When I booked my tickets to India in July 2007, I had no idea that it will be my last trip to visit my Dad. I had big plans to travel with him to South India and spend some quality time. My dad grew up in a coastal village in India and by knowing how much he enjoyed our last trip to Kerala, we again planned to take the same trip this time. It was going to be just me and him and I was excited for our Dad and Daughter trip.

When I was booking tickets for our Kerala trip a few months earlier, he suddenly said, “You may want to book a refundable ticket for me, just in case if I have to change my plans for some reason.”

My Dad was a devoted social worker and spent endless hours in serving the community and volunteering. He always considered that as his top priority. Therefore, I could understand his request and booked his ticket as fully refundable. I checked with my brother and he confirmed that my dad was in good health at that time.

Flight from the US to India is always a super long international flight. But I was still excited for my travel only because of the thought of meeting my father after three years. When I reached Mumbai airport, I was anxiously looking for my Dad, who always came to greet me when I visited home. But this time, I was surprised to see my sister-in-law instead of my dad or even my brother. That was a little alarming for me. I just spoke to him 2 days ago and he sounded fine that time. What could go wrong?

“Everything okay?” my tone certainly sounded worried.

“Nothing to worry, he was not feeling well, so just precaution. Tomorrow we will check with the doctor.”

We came home sometime after midnight. My Dad was awake, eagerly waiting for me, his eyes sparkling with joy to see me after a few years. I wanted to talk to him so much, but it was late and also he looked tired.

Next day we went to the hospital to get some tests done. His condition had worsened, but he was still in good spirits. I had nothing else to do, so I decided to stay back with him for a few hours. I never imagined then that he was going to be with us only till the next day morning.

Suddenly he called me near his bed side and asked me to hold his hand. He wanted to chat with me.

He kissed my palm and whispered in his pale voice, “So grateful for this life and whatever it had to offer”

His words struggling a bit, but very clear – “Thankful to everyone who helped me…here……!”

I knew what he meant to say. He lived his life to the fullest. He was grateful for that and thankful to everyone who helped him achieve his goals and reach his destinations. My dad always considered his life as a wonderful blessed world.

I was fond of poetry and immediately responded by reciting this Marathi verse with similar meaning by a famous poet, Mangesh Padgaonkar.

Ya janmaawar, ya jaganyaawar shatada prem karaawe

(One should always love their life hundred times more than normal)

Anant marane jhelun ghyaawi ithalya jaganyaasaathhi

(One should be willing to toss thousands of deaths to make your life worthy.)

Ithalya pinpalapaanaawarati awaghe vishwa taraawe

(One should make their life {flexible enough} to help others, so it can easily float on a peepal tree leaf.)

I could see the big smile on my dad’s face and that made me very happy. I gave him a gentle hug and promised that I will always remember to love my life, no matter what.

I would never forget how many times my dad told me – “Always listen to your heart and follow its directions.” Making any major decisions in life is tough, but his lesson was to trust your heart and we can handle any challenges in life.

Whatever time I had with him, we still talked and talked. I reminded him about some stories from my childhood. Some were so funny that we laughed. Mostly, it was me talking. Even after so many years, when I go back to that moment – I regret not allowing him to talk to me much with the fear of him losing energy.

After some time, my sister came over to the hospital and then my dad asked me to go home, relax, get over my jet lag and be ready for the next day.

None of the tests were conclusive enough. So the next day, cardiologist was to perform angiography on him. I questioned the doctor, but I did not have much say. We all got up early to accompany my dad to another hospital. With all this going on, my dad still asked me if I slept well and got over the jet lag from my long trip. Still humbled to see how much care and love I was receiving! Since my mom’s death in 1996, he was my mom and dad.

We all family members were around him. Just before the nurses were to take him in for the big test, my dad called me again. He used to wear a Rudraksha Mala, (a beaded necklace) that he often used for meditation. He handed me his mala and asked me to keep it safe until he returns. I started teasing him – what if I run away with the mala. But honestly, I felt so much loved to see him trusting me. I kissed him on his forehead and whispered, “I love you.”

Those were the final words spoken between us. My dad never returned from the operation room and I was left in tears with his rudrksha mala in my hands. It was beyond anything to believe what just happened. My mind was in total shock and I thought I would go crazy. How could this be happening? I came all the way only to spend time with him and how could he suddenly leave me?

My sister tried to console me that at least I could meet him. I was not able to make it to my mom’s funeral on time due to long travel.

Did my dad specially invite me to spend his final two days with me? Did he invite me to attend his funeral? Or did he invite me to give some final words of wisdom that I could cherish for my life?

After the funeral, I went to return his refundable air ticket. Yes, I got the full refund. I went to Kerala alone and took his rudraksha mala with me, donated that refund money.

Looking at the ocean waves in Kerala, my heart was singing –

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

Yes, I will forever be thankful for my life and what it has to offer for others….! Also thankful to each and every person who brought me to this step. Than you dad for teaching me values of life!