Death – the state of being dead … when it comes, it stuns the life out of everyone around. The blow of death hits the dead person silent, reducing him from an animate, warm, bubbling, noisy living somebody to a still, cold, rigid, silent “body”. But it’s not just the dead person that this blow renders silent, it hits a hammer of silence on those around as well – the silence of shock and stupor. As they try to understand what has happened, whatever their outwardly reactions, their minds are bursting with an incessant avalanche of questions for which there seem to be no answers, at least at the moment…
Questions trying to deny the cruel reality staring at them – how can this happen? How can he be gone?
Questions attempting to understand what happened – Where exactly has he gone? What happened to him? He was here just hours ago – laughing with me, playing with them, purring like a cat on getting that crossword clue right, planning tomorrow’s meeting, upset at the travel agent for messing up his ticket…. So animate, so alive… And now, he is so eerily calm, so rigid, so quiet, so still, so inanimate, so d..e..a..d. What exactly does death mean? What exactly has happened? Where has he gone? Out of here and into that photo frame? Trapped there forever?
Questions daringly trying to peep into the inescapable dread of the future – what will happen to all of us? How can we live without him? Will things ever be normal again? Can we ever have a normal day again? What does normal look like from here onward?
Questions allowing them to feel sorry for themselves – Why me? Why us? What had I done wrong? Why was I chosen out of all these people for this disaster?
Questions frantically groping in the dark for a desperate ray of hope – Could this really be happening? Isn’t this just a bad nightmare? Maybe I wake up from this? Is that my morning alarm ringing?
Questions playing scenarios, which, if they had happened, would have led to a different reality – what if such-and-such had happened or not happened? What if he had done this or she had not done that? What if I knew this or had pursued that? Each question leading to a scenario with an outcome different from the current, with the person still alive and about to get up from his resting place. The mind keeps playing and replaying a moment, which if it had turned out differently, would have literally made the difference of life and death!
As this deluge of questions fills the numbing vacuum in the mind, a cold awareness begins to form, of the permanence of what has just happened – that this is not just one of the normal problems in life, for which one can find a solution, which life will find a way around, to return to normalcy. The brain understands the wretched reality that this part of life has gotten cut off forever and the rest is moving on. But the unyielding heart is unwilling to let go, it can’t sever the strings and they tug hard – it remembers small things about the person that seem to be sailing away – the sight of that beatific smile, the touch of that loving pat on the back, the sound of that hearty laughter, none of which are ever to be seen, felt, heard again; that quickness of wit, that shortness of temper, that tenderness of care never to be experienced again. The inescapable irreversibility of what has happened finally makes itself felt in its full enormity and the weight of that realization becomes unbearable. The mind goes into a tizzy, and the cycle of questions starts all over again, a vortex of indescribable grief ….
This was the air of gloom and doom that hung heavy in that living room as the departed person lay still, unbeknownst to the sea of misery and the rivers of tears around him. The room was full of mourners like me. Everyone was in shock; we were all trying to dissipate the waves of that shock by sharing with each other our memories of him. As one listened to the stories, one could feel nothing but respect and good feelings for the departed soul. The gratitude with which people were recounting what he did for them was genuine, the thankfulness they felt for the love and care he bestowed on them were touching and real. Someone talked with tears in his eyes about how he had saved his career with critical advice; another narrated a tale of how he had run to the aid of her and her family when they were in a helpless situation. All of us agreed what a nice person he was – intelligent and successful, yet simple and down-to-earth. We recalled fondly how he was always keen to enjoy life and have fun, how he avidly followed his hobbies and did things that gave him pleasure, how he laughed more than he fretted, how he loved more than he hated.
The positive vibe in that room for him was surprisingly but definitely as palpable if not more than the overhanging presence of death and grief. I felt hopeful that his family, when they could look beyond their sea of sorrow, could derive solace from this positivity about him. Sitting there, I realized that while he had outwardly earned a lot of hard things in life like money and position, what he had left behind was this subtle but powerful strength of goodwill that he had created. He may have done big things, but it was these little things he did with care, consideration and commitment that would always make up his memories in so many people’s minds. That was his real earning, his real legacy.
These thoughts made my respect for him and the heartache of his death both swell in tandem; they also seemed to shine a strange light in my head. Things that mattered seemed to be clear in my head, and priorities seemed to be falling in place. In this newfound light, I found some of the tangles in my head of everyday challenges and issues starting to unravel, showing a clear path forward and simple solutions visible. In the doldrums of death, I was rediscovering simple lessons of life. With a silent prayer and heartfelt thanks to the dear departed soul, I got up from that melancholic mourning with a heavy heart but a brisk step and a strange determination that I felt surging inside me.