My mother died of cancer close to 20 years ago. We saw her dying, bit by painful bit, in the last year of her life and we shifted consciously from praying for her recovery to praying for her death when her suffering and pain became too much. Nobody ever tells you that there will be a time when out of sheer love for a person you will pray that they die. Why isn’t this taught at school, why doesn’t a kindly elder tell us such tales of love rather than cishet ones when happily ever after ends at the nuptials?
Despite having had the time to see our mother go, despite having prayed for it, despite having said our goodbyes, it took us years to process her passing. Perhaps we will never fully be done. Even as I write this my eyes well up.
Three years after my mother’s death, one of my best friends died by suicide. A couple of days before she died she called me. I was in the loo at that time and my Bai asked her to call back. Something told me that call was special and I rushed to redial the number on my caller ID. Turns out, she had called me from a PCO and the owner of the PCO said that she was no longer around. Even after the news of her death reached me a few days later, till I finally saw her dead body, I continued to redial that number dozens of times to the point that the shop owner yelled at me in frustration. I still hold a grudge against my Bai for not asking my friend to hold on. On some grief-maddened irrational level, I hate her for it. And it’s been 15 years. My friend still appears in my dreams which are almost always about me trying to hang onto her coattails.
The suddenness of my friend’s suicide was vastly different from the gradual death of my mother. I don’t think I can ever get over the fact that I missed the last opportunity to speak to my friend. That perhaps my speaking to her might have prevented her from dying will haunt me eternally. It’s that guilt that morphs into anger at my Bai.
We find families beating up doctors at hospitals for merely conveying the news of the death of a loved one. Families break up over the death of a child. And now we have our beleaguered country unraveling in anguish over the death of a beloved actor. Though the news media is profitably and ghoulishly manipulating this into something toxic, it’s our reluctance to accept death, sudden death, seemingly preventable death, that underscores the madness. We are baying for the blood of the actor’s estranged girlfriend. She has been called a witch, a practitioner of dark magic, which is fitting, for the media campaign against her is nothing short of a witch-hunt. If it were 17th century Salem, the young woman would have already been burnt at stake.
If grief is an ocean then the death by suicide of a loved one is a tsunami in that ocean, a fracture in earth’s crust that causes a massive tidal wave of destruction to wash over the unsuspecting land. Already ravaged by the pandemic, the loss of an actor who was ‘one of us’ in his down-to-earth beginnings was the last straw perhaps. Or perhaps it was just the diversion needed for the people to channel pent-up anger into. Instead of putting mental health professionals on the airwaves to address the shock and horror of loss, instead of finding safe and healthy means for people to vent their grief, the media ghouls made mockery of a young man’s death and, in the process, have ruined a young woman’s life. The bizarre circus that unfolded has all the elite governmental investigative agencies investigating the girlfriend’s role in the death of her ex-lover. That our feudal nation’s deep-seated misogyny has something to do with it is a whole ‘nother sordid tale.
In the middle of the night when I should be sleeping, it occurs to me that the CBI/ED/NCB should investigate me for the suicide of my friend. Why didn’t I take that call? Why didn’t I read the signs that, in hindsight, were so obvious? Why didn’t I hug her so tight, at every chance I got, that she would have never felt alone or unloved or abandoned? I am as guilty as the deceased actor’s girlfriend.
If law investigates, then religion dictates.
Most old-age religions as practised now reduce death and grief into rituals that last from a few days to a year long process. These are great to keep you busy for a time. On the 13th day of my mother’s death we conducted a ‘shubha sweekaram’ ceremony or ‘the blessed acceptance’. It is supposed to be a happy occasion when after 12 days of after-death rituals, my mother’s soul returned to the origin, to be one with her Maker. But our actual grief began only after that happy occasion; we were so busy running about getting things done those 13 days. While we were assured of my mother reaching her destination, nobody addressed how we would cope without her.
Most religions are uncomfortable with icky emotions, they assume that if you believe in their gods then there is no cause to suffer the pain of loss. Buddhism addresses this to the acceptance of suffering but only to transcend it. For feeling our pain and being one with it, we turn to the poets.
No one offers more solace to the grieving heart than Rainer Maria Rilke. In his short life of 51 years, Rilke wrote 14000 letters. Among Rilke’s correspondence are 23 letters of condolence.
To his friend Sidonie Nádherná von Borutín whose brother Johannes Nádherný von Borutín committed suicide in 1913, he wrote,
“You must, Sidie, you must continue his life inside of yours insofar as it has been unfinished; his life has now passed onto yours… All of our true relationships, all of our enduring experiences touch upon and pass through everything, Sidie, through life and death. We must live in both, be intimately at home in both.”
I can safely say, I have loved, been loved.
Pic courtesy: Internet