It’s tough enough being a parent, but what happens when you have to play dual roles? We spoke to one very strong, resilient woman: Vanitha Thevaratnam who lost her husband, Sunil in February of this year and how she is coping as a single parent
By The Weekly | June 20, 2017
While a lot of us spent Father’ Day with the leading men of our lives – there are also those with a much different and difficult reality on that special day. Here PR consultant Vanita Thevaratnam shares how she deals with losing her husband and caring for her teenage son.
“It was sometime in 2011 when Sunil experienced his first heart attack – which even the doctors could not detect or diagnose until they hooked him up to an ECG machine. The machines showed that he was, in fact, at that very moment, having an attack,” shares Vanita. “He looked completely fine apart from saying that he felt a little sluggish. But we made it through. Then, 3 weeks into his recovery, we had another scare. This time it was a stroke. Fortunately, we were able to bounce back from that too, in less than two months. Even in 2014 when Sunil needed a stent to be put in because the bypass didn’t look like it was working – the doctors said he’d have at least 15 – 20 years to live.”
From then on, Sunil’s perspective on life changed. “He didn’t believe in working too hard. He worked out and took care of his health, he wanted to be there for our 14-year-old son, Dhanesh. He also loved doing impromptu trips! He realised that his time was being measured, so he wanted to spend as much time as he could with us. He wanted Dhanesh, to learn not just about the places outside of Malaysia, but also within. I was hoping on sending them off for a holiday to Sabah and Sarawak – unfortunately, that wasn’t in the cards.”
“When Sunil collapsed for the heart attack, I was away in Singapore for a conference. I only saw the multitude of messages and call about 1 hour and 40 minutes later, when I reached hotel room. But even at that moment nothing really clicked. My usual habit when I’m away is to call my two boys, so as I was about to hit call on my husband’s number – that’s when my phone rang. It was a Malaysian number, I assumed perhaps it was my bosses. Then I got the news.
A lot of times we read books and movies and they describe some scenes with the line, “you die a million deaths” or “your heart breaks into a million pieces”. It’s true. That moment felt like someone was crushing my heart. I cancelled the call, crashed to the floor and looked at my phone – who was I going to call prior to getting this news, again? I suddenly couldn’t remember.”
“I was extremely worried about not being there with my son when all of this happened. I was only able to get a flight out to Malaysia the next day. But, he’s a smart boy. He knew how to handle the situation when Sunil collapsed. He knew to call his uncles, call the cardiologists – he’s smart enough to do everything we had talked to him about should something like this happen.
However, no matter how much you prepare yourself for the worst, nothing compares to when you’re actually faced with the situation head-on. So, for my son, Dhanesh, to be in the car when his father is being rushed to the hospital, to be there during those last moments – without your other parent around? That’s not easy for anyone, what more a child?”
“My son has tougher days compared to me. He has days where he doesn’t want to go school, he has days where he can’t concentrate on his studies, and there are days when he calls me and cries – and I don’t blame him. Every little thing reminds him of his father. Those are the days that I need to be tough but those are the very same days I wish I had someone to talk to.
I don’t have anyone to come home and nag or bitch to anymore! I don’t have someone to massage my feet when I’m tired or drive me to work in the morning when I’ve been up all night working on a proposal. I wish I had someone to hold or someone to hold my hands. Sunil is the typical man-man person, so you get very little emotions out of him. I used to joke and tell him that I should have married a rock instead!”
Or sometimes when Dhanesh goes over to his friends’ place for a sleepover and I’m home by myself – it gets pretty quiet. It’s a different kind of quiet, you know? It’s not the same quiet like all those times I sent them on their father-son adventures. My biggest fear is.. forgetting. I have moments where I can’t remember or recall something about Sunil and that scares the crap out of me.
“My favourite memories are always the ones involving the three of us going off on some impromptu drive just because Sunil felt like having an English breakfast – only to realise that he’s driving up to Cameron Highlands for some scones. This is without giving us any heads up to pack clothes for an overnight stay!
After that, we always had an extra set of clothes in the car – just in case he felt like having breakfast in another state. It happened again after that, and it was a drive to Malacca for Baba Nyonya food!”
“It’s definitely tough to bring up a son without his father figure around – especially at this age. It’s especially difficult because there was a lot of things he and the father were planning to do. A lot of firsts. First shave. Just things a father and son would bond over. The trips that they had planned together.
My advice for other parents who’re going through the same thing? Make your memories and your children your strength. Don’t be afraid to be the father too, and be that one person. Don’t use work as a place to hide. A memory a day is the superpower you need to keep you going. I don’t want to live in the past, I’d rather take the past and mould it into a good memory. It’s not easy, but we will make it through.”
“What keeps me going? I honestly don’t know. My motivation is the fact that I want to see my son finish school and put a good roof over his head. I think whatever grievances or challenges that life puts us through, it makes us stronger. Knowing that my siblings, my friends and my family are around – these are the little things that keep me going. I guess life keeps me going.”
“I didn’t remind him of it. It wasn’t easy but I had a plan to keep him occupied all day. He’d been wanting to learn to play the bass guitar for the longest time and we had his first lesson scheduled last Sunday!”
Text by Jasnitha Nair