When I was growing up, I thought my life would follow a certain path — I’d finish high school, go to a good university, graduate and find a job, get married before 30, have a few kids, grow old and transition into later life until one day I died (ideally having lived a fulfilling and meaningful existence). And for the most part, my life was following that path until I turned 25. Then, suddenly, before such events are “supposed” to happen, my father died and the path my life was supposed to follow got heavily derailed (or altered, depending on one’s perspective).
I didn’t think I would have to deal with the death of a parent till I was at least in my 50s. When it happened in my mid-20s, it hit me out of nowhere. Maybe because I had a very complicated and unhealthy relationship with my father, that compounded the impact on my mental health, but whatever it was, it took me down a dark and depressing rabbit hole that required the better part of my late-20s to pull myself out of. I sometimes feel I’m still not fully out of it, but am getting close to finally leaving behind all the baggage from my life that flung itself open and demanded I deal with it when my father kicked the bucket before his time.
In the last five years, I’ve been consumed with excavating, analyzing and understanding my whole life, from my earliest childhood memories, through to adolescence, young adulthood, and into the present. There is no stone I want to leave unturned; no incident I want to push out of my memory to avoid; no feeling, however painful or sad, that I don’t want to get to the root of. I have dissected my relationship with my father, mother, brother, sister, and scrutinized the most prominent figures in my life to reveal the various impacts they had on my social, mental, psychological and intellectual development.
This is all a very time-consuming process. In the course of the last five years since my dad’s death, I have yet to come across another person my age who has invested so heavily in understanding themselves and shining a light on the dark corners of their psyche. From my understanding, most people avoid doing that to the best of their ability. There are few people who I can connect with on this level, and most of them are much older than myself and seem to be the only people capable of not only understanding this aspect of my development, but also contributing their perspectives and advice because they know a thing or two about what it feels like to be in this phase of life.
This phase of self-revelation or self-discovery or self-understanding; I’m not sure what exactly this phase is, but I know most people in their 20s and 30s try their best to steer clear of having to go through it. But I’ve realized that avoiding this phase of life comes at a very high cost, and more often than not, we all have to eventually come face-to-face with our past and make peace with who we are and why we are who we are. When this phase hits people in their 40s or 50s, we refer to it as a “mid-life crisis”, and that’s an apt description for it. It would absolutely be a crisis if you woke up one day in your 50s, your youth and arguably most of the best years of your life behind you, married to someone who you don’t know well, with kids you may not want to have again if you could do-over your life, and feeling like you don’t even know yourself and your motivations for living life the way you do. That would S-U-C-K.
Recently I’ve gone through another phase of life that I didn’t think would be due till later — taking care of a sick parent. My mother recently went through an angioplasty; two of the main arteries in her heart were 70% and 80% blocked and she narrowly avoided having a stroke. After the doctors successfully inserted two stents in her arteries, they told us that had this not been looked into now, it would have resulted in a massive heart attack.
My mother is 53. Her father died of a sudden, massive heart attack at the age of 54. Her mother had a quadruple bypass heart surgery when she was 60 after having a heart attack. Heart disease runs in her family, and in many ways my mother cheated fate with the power of science and medicine, overcoming what her genes and family history had planned for her. She claims she’s not the same person after her surgery that she was before, and my suspicion is that her phase of self-revelation is now upon her.
My mother’s been single ever since my dad died, and just the mere mentions of being in a relationship or dating have her gagging and declaring she’s not interested in any such thing. But a week after we brought her back from the hospital, she nonchalantly said to me in the car, “I should start dating. Do you think online dating is a good place to start?”
She also wants to make things right with her own mom who lives in Pakistan and is 85 years old. Prior to her surgery, my mom had no intentions of going to Pakistan or making any plans with her mom. But she’s already put her apartment up for rent and her car for sale so she can go to Pakistan next year and spend anywhere from a few months to a few years with her mother and make peace with all the unaddressed and (I assume) painful aspects of their relationship that she had either been avoiding or hadn’t fully understood, till now.
Seeing my mother start to enter this phase of her life in her 50s has oddly made me appreciate all my hardships and struggles in life. My troubled teenage years to my depression-ridden 20s brought me to this phase in life so much earlier than most people. I feel fortunate to have the ability, resources, and most importantly time to allow myself to deal with many of the icky parts of life that we avoid having to deal with till the absolute last moment, and many times that’s already too late.
My mom has pictures of all her kids’ high school graduations in her apartment. While I was staying with and taking care of her during her recovery, I kept looking at those photos of my siblings and I and thought about how different all our lives turned out to be, even though we were all raised in the same house by the same two parents. After high school, we all went through different phases of our lives, ultimately becoming the adults we are today. The unconventional detour my life took in my 20s turned out to be the biggest blessing in disguise for me so far, and no matter how hurtful some of those moments and memories were, I wouldn’t change them for anything today.