Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Dana’s gaping absence


STILL GRIEVING: Susan Francois, head of the Financial Intelligence Unit and sister slain Dana Seetahal SC at her funeral service at Aramalaya Presbyterian Church on May 8. —Photos: CURTIS CHASE

Mark Fraser

When family members cleared the office of Senior Counsel Dana Seetahal, they discovered presents they had given her over the years proudly displayed.

“A brass flower I gave her years ago for Mother’s Day was there. Things we gave her when we were young children were in different spots around her office,” smiled nephew Davanan Persad. “It was like this spot had stuff from Jeanine, this spot stuff from Melissa. I saw books my mom gave her a long time ago. The books were basic compared to what Aunty Dana was studying in law at the time but she kept them among her really important stuff.”

Her diary contained further revelation. Used to keeping the young ones “in an order,” Seetahal pencilled in the dates and times she had to deliver boofs to them. “On a page of her diary, we saw ‘boof Jeanine’ between 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.” Davanan reckoned the mission was accomplished at the appointed time because the item was ticked. One hundred days after Seetahal was hunted, cornered and felled on Hamilton Holder Street, Woodbrook, post-death rituals continue among the many family members left to navigate the gaping absence. “My mother [Susan Francois] has had to do most of the sorting out of her things. I cannot do that. I feel very violent about it, wanting to break things,” said niece Danielle Francois. “It gets harder to bear as the days go by.

Before, I could remember her more vividly. Now it’s harder; the feeling that she is somewhere is fading. Since I was 17 I used to worry that something would happen to her and I would always panic and call if I didn’t hear from her. So I often prepared myself in the event of it but I wasn’t prepared—not for the living without her part.”

As happens, ordinary things become extraordinary after such a loss. Davanan thinks of her each time he sees purple flowers because she loved purple. One sister, Elaine Teemul, remembers how Seetahal loved Lipton tea.

“I expressly miss her call on Sundays when she would call to ask how I am and what I am doing while as she took a break from whatever (she was doing) to sip a cup of Lipton tea. ‘It’s really refreshing, you know’ she’d say.”

At 7 p.m. each night, Seetahal would watch the TV6 newscast while Danielle would watch CNC3’s. Then they would report to each other. Danielle said she feels the loss from the moment she awakes “because we talked throughout the day”.

hen there are the truly extraordinary things, like what falls from the mouth of 22-month-old Izzy.

“She could hardly speak yet sometimes she would say ‘Aunty Darna! Aunty Darna! Aunty Darna here!’ She would walk us to pictures of Aunty Dana and show them to us,” said Davanan, as he reached for his iPad to play a video of the child. “In the middle of my cousin’s wedding, when they were taking their vows, Dana was feeding her chocolates and playing with her so they bonded in a strange way and she remembered. No one encouraged her to call out Aunty Dana’s name but she calls it out,” added Danielle.

News of the sudden felling of Seetahal met family members in obvious unpreparedness. Davanan’s father delivered the words to him; the young man’s heart had been beating rapidly and inexplicably around midnight; when told, he was immediately sick. His mother, Amelia, was among the sisters closest to Seetahal. Ailing for many years, Amelia was the last to hear the news—two days after the killing. When the family decided it was time, it took two hours to communicate it; Amelia did not speak for six hours thereafter.

“She [Amelia] was already losing her voice before this. After, she went into a deep depression and stopped talking. Dana used to check on her: is her diet correct? Is the caregiver doing all she has to do? Did we take her for a drive? Allyuh have to stay on top of things—those were her exact words. “We told her [Amelia] two days after; we had to deal with it first, rationalise our position and then tell her. In those two days, she would sometimes be watching TV and we would have to rush to switch it off when something (about the killing) came on.

“We had to tell her in pieces. ‘There was an incident,’ we said, then we looked to see how she was reacting, that there was no stroke or cardiac problems.

Then we said ‘Aunty Dana was shot.’ Wait again. Then, ‘She died’. It took us about two hours. At every stage we would watch her response. “To describe the level of pain on her face because she couldn’t verbalise it…she remained like that.” One of the last things Amelia said was: “Dana fought with a conscience for those who couldn’t fight for themselves.” As happens too, other family members slip on some of the roles Seetahal filled in her large family. Davanan and Danielle said Susan Francois and Sita (another sister) have stepped in “to keep things in an order”. Susan, Davanan noticed, puts on a Dana-tone when talking to the younger ones and Sita backs her up.

Another sister, Marilyn Seetahal sent these words: “It’s very hard to bear the loss of someone dear to you. When you have lost a loved one in this way, the sorrow is harder to bear. Thinking of all warm family times we had together, I miss her and long for her presence.”

Individual members deal differently with their continuing grief. Danielle said theirs is not a “touchy feely” lot so they telephone one another, each knowing the purpose of the call is to check on their well-being. “The week before she died, she saved my life,” recounted Davanan. “I was going for an operation that was life-threatening because I was misdiagnosed. She sent me to see another doctor and it turns out the operation was not needed.

“My aunt is not really lost to me. I can’t just sit down and chat with her and get a response but I am aware what her response would be. I think she was a left-brain thinker. She always tried to break down things for us: hey, stop being unnecessarily emotional, look at it clearly. From a lil boy she taught me that. We played chess and in chess you have to think several moves ahead, think rationally and clearly. I tried to compete with her in chess but I always get blows nah.”