I was 16 when I met Jaz, in my 11th-grade social studies class. I didn't have much interest in him or anyone for that matter. I was focused on playing field hockey, soccer, making art and getting good grades to get out of South East Vancouver and see the world. Little did I know that we would become best friends and more after working on a school project together.
Jaz was Black and Indigenous; his father's side was from Memphis, Tennessee, and his mother was from the Halfway River Nation in B.C. I was from a traditional yet progressive Punjabi family. My parents immigrated to Vancouver from Punjab in the early 1970s. We were traditionally from two different worlds, but our similarities, dreams and ambitions aligned, and like magnets, we were inseparable.
Honestly, I didn't think we would fall so deeply in love as we did, nor did I ever think we would get married. I was groomed my entire life to be a good wife for someone my parents would choose for me. But as I grew and discovered who I was, I realized that I would ultimately have to follow my heart and not what was culturally expected of me.
With some pushback and a few struggles with my parents, they quickly realized that Jaz was the one for me. I never did live a conventional life. In university, I studied the fine arts and became a painter, and later became a teacher. My mom once said, "Sandeep is like a bird, she just wants to fly." And fly, I did. Jaz and I had a whirlwind romance and love story. We travelled the world and helped each other grow. He was my better half. And then he got sick.
He told me to leave. That I shouldn't have to be with someone who couldn't provide the way I deserved. However, we had already been together for 13 years, already living together, and I said that I was there for the long run. A year after his diagnosis, we got married. It was a beautiful wedding, with all of our family and friends. But a few short years later, his health declined even more so.
Even though we struggled with his health, we welcomed a beautiful boy in 2015. Jaz was a stay-at-home dad, and I was his caregiver and worked every day, masking a lot of the pain that comes with caring for an ill spouse. The deep sadness was also sheer exhaustion from the reality that my husband was slowly dying. And then I lost him. On July 23, 2020, on our son's 5th birthday. My world was shattered.
It's been three years, and the pain of his loss is as fresh as the day he transitioned. I mourn the loss of a great husband, a great father, and my one true love. With a lot of inner work, I try to keep pushing forward for my son. And on the nights that I cry myself to sleep or when I'm driving in the car and can't stop sobbing, I think of our love. And also, the love of my parents and siblings who never once treated my husband differently. He was loved and honoured, and respected by them all. Sometimes I laugh when I think of how my mom would always cook for him and ask him if I ever made him roti like a good wife.
In my darkest times, where the label widow looms over me, and I feel so small, I look at my son and realize that I'm strong and worthy and a great mother. My son looks just like his dad, and I share stories and pictures and tell him how much his father loved him. Because the love that my husband and I had transcends this physical world. Our love is cosmic, and no colour, caste, economic status, or religion would ever have kept us apart.
I know it's daunting that I have to live this life without him, but I have faith that we will reunite again on the other side; I'm hoping deep down that it will happen. And when I see him, run into his arms and bury my face in his warm, strong chest I'll tell him that I did my best, and I hope that he's proud of me. I try every day to be brave and strong, and I hope God grants me my wish to feel his love again. In the meantime, I'm my son's biggest fan. Teaching, guiding, and giving him the life his dad always wanted to provide for his only child.
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