Five years ago, I made a decisive journey, which became a turning point not just in my professional life as a doctor, but also in my personal growth when I began looking at life from a totally different perspective altogether. It was the beginning of a phenomenal unraveling of a myriad of life-changing experiences.
I was heading down South to Chennai for a period of 6 months to train myself in the field of Oncology from one of the premier institutions in the country, Adyar Cancer Institute. Although as a child, I grew up in different parts of India and abroad, which had hugely broadened my horizons, the last 32 years of my life were spent in the comfort of my home state of Assam.A new city, a different environment, new people and a novel speciality subject were the challenges ahead of me.
Amidst these surroundings, I came across the magnificent Mrs. Joan Manuel (alias “Mary” as she was fondly called by her husband and her close friends & relatives), an iron lady in her late eighties who embraced me just like a daughter. A mother of eight children, and a grandmother and great grandmother to a host of grandchildren and great grandchildren, Mrs. Joan lived mostly in Chennai, while her children and their families were scattered in different parts of the globe. A devout Catholic, she found her peace and solace in her prayers, and it was through her that I got the opportunity of having a better understanding of the teachings of Christ to a large extent. When she learnt that my own daughter Rhea, has already visited Jerusalem, the Church of Sepulchre, Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee, while she was training during a Fellowship Programme in Israel, she said that my daughter was indeed blessed, as people often dreamt and desired to visit these places at least once in their lifetime, and she herself had eventually visited the Holy Land of Israel at a much later age.
During those few months in Chennai, I would often visit her and spend time with her, listening to little snippets of her life’s amazing stories. She showered all her love and blessings upon me and would look forward to my visits. Sometimes, when I was caught up with my work and academics she would call me and enquire why I hadn’t visited her for a while.
Time and again, her children would take turns to visit her and spend time with her and that’s how I got introduced to the larger family. As Mrs. Joan was close to ninety, and had multiple health issues, I was often consulted for guiding the family for her optimal geriatric management. She was one of the few persons who inspired me to reach out to people for guidance on holistic Geriatric Care and create awareness on Cancer, as both these areas were crucial health needs of the society. With increasing number of older people living alone and managing their lives on their own, it was pertinent to train Caregivers in the field and encourage people to follow healthy aging practices. Her words instilled a sense of confidence in me. She used to say “ It doesn’t matter how big or small your work is. What matters is a desire to do it, and derive a sense of satisfaction even if you can help one person”. Her voice would be firm and powerful, but behind the wrinkles and greying hair, I saw a soft hearted woman whose wisdom was profound. I felt immense power in her blessings.
I particularly remember with fond memories, the Christmas Day of 2016, when my tenure in Chennai was almost coming to an end. On this particular Christmas, Mrs. Joan was by herself. As it was a holiday for me, I decided that I would spend the day with her and if possible, I planned to take her to Church. For some reason, I was very excited about spending this day with her. On the previous day, I bought a small Christmas tree along with the accessories to decorate the tree. This little endeavour, took me back to my own childhood for a while. Christmas Day also happens to be the day when I lost my own mother. Perhaps the thought of devoting this special day to Mrs. Joan Manuel gave me a sense of satisfaction. The day turned out to be indeed special. She was delighted to see me and looked forward to the visit to the Divine Mercy Shrine Church, for the services.
Mrs. Joan was a highly revered lady and everyone in Church came forward to pay their respect to her. After this beautiful morning, as we headed back home, we dropped by at a Chinese restaurant to pack some food for lunch. It was indeed an irony that my own mother had a huge fondness for Chinese cuisine too. I shall never forget this particular special day of my life.
Mrs. Joan always told me that I was like a daughter to her. With a big beaming smile she would quietly gift me little trinkets like a keyring or a purse. She once gifted me with a bookmark in memory of her husband which also has a special scroll of Jesus Christ on it. Now and then she would share with with me stories from her earlier life and how she raised her eight children back in those days.
After my successful training tenure in Chennai, I did make subsequent visits for conferences and work, and I made it a point to visit her. In the process , I met many other members of her large family who always made it a point to be with her for her care and support, although they lived in different parts of the world. As time rolled by, she became frail and needed assistance for her daily activities with supervised nursing care.
Just a few months back , in the month of January 2020, I got the sad news that Mrs. Joan Manuel is no more. Incidentally, I was visiting Chennai the very next day on some other work. But it almost appeared to be a part of a cosmic plan of the Universe, to make me also attend her funeral service. It was a poignant moment at the St. Luke’s Church, and also my first time of attending such a Service. I am grateful to the entire Manuel family for making me feel a part of the process, as they acknowledged me personally in their speeches in Church. I was destined to be a part of this moment, to pray for her Eternal Peace. I remember her words which she often expressed, “ I have finished all my tasks in this world. Now Jesus Christ should take me to Him” and I would tell her with a smile, “ You can’t decide your time. That is in His hands” . Perhaps her time had come and she was liberated from this world after living a full life. On this month, she would have turned 93 years. We share the same sun sign, with just a day in between our birthdays. I dedicate this piece in her memory, and I will always cherish those special moments spent with her, as our paths were destined to cross in this world. Some relationships have no names, and this was one of them. May her soul rest in Everlasting Eternal Peace. Amen.
6 thoughts on “A humble tribute to Mrs. Joan Manuel”
Such a beautiful memory and tribute…thanks for sharing… Really admire the way you lend a personal touch to those in your care… Keep up the excellent work girl! More power to your elbows
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You’ve narrated your associations and interactions with Mrs. Joan like a beautiful story. As if going through a short story. God rest her soul…..
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Such a wonderful narration of amazing association. May her soul rest in peace. My prayers
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What a tribute! Beautifully crafted and filled with poignancy, joy and hope. People like Mary, who we encounter in our lives, give us some degree of faith in humanity. I believe your Ma reached out to you through Mary.
So happy you wrote this piece.
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Thanks Moon, I knew you could relate to this…I remember you sharing with me many incidents with your mother, during that long drive when you drove me in and around Kenosha… February 2019!!
Beautifully crafted!! How wonderful that you could reach out to a lonely lady on Aunty’s death anniversary……your mom is sure proud of you, Viti. More power to you 💪