Sharjah: Susan Thomas, a resident of Sharjah, remembers her father as a stoic, responsible doctor who always did the right thing even if it meant it came with a personal cost.
So the daughter paid it forward in his death.
At the risk of not gaining closure personally, Thomas chose not to attend her own father’s funeral in Kerala even though she had managed to fly down to Kochi from Dubai and had reached Kerala on March 20, a day before her father died.
Due to the coronavirus spread, Thomas was in a self-imposed isolation for 14 days along with her daughter and entrepreneur husband in her in-law’s home. To make matters complicated, there was a positive case of coronavirus passenger on their flight from Sharjah to Kochi, putting them in a high-risk category.
“I saw my father’s funeral on Facebook Live. But it was a choice that I made on my own because I could have been a carrier of coronavirus since I had travelled from Dubai to Kochi the day before he died and there are many old aunts and uncles who would have been at the funeral. I had to be responsible,” said Thomas in an exclusive interview over the phone from Kochi.
“Nobody forced me to arrive at that decision. It was the right thing to do and appa [dad] always did the right thing,” said Thomas.
Thomas, who works as a school administrative staff in Sharjah, describes the current reality of living in the times of coronavirus pandemic as “dystopian”.
“Never in a million years did I think that I would reach a point in my life where I was in the same city as my father, but would have to watch his funeral on a streaming platform. Such bizarre things happened only in films and series set in some dystopian world. But that’s our new reality,” said Thomas.
While she remembers her father fondly, she realises that not being a part of her father’s funeral, prayers and rituals like placing a veil on her father’s face might not give her the necessary emotional closure.
“If I could go back in time, I wish I had seen him just before he died at the hospital. On March 19, he had celebrated his 73rd birthday and he died two days later. The fact that I didn’t see him just before he took his last breath makes me sad. But my whole family stood by my decision and not once did they even hint that I couldn’t be part of the funeral. All arrangements were made keeping my presence in mind, but I just couldn’t put other’s health at risk,” said Thomas. All her close relatives are above 60, an age bracket that is vulnerable to coronavirus.
The only silver lining was that she was able to spend quality time a month before with her father, before his condition deteriorated.
But her second trip this year to Kerala just before his death was more somber and she was treated to a different reality.
“While I am happy that I spent time with him in his fully-conscious state, I am also incredibly sad that I couldn’t be a part of his funeral. The funeral was being held, with less than 30 family members, a few kilometers away from where I was. There are times when I feel sad, but this is a time to practice safety. We live in such strange times. When I dwell upon it closely, it makes me sad but there are times when you have to make difficult choices.”
Thomas claims she knew the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic the moment she touched down at the Kochi airport. Thermal screening, elaborate videos on how to self-quarantine and instructions on how to sit in a taxi, without endangering the driver, was drilled into her ferociously.
“From the moment we got off our flight, at every point at the airport in Kochi we were made to understand the importance of home quarantine and self-isolation. The Kerala government is amazing. We also got a call from the health clinics asking us about how we were feeling and whether we had fever, cough or any such symptoms after our travel. Seeing their dedication, it made us realise that countries are working round the clock to keep us safe. They track us down and that’s commendable. And we have to play our parts, even if it means I never got to be a part of my father’s funeral.”
Thomas — who is yet to meet her widowed mother, her sister and her family and grieve together — is keen for the curfew to end in Kochi so that she can be with her family.
“My father was always responsible. Probably I got that sense of responsibility from him. He always did the right thing, even if it wasn’t particularly favourable to him. So when I did the right thing, I feel he would have approved and it makes me strangely sad yet happy.” said Thomas.