Forgive me if I can’t hold together until I finish… The family has asked me to speak, I consider it an honour and a privilege to be given the opportunity to deliver this tribute to Dr. Thuraisamy Sooriabalan – an opportunity I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Few people that you meet, make an unforgettable impression, an indelible mark and a huge difference in your life and when departing leave you with an aching heart and a vacuum that can never be filled. That is how you must feel – I am not referring only to his dear and inconsolable family Vimo, Dhanu Aiesha, Soraya, Dushi, Gowrie and Kanchana, who had to endure the pain of being with him in his last weeks, days and hours and seeing him leave this earthly abode – but also how his peers, his gutted patients, Sai Devotees, friends and relatives must feel of their loss, as we gather here to pay our last respects to Dr Sooriabalan, affectionately known to his patients as Dr. Soori or just Baba to many of us – Baba meaning baby – an endearing pet name that his parents and sisters and those of us including my family called him way back, when we used to be in and out of each others’ home, the two families had a special love and respect for each other that’s so rare in these times. Those were the days when Baba was attending Medical College in Colombo, and I remember it was a case of exams, exams and more exams for Baba; but when he wasn’t studying, we had fun playing badminton in our compound, where the neighbours too joined in. There was no denying that his parents doted on him, their only son; he was the apple of their eye, Gowrie and Kanchana I am sure would agree.
Soori was a distinguished old boy of Jaffna Central College and had his early schooling at Uduvil Girls’ College.
Soori passed away peacefully, in keeping with his wishes at his home on the 8th of November at 7 pm surrounded by his family, the atmosphere tranquil and serene, with sacred Bhajan songs played in the background, at an auspicious time when the 24 hour Ahanda Naama Bhajan had just begun at the Sathya Sai Baba Center not so far away. Soori knew his time had come and wanted no further treatment, wanted to be taken to his beautiful home, bravely accepting the inevitability of death, talking to his family, explaining where is what, apologising for what he was putting them through – saying sorry to Vimo innumerable times for leaving her, his soul mate of 39 years and asking Thanu and Dushi to take care of their mother. It was divine intervention that his son Dushi, a Chartered Financial Analyst, who had just returned from a stint of volunteering in Cambodia after resigning his position, before he took on another job and was available to be a full time Carer for his father – the timing being perfect. Dushi was able to be the 24/7 carer for his father, attending to all his needs. Visibly moved by Dushi’s love and dedication, Soori wanted everyone to know how his son cared for him.
Some of us were witness to seeing Soori as the proud father of the groom when his son Dhanu, a Specialist in Internal Medicine married Aiesha and presented him with a granddaughter Soraya whom he only months before his passing, took for a walk in the park for the last time when he was visiting them in August in the US. He not only worked in Dhanu and Aiesha’s garden, he made a bread pudding for their wedding anniversary – one that his mother used to make for him. He simply delighted in playing the piano with Soraya, the adorable picture of the two of them – grandfather and grand-daughter – playing music together is one that touches the heart – one that’s indeed priceless!
Growing up Soori was already very religious, never failing to go to the temple on Fridays, his favourite village temple was Munniappar Koil; he had great faith in St. Anthony and became an ardent devotee of Shirdi Baba and Sathya Sai Baba from his school days. In fact there is a picture of the family that adorns their lounge with a small picture of Shirdhi Sai Baba placed beside, inside the picture frame that seemed like it was put there on purpose in the knowledge his family would always be protected by Baba. It was as if he had left his family in Baba’s hands – such was Soori’s abiding faith.
Soori has maintained to this day a tradition started by his grandfather and continued by his father to sponsor the 4th day ‘Thiru Vizha’ at the Nallur Kandasamy Koil. He did Pirathattai – a penance that involved rolling on the ground along the inner and outer perimeters of the temple – this is no easy task considering the ground was hot in that tropical weather that was the norm in the North, from where he came, in the island of Ceylon.
Soori was comfortable singing Christmas Carols, being a member of the All Schools Choir, as much singing Hindu Bhajans – music was his life – he did not learn music in the conventional way, he played instruments by ear, we would often see him playing the accordion, it was his companion in his younger days. He even formed a band called the Living Fossils with his friends and were called to play at weddings and parties. This is not to forget gardening was a hobby he enjoyed and excelled in, the magnificent Red Maple and the beautiful Hydrangeas at the entrance to the house bear testimony to his prowess in gardening.
However grief-stricken we may be, this is the time to celebrate Soori’s extra-ordinary life dedicated to serving God and Guru, his patients and humanity and taking comfort in the knowledge he is at peace, without a doubt in a special place reserved for him in God’s realm.
Soori had a MRCPsych (UK) and FRCP Canada and served at the Scarborough General Hospital as Consultant Psychiatrist for 13 years, before moving to the Rouge Valley Centenary Health System as Consultant Psychiatrist.
Dr Soori has been recognised for his work and had received many accolades including the ‘Most Outstanding Person Award’ given by the Tamils’ Chamber Of Commerce. In giving the award the Chamber cited his achievements – a write-up that i drafted – a summary of which i wish to share with you today :
And I quote:
“Dr Thuraisamy Sooriabalan the recipient of the most prestigious of CTCC awards is a distinguished member of the Tamil community and an eminent Psychiatrist. He is a leading expert in his field and much sought after and is both revered and loved by his patients. He is totally dedicated to his profession and despite his busy work schedule he has contributed immensely to ‘community health education’ and ‘resource development’ in mental health. He has initiated and conducted several workshops and forums around Toronto, to educate people in areas of mental health. He has involved himself at all levels to eradicate some of the myths and the stigma associated with mental illness. In addition he has shared his specific expertise and knowledge of the Tamil Community with other health care professionals through ‘meet your community partners’ sessions, paving the way for research projects undertaken by CAMH to study the mental health needs of the Tamil community including mental health conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression and Suicidal Tendencies. The results of this comprehensive study are also being used in identifying settlement and service needs that would help in the development of such services.
His many publications, articles and series of radio broadcasts on mental health including his Booklet on ‘Depression’ continues to be used as a reference.
Dr. Sooriabalan believes in the holistic approach to medicine and mental health; he believes that spirituality has a role in the treatment of psychiatric illness. His spiritual beliefs have no borders as evidenced by the fact that though a devout Hindu he was a Christian too, is often seen in Christian churches playing the piano, harmonica or singing in the choir. Dr. Sooriabalan is well respected in the community. He has a passion for healing those who need it the most. He has gone beyond his call of duty to contribute his might for the benefit of humanity. Despite his enormous stature, illustrious record and exemplary achievements, he has endeared himself with all the people who come into contact with him by his simple, quiet and unassuming disposition. The community salutes this remarkable and most outstanding human being. ”
To Soori his patients came first – apart from his family. According to Vimo he would wake up at 1 or 3 am to attend to his paper work, so that for example the disability benefits of his patients are not delayed. He would even skip the lunch hour at work so that his patients won’t be kept waiting in order to save some of the hospital parking fees they had to pay. He had even made sure he was up to date with patients’ files before his passing. He had no unfinished business left, except i know for a fact that a patient of his when told of his demise was so devastated that she cried out : “I won’t go to another doctor.”
Another parent of a patient told me that the last time she visited his clinic on her own, the discussion centred round death and re-incarnation and that he had expressed a wish that if he was born again he would like to be in the medical profession again, serving humanity!
Soori worked on intuition and sometimes on some down to earth methods, depending on who he was treating. Once he told a parent: “get her married and she will recover.”
In March Soori and Vimo went on a marathon pilgrimage, they visited 26 temples in 26 days – however gruelling it was he did not tire and received beautiful Dharshans in all the temples. He was bent on completing this spiritual sadhana before he was scheduled to go for tests – when it was found his liver was failing. That’s when Soori declined further treatment and wanted to be taken home.
Once when i visited Soori at his clinic – as an activist for the Eelam cause – i too had some issues, he let me take a little book that had some spiritual insights in it – this was one of a collection of mementos given to him by his patients which he kept in a glass cabinet to be seen by all.
And i would like to end this tribute by quoting from this Booklet titled “Spiritual Musings”:
“We have come from God; we have to mould ourselves in His real image; and ultimately merge in Him – an ideal higher than this I know not.”
That virtually sums up Dr Soori’s life’s purpose.
*A tribute to renowned Canadian Tamil Psychiatrist Dr. T Sooriabalan delivered at his funeral by Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah