|The Courage To Press On
2021 by Eva Bell
was December 30, 1968 and
the smell of fruit cake baking in the oven wafted through the
apartment. For the umpteenth time, my children and I peeped over the
balcony at the sound of every car cruising by. We were expecting my
husband, Jacob, who had been on duty over Christmas somewhere in
South India. We had planned to make up for his Christmas absence by
celebrating with a gala New Year’s party.
so, when a couple clad
in black tapped on my door that evening, tragedy was furthest from my
mind. Their long, morose faces made me wonder whether one of them was
ill and had come for treatment. At that time, my consulting rooms
were adjacent to my apartment. I showed them to their seats and was
about to ask how I could be of help, when the woman, totally
inexperienced in breaking bad news, began to spout poetry:
“Pale Death with
impatient step knocks on the poor man’s cottage and palaces of
man looked uncomfortably
down at his hands.
“She must be
from depression,” I thought.
the woman jumped up
and held me in a vice-like grip.
“Don’t hold back,”
she said. “Cry out as loud as you wish. Tears are cathartic.
Let them flow.”
“What are you talking
about?” I asked, convinced that she was as nutty as my fruit
cake. It still hadn’t dawned on me that she was the bearer of
“Your husband is dead. His
aircraft crashed this afternoon at a place called Ambasamudram. He
died on the spot.”
Now it was my turn to stare.
“You must be joking.
Jacob is on his way home. He’ll drive up any moment now.”
shock,” she insisted. “It’s good if you can cry.”
that, these apparitions
in black got up and marched out of the door. They had done their
duty. Though I’ve never set eyes on them again, I have often
thought about the unfeeling, impersonal way the news of my husband’s
death was relayed to me.
I recalled something
Jacob had mentioned a few months earlier, in connection with another
pilot’s death. He spoke of the “ravens in black”
who had descended on the bereaved family to heartlessly inform them
of their loss. The man was obviously the Personnel Manager of the
company Jacob worked for, and had come in the line of duty.
sat there too stunned to
move, my eight-year-old daughter and three-year-old son wondering why
I had suddenly turned to stone. Before long, my eldest sister and her
husband, who was also a pilot, came rushing in with more details of
the accident. My sister had her own prescription for bereavement:
“No crying,” she
warned. “There’s no need to make a public display of your
I recalled what she had told me before my
By then she had already been a pilot’s wife for many years.
“You’ve got to have
nerves of steel. Every time he leaves home, you’ll wonder if
he’ll ever come back.”
And so, I allowed not a sniffle to escape
the lights were turned out at night and I could bury my face in my
pillow and weep my heart out for the part of me that had died; for
one so young and full of life; for a loving, caring individual with
whom I had shared so many good times, in our short married life of
nine and a half years.
a doctor, death is a
familiar figure to me. It doesn’t frighten me, but merely
leaves a deep sadness that no matter what the status of a person, a
life on earth has ended. When it comes unexpectedly to one of your
own, however, it takes a while to sink in.
didn’t help that I
had to wait for two long days for the body to be brought home to
Bombay. The postmortem and various other formalities had to be
completed. The coffin had to be brought by road to Madras, and then
flown to Bombay. Those were incredibly long hours, filled with shock
“No, it can’t be
happening to me. There must be some mistake.”
thoughts kept going
through my mind, even as relatives and friends thronged the house to
console me. The finality of his death was only brought home when I
saw him laid out in his coffin. His face was peaceful, and I
knew for certain that he had gone home to be with his Lord.
funeral took place at 9
p.m. on January 1, 1969. He was just 33 years old. It was a beautiful
service that brought comfort to my heart. Jacob had crossed over from
death to life because Jesus Christ had destroyed death and brought
life and immortality to all who believe in Him. I can truly say that
at no time did I feel any bitterness or anger. If God had taken my
husband at such an early age, I knew that He had a definite plan for
my life. I had to find out what it was. I was just thirty-two and the
road ahead would be long and torturous.
When we had married in September, 1958, my
was in the Indian Air Force. Transfers were fairly routine. Being a
gynecologist, I always managed to get a job with accommodation, even
when he was posted to non-family stations. But my career was not
really my priority.
In 1965, my husband’s contract with the Air
Force was over and he opted for a lucrative job with a private
company. He was a helicopter pilot and the company did crop-
spraying. He was out of station for at least two weeks each month,
mostly in remote parts of the country.
As our son was very young, I didn’t want to
leave him with a nanny for long stretches of time, so I decided to
open a clinic adjacent to my flat. Private practice was really not my
cup of tea. My squeamishness about charging fees proved a
disadvantage, and though I had many patients, the clinic was heavily
subsidized by my husband.
what was uppermost in my
mind now that Jacob was gone was finding a job. I needed a steady
income to support my little family. Having a profession was an
advantage. I could have found a remunerative opening right there in
Bombay. But my mother, who was visiting, realized I was being pulled
in different directions by my elder siblings, my in-laws and friends.
They were all so sure they knew what was best for me. I was very
vulnerable. My husband had pampered me to such an extent that I
didn’t even know how to write a cheque, where to pay the bills,
or where to buy groceries. Now each of these loved ones was ready to
overwhelm me with their concern.
be best to
relocate,” Mother counseled. “You must discover your own
strengths, make your own decisions and stand firmly on your own two
feet. Allowing yourself to be cosseted will make you less inclined to
do things for yourself. Don’t let anyone pity or patronize
How thankful I was for that advice!
Besides, the air
field from which my husband used to fly was so close to the apartment
that helicopters flying overhead throughout the day brought back many
memories and increased the gnawing ache in my heart. I had to get
away. I could not afford to sink into depression or languish in
self-pity. Jacob would never have approved of that.
A large Mission hospital in the South
gynecologist. Much to the chagrin of my sisters, and despite their
grim predictions, I moved out from Bombay overnight with my family.
Mission hospital work is always very busy and my specialty is a
round-the-clock job. I was accommodated in a large bungalow with a
high-tiled roof and cavernous rooms, and too many windows. At night
it felt eerie. Bats flapped around in the attic, and wild cats raced
along the rafters. My children and I huddled together in one room
until we got bolder. My city-bred children took time to settle into
this rural milieu. My mother offered to stay with us and tended to
the house, the maids and the children, leaving me free to throw
myself into my work.
saved me from
self-pity. I had no time to brood. But it also made me distance
myself from my children. I knew they were being well-cared for by my
mother. She made up for my indifference, allowing me to work through
my own private grief. When I had time, I began writing a novel about
a wartime romance, and a girl who passed off someone’s baby as
her own in the hope of saving her marriage.
with my writing, it was
a time of loneliness. Not even my children could enter into this
private pain of bereavement. The marital bond uniting two people into
one flesh was gone. Beside me at night was the vacant space that
greeted me each time I slipped into bed. There was no one to cling
to, no one to confide in. I felt like an amputee; the pain in the
phantom limb often made me cry out in desperation. I had a great deal
of fear, too. How would I cope alone with two young children? It’s
all very well to say, “The Lord sustains the fatherless and the
my work and my writing
proved therapeutic. I needed neither medication nor counseling. I had
a deep assurance that I was never going to be alone. There was a
purpose for my life and in His own good time, God would reveal it to
me. Before that, however, I had to be “tried in the furnace of
a year after I took
this job, Mother lay on her bed one morning and never woke up. I felt
desolate. Now my children and I were all alone. We had lost two
people in the course of one year. I couldn’t continue with this
job as it was too demanding, and I wouldn’t have any time for
my children. I moved to Mangalore 60 miles away, where I had spent my
childhood, and took a job that didn’t involve night duties. But
I was nervous about living alone in a city. People were under the
impression that I had inherited a lot of money from my husband.
Suddenly, I discovered I had many relatives. There were loan-
seekers, confidence-tricksters, mischief-makers and lechers. My
stress levels soared as I tried to keep them all at bay. My children
were becoming very insecure.
was one cousin who
helped me with my legal problems. He also helped me in many small
ways and tried to instill in me courage to cope. But within a few
months, he died of a massive heart attack. One by one, my props were
crumbling. There was no one to rely on. I felt emotionally and
Now there was only one Person who could
comfort and safety. He wanted my total commitment in exchange for His
protection and love.
received this assurance:
“Do not be afraid—you
will not suffer shame;
Do not fear
not be humiliated;
…You will remember no more the
reproach of your widowhood,
Maker is your husband.”
Isaiah 54: 1-5
was when I finally felt
ready to face the world. The memory of Jacob would always be an
integral part of my life, but now there was work for me to do. At
last, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
being made in the world of Medicine and I did not want to be left
behind. In September 1972 I went to the U.K. for postgraduate work in
gynecology and obstetrics. My children were admitted to a boarding
school in Mangalore, where the nuns took good care of them. Once
again, this was a challenge.
was going back to
academics after an interval of 14 years. But those were wonderful
years. Hard work and intense study got me my degree. Besides, in
England, I never felt alienated because of my single status; whereas
in India, social life was severely restricted. As widows were
synonymous with bad luck, I was excluded from all auspicious
occasions. A widow’s movements were perpetually under scrutiny,
and wagging tongues could tear her reputation to shreds for imagined
traveled widely and worked in different parts of the world. But my
calling was back home. I served the same Mission hospital to which I
had fled soon after my bereavement. I worked there for 17 long years.
I was Director and Obstetrician/Gynecologist. It became one of the
best known institutions in that part of the country, catering to the
needs of thousands of poor and underprivileged people. I was also
able to obtain a degree in Theology, and indulge in my first
love—writing. This was the purpose that God had in mind for me.
I am retired from
hospital work, but spend my time as a freelance writer. Women’s
issues are my special interest. I also spend time counseling women
and girls on various issues. Widowhood has made me sensitive to the
pain of others.
the newly bereaved, I
would like to say: There’s
time to weep and a time to recover. The sooner one learns to let go,
the quicker the period of healing. One must have courage to press on.
“Out of the presses of pain comes the soul’s best wine
and the eyes that have shed no rain, can shed but little shine.”
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