psychiatrist friend said that he would do a "psychological autopsy" (an evaluation of someone based on information from writings or other sources). A few weeks later, he called them to his house.
He told them that Deepak was manic-depressive. He said that Deepak knew his drug habit was not right, so he had been tormented by confusion and shame. He explained that the chemicals in Deepak’s mind were imbalanced and that they had altered his perception of reality. That chemical imbalance had also produced his thoughts of suicide.
He said, “The first place we feel love or acceptance or hatred and a lack of acceptance is in the family. We learn who we are, if we are valuable or not, all through how we are raised. When the home environment isn’t healthy, a child can’t be mentally healthy. With the majority of homes having two parents working in full time careers, parents may be so involved in their own lives they erroneously give too much trust to their teenage children to raise themselves and be responsible. They may neglect their children unintentionally.”
The word ‘neglect’ pricked the parents’ conscience. They looked at the psychiatrist friend painfully.
He explained in kind voice. “When people hear the word "neglect", they usually think of parents not providing their children with the food, clothes, or a safe environment to line in. However, there are other ways in which parents can neglect their children. Emotional neglect is as dangerous to a child's well-being as physical neglect is to a child's health and safety. Inadequate attention to a child's emotional needs, need for affection, and lack of emotional support constitute emotional neglect. It is important to find a balance between work and family life to avoid neglecting your child…..”
They were heartbroken. Memories of their son came flooding back into their minds. If they had known Deepak's last day alive would have been that fateful day, they would have focused on him exclusively. Anandhi would have quit her job to spend more time with her son. Gopinath would have unplugged the telephone and television, so he could listen to his son more carefully. They would not have let their son out of their sight for even a nanosecond, so they could have savoured his presence. Nothing else would have mattered. But they did not know.
They regretted now for their choice of life and the way they lived. As he said they could have found a balance between their work and their family. They would remember the psychiatrist friend’s final words forever in their life. “We should treat those we care about with extra attention and sensitivity every moment of every day, or we may plod on about our lives, oblivious to the reality that each moment could be our last or theirs. It only takes a little more effort to listen carefully, to give an extra hug, to say kind words. A moment given now may prevent a lifetime of regret. The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
For some days they missed their son’s affectionate nature, his great sense of humor, and even the small things like hearing his feet bouncing up and down the stairs, the smell of his cologne—just everything about him. One day they saw a quote in a magazine -
“There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in."
That's how the light gets in."
The quote made them think deeply. Eventually they learned that they didn’t have to be defined by their past or by their pain. They hoped that their life could count for something positive yet. They could do something in the memory of their son.
They started a support group for rehabilitation of drug addicted youths. They were committed to educating young people about the incredible danger of addiction to drugs. With the help of their psychiatrist friend they arranged counseling sessions both for the addicts and the parents. They put all their money and wholehearted attempts in that service. They were hoping that their son would forgive them from the other world!
(My Prize winning short story published in our house magazine “Vijaya Vikas”)