“Do not cry over my death bed, instead celebrate my life” – This was something my parents always used to explain to me from my teenage days. Maybe because my parents had a very late marriage, they wanted me to grow up with that philosophy, so that later, when they are no more, I am able to actually face and live life bravely and be proud of who I am. A philosophy I strongly grew to believe in and stand by, over the period of time in my life, experiencing death up-close and near.
My first memory and experience with death was when I was four or five years old. My father’s eldest brother, my paternal uncle, passed away. My uncle was very fond of me and I have very faint memories associated with him due to my age. The day he passed away, I accompanied my parents to the hospital – that’s all that I remember. I was asked by my relatives to cry, as I was explained that the pain of losing someone should be expressed through tears – it helps the departed soul release from the human attachments and it helps a person facing the death of a near one to overcome the loss. Not understanding a word of all that philosophy back then, I never remembered whether I actually cried or not.
Time moved on and with time, death came to near and dear ones. However, death did not leave the message it should have back then, and I realized the bare nude reality of it much later when I saw my father suffering in dead bed for almost over a year.
That was the first time in my life, about 11 years back, that death came up to me and slapped me hard on the face. Kind of actually told me, yes, this is it, take it.
When I was handed over the bowl of ashes after my father’s funeral, I almost blacked out for a few seconds. But that’s what happens to a child, like me, who was nurtured with protection and devotion all through, suddenly is placed with a bowl of ashes after lighting the funeral pyre of the man she doted on all through her life and told in many unsaid words – Yes, this is what life is all about in actuality. The hunger & pain, joy & despair, bindings & bonding, ecstasy, hopes & fear, aspirations, education, career, bank balance, property, belongings – one cannot take any of it with them when they depart from this life. One just has to leave behind everything and go. Death is just that – it is just about going, giving back to life whatever one had acquired during their stay in this one journey.
When dad was in dead bed, I had discussed with my family physician to opt for euthanasia for my father, but the doctor told me it is banned in our country. I wanted my father to go in peace, but at the same time, I wanted to see him – that was being extremely selfish though. I wanted him to go because of the pain he was in, but I failed to realize that death was something no human being can have a hold over. And during those last moments of his life, I still wanted to see him because I was in fear of never seeing his physical presence ever again, never being able to hold him or talk to him. There was pain, agony, fear, tears – which I felt each day and something which mostly dad experienced during his last days, but the moment of his death however, went in absolute silence and peace. It was drizzling, and I was out to the local nursing home to arrange for oxygen for my dad, reaching home a few seconds after he departed.
The loss of my father transformed me from a carefree careless girl to a matured woman, though I was already married then. But more than marriage, it was death that helped me evolve. His death gave me the strength to face life just as his presence always did, also giving me the capability of taking the new responsibility of looking after my mother, who started to live life alone, with the support of her maid.
In 2014, my mother passed away, after a fatal fall that caused her death. On one scorching summer morning, my mother fell down from the stairs, losing her balance and fainted. I had spoken to her ten minutes before that. I got a call from Rabia, my mother’s nurse, telling me that mom fell and was unconscious. I rushed, but mom had passed away due to an internal haemorrhage within a few moments after the fall. The proceedings followed according to Hindu rituals and again, I was handed over a bowl of ashes in my hand. Again, looking into the bowl, I saw how the physical presence of her being – the life she lived got transformed into ashes within a few minutes. It takes person years to live a lifetime and when death knocks the door; it takes just a minute for the breath to stop.
My Mom’s death, I always believed would remain a mystery for me. After her death it took me over an year to actually accept the fact that she died because of an accident. Questions like what happened, how she fell etc clogged my mental state for long. She went without a notice, perhaps not even aware of it herself, with a thud and some blood under her head. As I gradually started to accept her absence, with time, I started believing that one just needs an alibi to leave the physical presence and transcend into the oblivion.
Many more deaths to follow – of relatives & people I knew; the fear of losing a physical presence, somehow stopped existing in me. In fact, I was, since then, ready to face death head-on, glare into it’s eyes, and tell it that I believe in letting go of the physical presence and I have overcome the fear it causes to people around. Tears are natural – they will fall, facing the fact that one will never again see or feel the physical presence of another person causes pain, but memories associated to life will remain forever.
No words, no sound, no actions could ever take away the vacuum caused in my soul, holding the bowl of ashes in my hands, ever. Be it parents, relatives or friends – death each time came with its bare ultimate reality – to release the soul trapped inside one’s body into the unknown.
Apart from the many other deaths that I faced – up-close and near – it was the death of my parents which were two extreme opposite realities that I faced – one was expecting death to arrive every moment at my doorstep, amidst all the attempts taken to make dad live on for some more time. The other, with mom, came tiptoed, without any intimation, taken her away in minutes.
Death, I realized was that – it comes in it’s own course of time, not waiting, not informing, not telling you the moment of it’s arrival. Death has super-human powers and it proves it’s domination through the passage of time. However, one has to overcome it’s dominance with the passage of time. Death is just a door to pass through from this life to the eternal. I have limited knowledge of rebirth and thus choose to believe, and was taught to believe that this life that we have IS IT – that is all we have for now, for one time. Death is not painful; it is only a mirror to reflect the actual meaning of life. From the moment of our birth to the last moment of this life and only this alone, all that we do, is travel, experience, feel, explore, learn and much more. Death only takes away the physical presence of a human being, and because from birth we are habituated to the physical touch, we feel the pain, the loss and the pangs. Look deep into the grave, or the pyre – all that one finds is the ashes of near and dear ones, or even people one never knew for life. That is the stark naked reality. The memories never leave you; nothing does, except the physical presence.
Death is not fearful, in fact, it is fearless; it is not to stop breathing, but learning to let go of the breaths we withhold in the journey of life. It is to stop believing in the fear associated with death. The physical presence has to go, that’s the law of nature. But to really learn to celebrate life till the last day of our life is a hard job to be done. Embrace death, the void, the darkness and the fear will leave. Let death evolve, look into the eyes of death and it will tell you, it is not taking away anything, it is giving you instead. Salute the courage to live, to bare, to overpower anything that comes in the way of your life. Death is only followed by life, the desire and urge to live each moment in your own little way.
In fact, the lines with which I started writing this, “Do not cry over my death bed, instead celebrate my life” is something I started believing in after experiencing death up-close & real, because that made accepting death honestly and remaining strong and trusting life, believing in it and living it – appreciating each moment.