Over the past few days, I've been thinking a lot about death. No, you’re not getting rid of me that easily. Plus you will need a crane to lift me out of this world in my current rotund form. I’ve just been having these strange thoughts about death, loss and about coping with it. Death. It’s a peculiar thing, isn’t it?
On one hand it is perhaps as natural as the birds, bees and the various other things. On the other, a mere mention of the name of this proverbial dark-cloaked figure is enough to send a shudder down the spine of the bravest of souls.
You may be wondering why I’ve touched on such a macabre topic today. If I’m honest, I’m not too sure either. This, right here, is me rambling. Something that I often do, but rarely makes it to the ‘published’ page. But there’s another reason behind for this particular ‘set of rambles’.
My paternal grandfather passed away a few days ago. He was 92, and as age does to most of us, quite frail and largely confined to the bed. Sometimes by choice; other times because of medical conditions. Yes, I’d be lying if I said we weren’t all upset. But the reality is, perhaps, we weren’t all as upset as we would have been, had he passed away, say a few years ago. Of course, we will miss him being around, sitting us down and talking about the going ons in our lives and his aristocratic presence. But I suppose, once old age has ‘grabbed you by the *’ so to speak, it’s usually a matter of months, or sometimes a few years. And should it come to a time when your quality of life is decided by medications and equipments that randomly beep and scaring the bejesus out of whatever is left of your life, I believe death seems like much more ‘rosy’ solution.
The one thing that I’ve noticed about the news of death, is that our practical side often tries to push us to find a reason to accept the death. Perhaps it is some sort of natural defence for us to cope with the loss as soon as we possibly can. Or maybe it's just me. I don't really know.
I have a lot of trouble when it comes to expressing my emotions. Except anger, that is. That I can emote very well. Coming back to the point thought, my lack of ‘emoting’ is not to say that I’m strong or never cry. It just means that my concept of being emotional is very un-over-the-top. Just ask my wife. Her biggest complaint after having known me for over 14 years is that I am not expressive enough. And this sort of extends to ‘bad news’ too. My reaction to such news is never an impromptu one. I manage to keep an unusually expressionless face (though my eyes tend to betray my thoughts ever so often). But then, I ponder over the events later, and that’s when the emotions start to work, often in the privacy of my room.
Perhaps, it's because I'm an only child. Perhaps it's because I've been away from home even since I turned 16. Perhaps it's because I'm just a weirdo. I have no clue why, but that's usually how things unfold on my head. You may be wondering why this sudden peek into the head that writes up the stuff on this blog. Truth be told, I don't know.
It was my grandpa's funeral yesterday. As is the norm in our culture, his body was brought home from the mortuary for everyone to pay their last respects. During the couple of hours that his body was there, almost everyone from our immediate family shed some tears. The only three people who didn’t were, my grandma, who was surprisingly detached, me with my weirdness and my three-year old son, Ri, who to be honest had no idea what was going on and just kept asking why my grandfather was sleeping so much.
It’s a statement that I’ve heard my mother (and some others) use rather liberally ever so often. This is usually followed by, “How can you not react to something? The only emotion you seem to know is anger.” Of course, nobody asked me all this at the funeral, this time around. But I could see it in their eyes as they watched me. Just because I had no tears flowing down my cheeks, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t upset.
Over the course of the funeral, I found myself thinking about every little interaction that I’ve had with my grandfather. The times we’ve sat down together on the porch of our ancestral home in Perumbavoor (in Kerala) and talked about things ranging from engineering to jobs to gardening to even book. The times we’ve talked animatedly about the one thing that was perhaps extremely dear to him - his trusty Ambassador car; something that he would hardly let anyone else touch. The times he actually let me drive it, even without a license and added on to the little lessons my father had taught me about driving. And many more such incidents. I did the same when my father’s brother died, a few years back. And when my maternal grandfather passed away, a decade and a half ago.
So, I suppose, my immediate response is to think about all the memories that I have of that person. The good, the bad, the ugly, the delightful. And then as my mind filters through all of these, at some point it hits me. That the person is no more. That now he or she lives on through these images that my mind conjures up. And then slowly the emotions start to pour out.
Funerals are a very surreal affair. A person suddenly becomes a ‘body’. And you have the people conducting the rites saying, "move the body there, wrap the body in this shroud, do this to that body, do that to the body. Push the body into the furnace!” Yes, it is the mortal remains of a person whose soul has left the ‘building’, but still, I find it particularly crass to refer to the person as just a ‘body’. Alright, I’m starting to ramble again.
Perhaps the strangest thing about death is how it affects people who are left behind. Death of a loved one always leaves a heartache that nothing can heal, but over time, it slowly gets buried under an avalanche of other memories and images. Yet, it’s always there. Available whenever we choose to retrieve it. To remind us that it is a great leveler - statuses, religion, origins - everything is made irrelevant. And that no one can really escape from it and nothing is eternal. And that everything has its ultimate demise - whether good, bad or evil.
As philosophical as it sounds, death of a loved one sort makes us reassess our priorities. In the larger scheme of things, time spent in despising or hating each other or fighting over petty differences is just irrelevant. I’m not saying that we need to love every thing and every one. But perhaps, we could stop mulling over things that have happened in the past, push it into one of the corners our of mind and then try to be amicable with others. And most of all, just be tolerant of our differences - however big or little, they might be.
And when the time comes for me to quietly hop away into the night, with the inevitable shrouded figure of death, I hope to have left some legacy, however small it might be, and a few happy memories for people who’ve interacted with me.
For, as the saying goes, the true mark of respect for a person’s life is how many people turn up for his/her funeral.
Won't you, for mine? :)