Dubai: UAE-based Indian expat Bency Zacharia, who lost her 17-year-old son Tushar Thomas Zacharia in 2010, made it her goal in life to help others cope with the loss of a loved one.
Following Tushar’s death, Bency decided to undertake a certified course in counselling. She also obtained a diploma in grief and bereavement from the Institute of Counselling in Scotland. She has penned two books, one with her husband Zac, titled ‘Live Like Tom’ and the other, ‘Love beyond life, Peace beyond words’, which she authored.
12 years ago, when the family was based in the Egyptian capital Cairo, Tushar died on the way to hospital after suffering an aneurysm, a swelling in the blood vessel.
On June 23, 2010, the day had started as usual, recalled Bency, now 57.
“Tushar had slept in. He was on his guitar almost all day. He was learning a new song and I heard him playing it. After dinner that night, he said he was heading to the gym room to get on the treadmill,” she said.
Bency added that she had told Tushar that as he had just had his dinner, it was best to wait a bit before getting on the treadmill. At around 10.30pm he collapsed while working out on the treadmill.
“My husband was travelling on work to the UK. It was only my daughter Tresa and I at home. We called a friend who drove us to the hospital. Tushar was on my lap. We gave him CPR, I gave him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.”
There was massive traffic on the way to hospital. “By the time we reached the hospital, it was too late,” she said.
“That day changed our lives forever. Until that day I did not know my goal in this life. Today I do. I want to be there for others grieving and help them move on.”
“Before my life was simple. My life was dedicated to raising our children well and being there for them. I am a mathematics teacher by profession with more than 25 years of experience teaching students of all age groups. When the children studied in school, I taught at the same institution just so I could be close to them,” Bency said.
Her husband Zac Thomas worked as HR director of a multinational company for more than two decades and is now running his own HR consulting firm in Dubai.
“Our children – son Tushar Thomas Zacharia and daughter Tresa Susan Zacharia, who is now working as a legal associate for a Canadian firm – are the apple of our eyes.”
Owing to her husband's job profile, the family lived in many places including Kuwait, Lebanon, Turkey, Egypt before moving to UAE.
Tushar was academically brilliant, Bency said. “He always excelled in school. He was the valedictorian at his high school graduation in Egypt and gave a very moving valedictory speech at the ceremony.”
He went on to secure a seat at the prestigious The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. “He was very intelligent and always set the benchmark in academics,” she added.
Through the years Bency eventually found her peace. “I have accepted that my son now exists in a different dimension. I am so grateful he chose me to be his mother in this lifetime. We had a great time together as a family. We lived in many countries, took many holidays. Tushar’s life was short but a very great one. We are still connected to each other.”
She added: “I’m at peace with my situation and dealing with it. I don’t believe Tushar has left me. He is with me every step of the way. He is just living in another dimension from ours. That is all. Yes I miss his voice, I miss his touch. I know I can never hug him. But I talk to him every day. I tell him how much I love him every day and he does too.”
Dealing with grief
Bency said that there is no right or wrong way to deal with the loss of a loved one.
“Each one will have to find his or her own unique way to find peace. It’s a long way to healing. The pain will never leave you, but as you move forward you will learn to live with it.”
She added: “It’s like a stone in your pocket. You will feel it’s weight initially but as you continue to carry it you will get used to the weight and learn to carry the weight.”
Bency said grief is something everyone struggles with. Some are very private and don’t like talking about it. “With such people, you just hold their hand and show that you are there for them. That is all there is to be done. Just let them know they are not alone. Our physical presence - a hug, holding hands - can go a long way.”
She added: “Never compare one’s grief to yours or anyone else’s. Everyone is on their journey and deal with their grief in their own way.”
How to support grievers
Lifestyle coach and wellness consultant Anuradha Kamath explains what should - and should not - be done when trying to help people who have lost a loved one.
1. Listen more, talk less.
Listen to the grieving person. Most times a griever wants to share their pain and is not looking for solutions.
Observe if the griever feels better when they reminisce about the good times with the person they lost. If yes, engage in reminding them more.
3. Just be around
Be around a griever in a way that they are not overwhelmed. Be like a parent who watches a child play from a distance.
4. Talk about things they loved
Show a griever ways to keep their loved one alive. Talk about them about things the person liked through their lifetime and act on them. For example, if the deceased liked animals, create an animal fund or support animal shelters, etc.
5. Encourage them to move ahead without guilt
Many grievers are under pressure of society and do not attempt to move out or heal fast fearing judgment. Help them to move on without feeling guilty.
1. Don’t tell someone ‘it will be ok’
A griever does not want to hear that. Healing takes time and if they move on a subtle void may remain. Remember the loved one who passes away cannot be replaced.
2. Don’t set timelines
Do not try to make people get over their grief by setting timelines. For example, saying things like it has been a month you have not come out of your room is inappropriate. Grief passes through the route of pain, fear, anger, ‘why me’, self-blame, victimisation, and then finally ends at acceptance.
3. Don’t insist on constantly being around a griever
At times allowing people to take their space off from everything and everyone allows them to nurse their wounds and heal faster.
4. Don’t talk about the incident or circumstances of the death
Don’t talk about the incident unless the griever initiates it. The mind of the griever may absorb the details and move into visualising the details over and over again.
5. Don’t try to make people cry
Not everyone heals through a breakdown so don’t ask them to cry it out.