Author's Note 2011: This is a true story that was first published eight years ago as a work of the imagination. In the revision of this nonfiction story only names that are followed by an asterisk (*) are fiction. The parts these fictional named persons had in this story are fully true . I am now convinced that this true story can be of redemning value to other people. -ujf
Twenty-four years ago I first met Malathi Karuven Sandhu at a singles' gathering at the Santa Monica Unitarian Church in Santa Monica, California. We instantly took a liking for each other. After we left that event we went to a nearby restuarant for a drink and continued our conversation much pass midnight. That was the beginning of our intimate relationship. Less than a year later Malathi would leave the Los Angeles areas to accept a teaching position near San Diego. Although I continued to live in Los Angeles I visited her at least once a week and for three years I divided my time almost equally between Los Angeles and San Diego. And I continued to serve as the director of a human development center in Los Angeles called the Mutuality Center for Creative Living. Seven years after we met Malathi spent her year-long sabbatical working on the Hopi Reservation in Arizona. She enjoyed being there. I visited her several times, including in August when we attended the Hopi Annual Snake Dance ceremony. After returnig to California for a couple of years Malathi went back to the Hopi Reservation to work for a small salary that was about one-half of the teaching salary she had received the year before. It was doing her stay there that she was offered a teaching position at Northern University
in Arizona. She accepted that offer and remained as a professor and administrator at that institution for nearly a decade and until she retired. Although I had visited her in Arizona on many ocassions, four years before she retired I moved to Arizona. We purchased a home in a rural areas about forty miles from the university where she taught. We had to haul water four miles. A year after her retirement we decided to move to the East so she could be near her son Kalu* and his wife Charlene*, more especially, to be near her grandchild Timothy* who she seemed to be affectionately attached to. We purchased a home in the East but six months later we would become physically separated from each other. I took up residence in another city that was located about fifty miles from where she lived. About a year later she sold her house and had a home built in West Virginia. She would live in her new home only six months before her untimely death. Malathi was a unique, complex, and a very special woman. She was born and reared in India. After receiving a bachelor's degree in her native land she came to America where she earned both the Master's and Doctor's degrees. She taught in the university systems of California and Arizona for thirty-seven years. There is much that I could say about her, in this regard, but in this discourse my objective is to discuss the last nine months, more particularly, the last three months, of her life, as I knew it.
On July 1st, just three days short of nine months before her demise, Malathi sent me this email: "Dear Jay, (That's the name she always called me.) I spent my first night at the house last night and it was quite restful and lovely. ...I have seen deer in the back and front yards for two days now. Also, a wild turkey about a week ago, in the back yard. There were many birds, of course, and I am enjoying the screened porch a great deal. ...Happy July 4th. Thank you for your beautiful card." Every year since the year we first met during the month of June I have given or sent her a greeting card and gave her flowers or a gift to mark the June 17th anniversary date of our first meeting. For many years my card to her was from her lover-friend, but in later years it had been from her friend. She remained my friend and she continued to tell me that I was her friend. I visited Malathi in her new home in West Virginia, having arrived there on August 9th. During my four-day visit with her I helped her complete some tasks she wanted to do around the house and to prepare for the opening of her bead store in Charles Town, West Virginia, that she had planned to open the following week. I helped her arrange items in the store and put price tags on her products. We went shopping for hooks, a scale that would be used to weight small items such as beads, and an opening and closing sign for her store. We walked on a trail that was just across the road from her home. On the third evening I was there we went to a restaurant on the premises of a country club that was graced by a beautiful lake. It was at the base of the mountain where she lived. During our time together we reminiced about many experiences that we had shared together, across the years, including our cruise five years earlier on the ms Nieuv Amsterdam Holland America that took us to Alaska and Canada. But mostly she talked about her store and what it would mean for her to share her creativity with other people who would appreciate the things that she had made and would make with her own hands. She seemed to be very happy although she did express some concern about the responsibility this entailed and her being alone. Before I left her home we embraced each other and sadness came over both of us as we heard the unspoken question, "Why can't we be together?" We both wanted to cry but with effort we held back the tears. Then she said to me, seemingly with desperation in her voice that was also true for me, "Jay, when are you going to change?" I knew what she meant; for she had asked me that question many times. Then she said, "We could be together if you would change." I said what I had said to her more than a few times before, "Darling, (the name I use to call her) you know, I would like for us to be together, but not unless we both can change. I would like to be with you but not unless things can be different than they were."
The truth is, I never knew how I could change or what I could do to make it right for her. Yet, I really wanted things to be right for her and for myself. My parting words were, "I love you." And she said, "I love you too. " As I was about to leave her home she promised to come and visit me soon, after getting her store going. I had told her all about my new apartment, describing every inch of my small living quarters. I had moved into it only two weeks ago. She also wanted to see it. Occassionally, when she lived nearer to me and came to the city in central Virginia where I lived on business she visited me at my old apartment. Sometimes we ate at her favorite Indian Cuisine Restaurant in my city. We also went to movies and visited museums together. I enjoyed being with her.
In the email to me dated August 19th she told me that because of the visit of her daughter Karoli* and her husband Jamal* from California that she had postponed the opening of her store for a week. She said the store that she named Bead Plus will open on tomorrow, August 20th. During the month of September Malathi and I communicated by email and telephone. In her September 30th email to me she said: "Dear Jay, I just received your new music...and letter. Thank you very much for them. I am glad that you are enjoying the place where you live and have lots of activities there to attend if you choose. I keep busy with the store and the two grandchilden.( Her grandchildren are the children of her son and his wife who live about fifty miles from her home.) They are doing well. I will come and visit you one of these days, before winter sets in. Take care, Malathi." On October 3rd, Malathi sent me the shortest email that I can ever remember receiving from her. It read: "Well stated, Jay! Couldn't have said it more cogently and forthrightly." She was referring to a 500-word essay I had written titled, "Maybe We Deserve What We are Getting," in which I expressed the idea that "when we the people give our national leaders carte blanche authorization to do good or evil..., by our permission granted, if they sow seeds of destructiveness we and our descendants will reap the fruit of destructiveness." I was relating particularly to the Iraq War. Politically she and I held similar views. We were passionate about justice being done. On November 6th I received an email from her that said, "Today in the pouring rain I went to vote and I voted a straight Democratic ticket." She also said that she had taught two bead classes and would be teaching two more in November and two in December. She was glad to know that I was active and busy in my community and said that she had been asked to serve on the Board of the Alliance of the Arts and Humanities in the county where she resided, and had accepted the invitation to do so.
In her November 29th email to me following Thanksgiving Day she told me that her son, his wife, her parents and a friend of theirs had visited with her on Thanksgiving Day and that she had prepared dinner for them. In Malathi's December 7th email to me she mentioned the heavy snow that had fallen and the experience she was having visiting the dentist who would have to do her root canal. The following day she sent me and email expressing concern about my health after learning in the email I had sent her that I had been having bouts of dizziness. She wished for me a happy time in Alabama when I visit my family during the Christmas holidays and wanted me to let my sisters and brothers know that she had sent them her best regards. Malathi had met them when I accompanied her to Alabama, Chicago and Boston where she interviewed each of them for her sabbatical research study that she was doing on the Fields School in Sunflower, Alabama. They attended the Fields School. This school, named after my paternal grandfather who was born during slavery, was the school I attended the first eight years of my schooling.
The email I received from Malathi on December 12th informed me of a horrifying experience that she had the day before when her car coming down the icy mountain where she lived would not stop until it came to the bottom of the mountain. She said, "I put the car into 2nd gear and then into low gear, on all the ocassions, the brake was fully engaged, but the car kept sliding forward and wouldn't stop, and the wheels made the most awful grinding noise." She also said that she had done a foolish thing in driving in the icy weather that day and acknowledged that, "It was only the grace of God that saved my life." She told me that a real estate acquaintance, upon hearing about her predicament, called a couple she knew and arranged for her to stay with them that night. Referring to that couple she writes, "They are an older couple, into retirement, she is from India, and he is from West Virginia. Anyway, they took me in, fed me, gave me a spare bedroom to sleep in, pajamas, and otherwise took care of me, which I am also very grateful for." Two days before I left on December 21st, for my trip to Alabama we talked on the telephone We both wished for each other a happy Christmas. She told me that she would probably spend Christmas with her son and his family, but she didn't seem excited or even sure if that was what she wanted to do. We both had already recieved Christmas greetings from each other. A day before I boarded an airplane that would take me to Alabama I sent her a birthday greeting and a gift that included a cassette featuring fourteen songs I composed and sang. I told her that I had made this cassette for my brothers and sisters and that she was the only other person who would receive a copy of it at this time. (Her birthday is on December 29th). On the night of January 3rd I returned to my home in the East after my two-week Christmas vacation in Alabama.
The next day I attempted to call Malathi at her home and at her business but could not reach her. Later that afternoon I sent her an email. On January 5th, Malottie called me and said that she was in the hospital and had been there since January 2nd. She said that she had been diagnosed with kidney failure. The following day while talking with her I told her that I was coming to see her. However, when I called back I did not get an answer. On January 7th she called me and said that she had been transferred to another hospital not far from Pittsburgh. She said that her nephew Pablo's* wife Barbara* from New Mexico was there with her. A day later I called and spoke with Malathi but after that I was unable to speak with her. Barbara *answered the phone and she would tell me that Malathi was not able to talk with me because she was undergoing tests, receiving treatments, or asleep. A few days after mid-January Malathi called me and said that she had been discharged from the hospital and was at her son's home. She said that she wanted to get a second opinion. Then she asked if I would look in the telephone book and give her the phone number of an alternative medical practitioner in my city who she had visited a year earlier. I was unable to find the number while we were on the phone but I told her I would look more carefully and call her back. About thirty minutes later I called her back and the third practitioner I mentioned was the one she wanted to cantact. I gave her that practitioner's phone number. She told me that she wanted to make an appointement to see her. I told her that I would call her back to find out what time her appointment will be. Later that evening I called her an she told me that she would be coming to see the practitioner in my city on the next day. I told her that I would like to come to the practitioner's office and see her. She said that she was very weak and that Barbara* would be driving her there and that she would be making a turn-around trip because she would be seeing medical people in the area where she lived the following day. I asked her to spend the night with me. I also suggested that she might consider having tests made at the University of Virginia in the city where I lived. We both agreed that this university's medical health care system is one of the best in the country, but she said that she wanted to contact medical helpers near her home. Although I was not able to see or speak with her for two days after she returned from seeing the practitioner she called me on January 21st, and said that she was very weak. Then she told me that her nephew Krishna* and his wife Trudy* would be driving down from new York the next day to take her to the town where she lived and that she would be living with the couple she spent the night with when she had the frieghtening experience with her car sliding down the icy mountain. (She never gave me the couple's names or let me know how I could contact them.) I asked her if there was anything that I could do? and I asked her to let me hear from her. She did not respond other than to say that she didn't know how much access she would have to a telephone and that she had asked Barbara* to keep people informed as to how she was doing. (Later I learned that Barbara* did not accompany her to the home where she was being taken but on that same day she returned to New Mexico. After Krishna* and Trudy* brought Malathi to the home where she would be spending the last two months of her life, except for the last eight days when she was in the hospital, they spent one hour with her before heading back to New York so that he could go to work that night. And no one visited Malathi during those two months she spent with this family that she had met only two times before she moved in with them.)During that telephone conversation, the last conversation that Malathi and I had, I repeated, "I would like to know how you are doing." She said, "Barbara* will let you know." My last words to her were, "I love you." And her last words to me were, "I love you too." I didn't realize that this would be the last time we would talk with each other...the last time I would hear her voice. After her death I learned that because of a heavy snow storm, sometime around Christmas, she had spent one other night with the couple that she live with during the last two months of her life, except for the last eight days when she was hospitalized.
On January 19th Malathi mailed me this note: "Dear Jay, Sorry this is so late in being sent. I will send the next check on Feb 1st. and hope this has not caused you too much inconvenience. Sincerely, Malathi. Thank you for the calls inquiring after my health. I'm doing as best as is to be expected." On February 6th I received a message from my friend Emily* on the West Coast who was privy to information about Malathi family members that I did not have. It read, "Malathi is not doing so well. I don't wish to be the source of friction in anyone's life, but I think you should know, if you don't already that Malathi has been recently diagosed with a serious kidney problem. She was hospitalized for about 12 days, and is now staying with a couple some where near her home. Apparently her son and his wife have told her that they cannot take care of her...that she cannot stay with them." I was stunned to hear this, but not surprised. On February 4th, just two days before I received the message from Emily, Malathi wrote me: "Dear Jay, Thank you for your last letter. Hope you are doing well. I find I am quite weak and lethargic a lot of the time. But hopefully things will improve with time and more medical intervention. Best wishes, Malathi." In Febraury I made two phone calls to her nephew Krishna* in New York and two phone calls to her nephew, Barbara's* husband Pablo*, in New Mexico, but they would only say that Malathi was undergoing tests. I continued to write to Malathi. It was not until February 20th that I received the first email from Barbara*. She wrote, "There has been some improvement in Malathi's condition so she is responding to the treatment. She has asked us to keep people informed so we are doing that in order to keep the volume of calls she receives down." ( feel that Malathi had specifically asked her to call me.) On February 28th Barbara* sent me the second and final email that I would receive from her that said, "This is just to let you know Malathi is doing much better. The doctor is quite pleased with her response to treatment and her kidney function is returning. She is still weak but says she is feels much better." What caused Malati to suddenly turn for the worst?
I have heard from several sources that the change for the worst in her condition came after she had one or more episodic conversations with her daughter on the telephone that upset her to no end and probably, as one person repined, "hasten the end of her life."
On March 22nd Karoli's* husband Jamal* called and left a message on my answering machine which informed me that Malathi was seriously ill and that his wife wanted me to meet with them tomorrow at a restaurant near the hospital where Malathi was a patient. To receive move information he asked me to call Kalu*. About 6:30 p.m. I attempted to call both Kalu* and Jamal*, but could not reach either of them. About 10:30 p.m. Kalu* called me and in a somber voice and said, "Mama is in the hospital and her condition is very serious. Her kidneys are failing; she is on dialysis. In about an hour she is being taken by helicopter to a hospital in another city." I told him that I would see him on tomorrow. When I arrived mid-morning the next day at his home he told me that he had taken his mother to the hospital on March 19th. He had not talked with her or visited her since she moved away from his home in January. It was after his wife Charlene* urged him to call her that he contacted her on March 19th and found her to be in a critical condition. I visited Malathi on March 23rd as did seven other people. She did not respond to my presence. Only two persons visiting her that day said that she had responded when they were in her room. I returned to my home. The next two days I received no news about her condition but on the third day, Wednesday, when I talked by phone with Charlene* she told me that they had not heard anything concerning her condition. The next day, Thursday, March 27th, at 11:00 a.m. when Charlene* called me she said that there was some problem with Malathi's heart. Later that same day, at 10:50 p.m. Kalu* called me and in a subdued, muffled and measured voice said, "Mama has passed away...she passed away at 9:00 p.m." At 11:15 p.m Emily* called and informed me that Malathi had passed away. Mid-morning the next day I arrived at Kalu's* home. He, his wife and I embraced. I wept. The three of us attempted to play with their two children, ages five and one. Later I left their home and got a room at a hotel. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to contact Karoli* I was able to meet with her and her husband at a restaurant for dinner on 'Saturday at 8:00 p.m. She told me that Malathi's body will be cremated tomorrow, Sunday March 30th, at 1:00 p.m. and gave me the name of the Funeral Home in Maryland where this will take place. I asked her if her brother knew about this? She said that he did. I told her that I would either drive to Maryland or come with her brother. The next day as Kalu*, his wife, their son and I drove to Maryland the snow was falling quite heavily. When everyone was quiet Kalu* said, "If Mama knew it was snowing like this she wouldn't want us to come to her funeral." There were twelve persons present for the funeral service. After we all viewed her body Karoli* asked me to begin the "service of remembrance?" I sang "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and gave brief remarks about Malathi, emphasizing that she was my best friend. Karoli* read some of the Dalai Lama's cogent sayings from a booklet that Malathi had prepared. No one else chose to verbally share . The Funeral Home director took her body down stairs by elevator to the Crematory. One of Malathi's nephew's Pandit* pronounced a peace offering and Kalu* pulled the switch that activated the crematory. We watched and listened for thirty minutes before returing to the main room in the Funeral Home. Karoli* gave each person a full-bodied Votivo candle. Then we left the Funeral Home and went to a nearby French restarurant for a meal.
Malathi's indestructible soul rests beyond eschatology, suffering and fear - even the fear of dying - in realmless Infinity and Eternity, transcendent of space and time. Malathi, created in the image of God, an heir of the kingdom, beyond the skies, now and forever is playing her part in Eternity's plan, cognizant that her friends one-by-one will join her, and complete the celestial circle that will never again be broken. Fare-thee-well Friend! Soon we will greet you, "Good morning!"
(Author's Note: To repeat, as stated at the beginning of this story, "This is a true story." Eight years has passed since it was first published as a work of the imagination. In this revision the only thing that is fiction in this story are names of persons with an asterisk (*) by their names. But the part these fictional characters played is fully true . Everything , apart from these fictional names is true . To repeat: this is a true story.)
Copyright 2003 and 2011 by Uriah J. Fields