Death has been a casual visitor lately. A layer of fear peels off in these casual encounters. The rituals, situations and things to be done after death become an uncanny part of life for the time being. It feels rather strange to be this familiar with death, which is the ultimate destiny of a physical journey. The minute we are born we begin to die. The reality thus hits hard but after a while, as I wrote, if it becomes a frequent visitor, what it does to the ‘normal of a human life’ is overwhelming and a lesson inevitably in disguise.
My grandfather was a grand man. A man of honour, wisdom, sense, religion and a wholesome example of a human being. He was an unapologetic man, who savoured pride in the work he did and the knowledge he acquired through a life lived in a remote town of Punjab.
In my 24 years of existence, I saw him live, with audacity, joy, and an individual voice, standing up for his family and calling out the good and the bad equally. He loved and appreciated us dearly. A well-respected individual in his community, people around us and my family all regarded him highly. As a kid, I could sense his raw, grandeur personality with an obvious hint of humility. I always thought he could not die – a man of such stature is immortal.
Unfortunately, around 2018, his heart was only working at 25%. Every time he fell sick, he emerged out of it, grandly. However, during his last days, in July 2021, his body couldn’t sustain the life within. After being hospitalised and in pain for days, on a certain morning (in Sikhism, we call it Amritvela, the time we meditate and recite the hymns of God at the break of dawn) he took his last breath while sleeping.
My kid mind from years ago couldn’t believe it. He just died? What about all that wisdom, grandeur and knowledge, that genius mind, all that love residing within, dying a usual, banal death? Yet he did. The last rites happened rather quickly, painfully, and teary-eyed within a few hours. As a person in her mid-twenties, I witnessed the first death in my senses and how my fellow adults and family mourn and perform the rituals. His absence is felt tremendously. The void is there, we miss the hugs and the comfort of his smile we used to call home.
Little did me and my family know that we have to go through the entirety of this cruel reality yet again within a span of one year. As I write this, I grieve unbelievably still, the sudden and untimely demise of my grandmother. She decided to leave her physical self, quietly, and peacefully without a sound or a thud on the ninth evening of dooming August 2022. A few months back she would frequently tell us about her father and she said, “He died suddenly. I’m now the same age as he was, I too shall depart like him at 74.”
The shock which seeped in is still present. Yet, God took her without causing her any physical suffering. Neither did he make us suffer by seeing her suffer in her last days.
Her funeral, unlike my grandfather’s, was much more complex. Emotionally complex for grief overlapped with grief. Throughout the week, while the last rites were being dutifully fulfilled, an unprecedented oneness, love and patience in my family. A funeral bringing people closer, communicating feelings in a way never seen before. I believe this need wasn’t felt, because of our mundane routine of life. We were too busy being practical, we forgot the truth of life and love. What else can bring it forward to our senses than the death of a mother? It is painstakingly hard to see your elders cry and wail for the hollow brought into the rest of their lives.
I never imagined that a funeral could turn out to be a life lesson in relationships. Taking care of each other became a priority, giving space to wail over the body of the one who left, breaking down at a touch of comfort, a glass of water, a voice of assurance and the number of people coming in and praising the presence of the one who left changes you, your dynamic with your family, near far and dear. Untimely deaths are like spell-bounding shocks, conversations left in between and a lingering feeling of sorrow, and gratitude for all the moments spent together happily or not.
After living our entire lives surrounded by the presence and love of grandparents it is painful and empty to reside in a home they built for their generations to come. Full of comfort, love, respect and understanding, warm memories and nostalgia in the form of photographs. We learnt from their journey, to selflessly give, to receive with gratification, speak our unencumbered truth, stand tall by the family no matter what and have faith in God for your elders love you beyond lifetimes.
Your death is not a part of your life, perhaps it is a part of your loved one’s life. When we love, we are inevitably bound to experience the death of that love, or the people who love you experience yours in their wakeful moments. Both scenarios are incredibly unendurable, scary and true. Because as you leave the world, your family and friends, the people who truly love you, pour the love left simmering in their chest in bidding you adieu with utmost respect, honour, and dignity. What is left back here in the blue space of physical existence and what helps you to keep living life anyway is love.
Mankirat Kaur is a writer and poet. She is a Literature Major who has an immense love for language.
All images have been provided by the author.