Thursday, 28 July 2016

Dealing With Death

I lost my dad when I was fifteen. He died in a freak accident that involved no other vehicle but his own motorbike, which, according to scant witnesses, skid on a slippery road and that was that. A most unremarkable way to go.

There was nobody to blame. There was no seeking of justice, no way to shift the blame and find some solace in anger, however misdirected.

I never saw my dad dead. He died in a state far, far away and because of circumstances entirely out of our control, his kids never got to attend his funeral. What's worse, we found out about his demise a week after his death, because our mother insisted on being physically present when the news was broken to us. Everybody else knew - my school, all my classmates, the coaching class I was attending, our neighbours, his office colleagues, the friends of the family and other far flung family members all over the country knew. But his children, they did not find out until a week later.

I have never said this to anybody but I seethed quietly about this. Part of my brain knew that if I were a mother, I'd want to be near my children when news this catastrophic was broken to them. But another part of me was incensed that the entire world knew except for the two most important people in his life after our mother. I never gave any vent to this feeling, I never blamed anybody openly, and I recognised that more than one adult had been involved in the making of this decision - grandparents, aunts, uncles etc.

It's taken me forever to imagine dad dead. Even now, once in a while, I imagine what it would be like, if he came back, he'd be appalled at Honey Singh, that I spent 60K on a laptop, that I wear short skirts and red lip colour, that I own a smartphone worth 30k. That smartphones exist. That video conferencing, which was a remote concept we had discussed once in 1996, is now the norm.

I swing between anger that he died, that he could let go so easily, that he did not fight with every ounce of will in his body to remain, to stay, for us, for me. And of course, hopeless acceptance that he never truly will know that his daughter hates driving and still uses public transport. That she feels terrible about that time when she fought with him over maths and when he tried to make up later by asking if I will drive him around in my car when I grow up, I said no. And I wonder if that's why I never bother driving on my own.

Soon after dad, I lost my grandfather, and then recently, I lost three of my favourite uncles in very quick succession.

It has been a difficult few years as far as coping with death is concerned.

One thing that stood out among almost all the deaths that have happened is this: I never saw a dead body. Not that I did not want to, or was afraid to. I was perfectly open to the idea of attending a funeral, saying my goodbyes, but somehow, every single time, I landed myself in circumstances that entirely prevented this from happening. Most of these happened because my family did not think it important that I should get to say my goodbye or felt I was too fragile to handle it.

In May, when I lost my uncle to a heart attack and a drawn out period of surgeries and being in the ICU, I promised myself I would not let him go without saying my goodbye. I cancelled everything, I packed up and I went up to the hospital in a different city. I saw, for the first time, the cold, dead, lifeless body of somebody I dearly loved. I saw how much they were the person I loved and yet, not anymore the person I loved. I caught myself saying "get up, get up, I don't want you to go" under my breath several times. I allowed myself, through this whole process, to feel tired, to feel hungry, to hold hands of those he left behind and tell them that they are not alone, never alone.

I saw them carry the body away. I attended a funeral. I said my goodbyes.

And somewhere inside of me, something shifted. I could hold this grief lightly. It felt a lot easier to accept death when you have had the chance to say goodbye. You still wake up shocked that this person is gone, they are not a call away, you will never hear their voice again, you will never look into their eyes, you will share no new history, no new memory. But you can cope, you can get up, you can put food in your mouth and you can allow yourself to go on living.

We underestimate goodbyes very greatly. We take them for granted, we let them slide, we slip away and escape but no, goodbyes are closure. They may be frayed and patchy and tear-streaked but they are still closure of one sort. And there is no pain med as powerful as closure. Death is the largest closure we know as human beings, without effort, without choosing.

I wish I had had the chance to say my goodbyes to my grandmother, grandfather, my father, my two uncles. I wish I had seen them one last time.

Grab your chance to say goodbye. They say it helps that you will always remember your loved ones laughing, alive, life in their eyes. Yes. But you will be able to do that without remorse and anger if you have also seen what they left behind, what you one day will, too.

I cannot blame my family for what they did to me. But if you have found death of loved ones crippling, the sort of burden that breaks your spirit and body down, try facing it. It helped me. It may help you too.