V-DAY

I have always thought that Valentine’s Day was a sham of a holiday.  It’s a day that screams out romantic love and empty wallets.  Roses become ridiculously expensive, nice restaurants have a special overpriced menu, not to mention overbooked with reservations, and you don’t even get the day off!  Don’t get me wrong, I usually succumb to the pressures during this time when I’m with someone and will treat her to a pricy outing.  But I have always done it knowing that she would be happy, and in turn I was sure she would make me HAPPY for my efforts.  Although I have done this, I would always think, “Why can’t I do this on a day that’s cheaper and less chaotic?”  After all, this is a day that instructs people how to love and to do so you have to follow a mainstream protocol.  I feel like this fabricates the meaning that comes with Valentine’s Day and thus, I have never been emotionally connected to it.  However, it wasn’t until the event that took place in my life on February 14, 2011 that would change the meaning of this day forever.

Last Valentine’s Day my cousin, Vishal, passed away after a 13 year battle with cancer.  When he was just 18 years old he was diagnosed with “Synovial Sarcoma”, a very rare and aggressive type of cancer.  He went through years of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, as well as had to undergo a number of surgeries because the tumors kept coming back.  And then finally in December 2011, the doctors said that there was nothing more they could do and he just had to wait it out.  I remember hanging up my phone after I had heard the news, and I thought, “Wait for what?”  I couldn’t comprehend the idea of him not being around anymore.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was actually happening and it was REAL.  I would daydream and imagine how it was going to be after he would pass, and it made me feel so empty.  I had been to other funerals and knew what it was like to lose somebody, just not somebody this close.  After all, he was more than my cousin to me, he was my big brother.

Growing up I had always looked at Vishal as my role model.  He was one of the eldest in my family from all the cousins in our generation, but would rave about being the most immature.  I looked up to him so much because despite how much he had been through, he never let it bring him down.  He had so much passion to just live everyday and enjoy every moment he had because he knew he was going to live a shorter life than most.  He was the type of person that you always wanted to be around because he was always a good time.  There truly was never a dull moment when you were in his presence.  After my injury, though we faced different situations, he was the only one in my family that could relate to my feelings.  I remember when I was still in the hospital he said, “Lil bro, you’re going to get through this.  And I’m here to help you.”  It was so comforting to know that somebody who had been through as much as he had was going to help me through my struggle.  But at the time, I didn’t realize how much of a role he was going to play in my life moving forward.

From the very beginning of my new life as a paraplegic, he played the role of my motivator.  He constantly encouraged me to keep living, and to not let my situation hold me back from doing so.  Because of everything he had to deal with in his life, he appreciated every moment so much, and he always tried to convey that message to me.  At first, I was resistant to his approach because I didn’t want to live my life in a wheelchair.  However, as time went on his efforts were persistent and I started to come around.  Additionally, by witnessing my progression I was able to appreciate how far I had come, and I started to realize that I could continue to evolve in my situation.  At the same time, I witnessed him periodically have to go back to the hospital for surgery and treatment as his cancer kept coming back.  This was such a crucial perspective for me because as I was learning how to move forward so that I could live my life independently, he kept getting held back in his life because of his illness.  But no matter what he never let it bring him down.  He dealt with whatever he had to, and he continued to live his life to the fullest, until the end.

When the doctors said that there was nothing more they could do, there was a wave of fear that resonated throughout my whole family that the end was near.  I would think, “How was life going to be without Vishal?”  I knew there was going to be a huge void when he left, but I didn’t know how it was going to feel.  The anticipation of the whole situation made me so distracted.  It was as if nothing in my life mattered anymore because it didn’t compare to the gravity of the loss I was about to experience.  My mind would always wander as I tried to make sense of all of this.  I tried to separate myself from reality and thought about the greater purpose that his life served.  And I thought, “Vishal’s life is a lesson to teach us how precious life really is.”  I knew how much of a role he had played in my life to get me to appreciate my life again.  He is the reason why I am where I am today.  And in that moment I decided that I was not going to be sad about this.  He celebrated his life everyday and every moment, and it made sense to me to attempt to have the same feeling about his life when he no longer was here.  Then 22 days before he was supposed to turn 31 years old, his time on Earth expired.

The anticipation was now over and it was now time to face the fact that Vishal as we knew him, no longer existed.  I heard the news, packed up, and head down to Laredo, TX, where he was residing, to attend his funeral.  When I got to Laredo I was handed a Pittsburgh Steelers (his favorite team) jersey to wear as part of my uniform for the event.  This only made me smile because since he knew he was going to die, he decided to plan his funeral, and make it a celebration.  And why wouldn’t he include his favorite team as part of the festivities.  Additionally, he created his own playlist full of The Beatles classics with the theme of the funeral centering on the song, “All you need is love.”  To top it all off, we were instructed to take a tequila shot once the ceremony commenced, and had to make sure he wasn’t left out in the process.  I couldn’t stop looking at him lying in his coffin because the whole experience felt very surreal.  I just kept staring at his face waiting for his eyes to open, but they never did.  In that moment, I accepted that his body was lifeless and knew that I was going to go forward in my life celebrating every moment I had.

Valentine’s Day for anybody who knew Vishal will be a day that encompasses a completely different meaning than the traditional meaning of February 14th.  However, it still has everything to do with love.  Vishal loved and appreciated everything and everybody he came across.  His life was a celebration, as I feel everybody’s should be.  Unfortunately, he had to go through his struggle for everybody around him to realize how precious life really is.  But in knowing that, I choose to learn from the purpose that was his life.  His life has taught me to always love and appreciate everything I have and all the people that are around me.  Additionally, I will celebrate every waking moment that I have, until I have no more.  February 14th is a day that will forever remind me how I’m always supposed to be.  It is a day to remember the energy that Vishal brought all the time.  This day may not be Valentine’s Day for me anymore, but it will forever be V-day.

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32 thoughts on “V-DAY”

  1. Brother
    That was a true testament to love and not just the commercialized version. I appreciate you sharing that. Although I never met him, vishal was always someone whom I associated with strength and hope.
    Thanks
    Amit

  2. There are no words that can express how reading this made me feel, except that there are tears still rolling down my face. Vishal was a remarkable human being and thank you for sharing with the world how he made it a better place, especially on V day. I’d just like to say that you just better get used to hearing that you are such an inpiration because you TRULY are.

  3. Wow Vik,
    What an awesome tribute to your big brother. He truly played a big part of who you have become today. Thanks to Vishal who taught you to see the beauty in life despite the situation., and in turn helped us to do the same. And now you are teaching others. Vishal and you have been movers and shakers in our family with all the obstacles that both of you had to endure. Which has strengthened our family. Vishal would be very proud of you, I am sure as I am of son .

  4. as i said you and vishal are the super V s of our family -our true inspirations and role models . i keep on reading your blog and i keep on crying.and i realize how lucky we all are to have been so close to him . i feel its a true honor and i salute him , everyday . whenever i have a few extra minutes to myself he is the first one i think of. and remember the good times and start laughing. in any scenario i tink ok how would vishal handle it . remember WWVD . he was and is looking after all of us hes here amidst all of us . i love my ittle brother alot, and love you my cousin too . god bless you and make you go places . you and koko can make an awesome team , both excellent writers

    1. Thanks Rosy. I really believe he is always around us, because he is a part of everything, including me and you. We were very lucky to know him because we all grew so much because of him. To me he was the true definition of a bad ass, that I can only aspire to be. I agree, koko should write whenever she has free time. She already has the talent.

  5. hey vicky… that was a lovely insight. perhaps u can also tell us if vishaal used to reveal to you … how tormented or not he used to feel with this tough situation of living life day to day and knowing that he is shortly going to go… i always used to think of how he must be feeling and reacting to these thoughts which must be racing thru his mind…. and i would then pray and pray for the good lord to give him strength and peace. Man…. just the thought of such a damocle’s sword hanging over oneself makes me shudder.

    1. Hey uncle. Truthfully, Vishal didn’t speak much about what he was feeling. He would tell me things like “I picture myself living till I’m 35”. And he lived his life from that perspective. At the end of the day everything is subjective, so he was a man of his experiences. One very interesting thing that he had said before was that anytime he started feeling jealous of others he would separate himself from everybody else. In those times he liked to be alone and do things that he enjoyed (i.e. painting, listening to music, and such). And that’s how he lived his life, always keeping himself in a positive emotional state. I’ll definitely include more in upcoming blogs. Thanks for your insight.

  6. Hi Vik

    I found your blog very poignant about your relationship with, Vishal. Your words reminded me when I first saw you and Vishal at the incubator in McAllen. Despite the fact that I was not formally introduced to him that evening, I was struck by his presence. If my memory serves me right, it was the following week, when he came into my office and wanted a studio space. He mentioned briefly that he had spent sometime in hospital, but it was far from relevant to our conversation, because he had an overwhelming need to be able to express himself through his art. How could I say no, here was this talented gentleman sitting before me whom had such great presence.

    I remember one of his paintings “I ‘ll sleep when I’m dead”, I never knew how ill he was, but his illness did not define him. He appeared to live life to the fullest, but sought solace through his artwork.

    Vishal, had a huge impact upon me, despite the fact that I did not know him as well as you or others, but I feel blessed to have been in his company. I hope that I can live my live with the same vigour as he.

    Vik, you were and still are very fortunate to have Vishal in your life. Rita

    1. Thank you for your comment Rita! I very much remember going to the incubator with him that day, and the events that followed. The studio was so imperative for him to have his own space to express himself through his art. “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is one that gives me goosebumps. I feel like it resonates so much with how he lived. His life was full of meaning and purpose. I think that his life meant to always appreciate your life and don’t let anything bring you down. Always persevere! As humans we get so caught up in our fears and emotions, and he was here to tell us not to get so caught up in it and LIVE! I very much agree that I was and still am fortunate to have him in my life. Thanks again!

  7. speechless !!!!! althou… i agree one should live life to the fullest … we just say it but Vishal proved it !

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