You don’t know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have

In 2011, the year I became a young widow, I had to find courage and strength, not just for myself but also to reassure my two children that there would still be stability in my family. My life turned upside down when we lost Sandeep, who had been an SAP employee since 2007. My robust husband’s condition was initially misdiagnosed and within a month, I lost him due to jaundice. Our daughter was eight years old at the time and our son was four and a half. Although I was a qualified professional, I was not working at that time. I was freelancing by choice and on my terms. “I had never stayed alone in the night before he was gone, because I was a kind of ‘darpok’ (coward) in the night. But here I am now, and there’s nothing really that strikes fear into my heart any longer. I’m strong for my children, even though it’s still hard. I’m not a ‘darpok’ any more. It’s impossible to be brave all the time. So, yes, I had moments of weakness and times when I felt helpless, but I dealt with them and came out stronger each time. I had my share of comments from neighbors and relatives, but I knew how to handle them in the most appropriate way. There were times when I handled the situation with patience, while on other occasions I reacted with an iron hand. I was very clear that I would never let society think that I was a vulnerable woman.

When I first met Sandeep, I was 24, with a roaring career. Marriage was definitely not on my mind. I was a senior web designer with an excellent US-based IT consulting company. I knew I had very good prospects of going abroad to live and work, so that was my primary focus at the time. I have always been a very obedient daughter and I never defied my parents when I was growing up. They started thinking about an arranged marriage since I did not actually have anyone in my life. My mother wanted a son-in-law who would really complement my personality, a yin and yang balance. I was a very hyper person, really enthusiastic and energetic and talking nineteen to the dozen, whereas he was totally the opposite, very calm. In the space of just seven months, I was his wife.

We had an amazing and somewhat perfect life with our shares of ups and downs. We were blessed with two lovely kids, our own house, and a big car. He joined SAP in September 2007 as a project manager, when our daughter was almost four and a half and our son was a year old. He worked with many teams in his capacity as project manager and in fact, the entire office in Gurgaon knew him and there were hardly any people there who had never worked with him. It was so unexpected and so sudden when he got ill in 2011. He went to the office in the morning and I was supposed to go to Delhi to meet my mum because it was the kids’ summer vacation. Suddenly, at 10 o’clock he came back home, which was completely out of character for him. He said, ‘I’m not feeling well. I’m feeling feverish so I’m going to work from home today.’ The fever continued for two days but he was not the sort of person who would visit a doctor at the drop of a hat. So he took some medication but by the fifth day he started feeling very weak so I just took him to the hospital and I didn’t listen to his protests. At first, they said it was just a viral fever. They tested him for malaria and typhoid, but at first, they didn’t test him for jaundice. When they eventually did the test for jaundice, his bilirubin count was so high that they immediately moved him to the ICU and said they could not do anything for him. Then my brother took charge and said, we’re shifting him to a bigger hospital, which we did three hours later. His kidneys were in bad shape and he was on dialysis.

On the night of 19 July, his systems started collapsing. Two days later, I was at home with the children when my father-in-law called to tell me that Sandeep had gone. This tall, handsome man just slipped away and I couldn’t do anything. When my kids saw their grandfather and all their other relatives so distressed, my daughter whispered in my ears, ‘Ma, let them cry, but you don’t cry or else we’ll be very scared.’ I remember that vividly. My son, who was not yet five years old but was so accustomed to traveling and taking flights with us as a family, asked me if he would be able to fly again. That really broke my heart. I decided then and there that no matter what, I would give them the same lifestyle as their father had given them. I hugged them both tightly and I sent them to my friend’s place because they were so little and there was so much grief to deal with. I had relatives who were distraught and two small kids who were grief-stricken and terrified.

I braced myself and became a tigress, divided between protecting her cubs and knowing that I had so many practical things to deal with now. I charted the things that needed to be sorted out. First and foremost, I paid off my house and the car loan from the money that I got from SAP. Next, I had to collect all the investments that Sandeep had made at various places. All through this, I didn’t ever let my kids see me crying. I used to cry while driving, and while I was in the washroom, but never in front of them. One thing was very clear, I was not going to be a weak mom. Once he passed away, it was almost like I had a loss of direction. But then I collected myself very quickly because I could not be at the mercy of others. I had to regain my own equilibrium for the sake of our children. I started a part-time job just fifteen days after his death. I was not going to sit at home, and I knew I would not earn much in that role, but I just wanted to start earning, so I rolled up my sleeves and carried on. Later, I got a job at SAP after a series of interviews.

Let me be very clear – the job certainly wasn’t handed to me on a plate, and I respect that. When I started here, I was going into a full-time corporate job after almost nine years. So it was very tough for me and I was shaking in my boots, but I regained my confidence once I had the role at SAP. This really was a pivotal moment for me, not just because of the new job and having to prove myself in the workplace. There were other challenges – taking care of the children and making sure the house was running smoothly, while I was also running around externally trying to get all Sandeep’s non-SAP dues. It was a long, long battle. It’s only now, when I look back on that period in my life, that I realize how much I went through. But I was very focused and because of the hard work that I put in, I began climbing the ladder. Strangely, I started by sitting at the very same seat that Sandeep had. Even though we don’t have a fixed-seat culture here in the Gurgaon office, nobody has ever sat here except me. I try my best to project a message of strength and practicality to other women, based on my own experience and the resilience that I had to discover.

I’m part of the D&I team, and about three years ago, I attended a seminar on why financial independence is important for women. The woman who was presenting that day covered many aspects and then when the audience was given a chance to speak, I took my chance. I told them, ‘The first thing is, even if you’re both earning, you and your husband should both know exactly what your joint financial situation is. Trust me when I tell you that is really important.’ The presenter said, ‘This is the most valuable lesson for everyone here today.

My parents, my in-laws, my brother, and of course my precious kids have been pillars of strength for me. I have my own set of good friends among my neighbors and my colleagues, each of whom I know I can trust and ask for advice when in doubt. Some of my colleagues have become my lifelong confidantes. My daughter and son are growing up and have now become my support system. Many times, when I am not sure if I’m making the right decision in some matters, or when I’m facing a dilemma, I still have my conversation with Sandeep. Once I do that, he ensures that he sends me the answer in one way or another.

I am a hard-working, committed professional who knows exactly what I want in life and how I’m going to get there. I believe that the present moment is where the future is created. If you work hard and remain true to your priorities and goals, your future self will be incredibly thankful.

 Thank you Aditi Anand for sharing your challenging as well as an inspiring journey with us.

Her story for first published on the SAP intranet