December 10, 2018, as I now recall, is a blur. I remember the winter wind and the lousy traffic as we drove to the crematorium. My best friend had died earlier that day and we were on our way to set his body free.
Funerals for an untimely death, like his, happen in a blink. You are first filled with shock, then with numbness, and by the time grief arrives for its turn, the day is already done. This leaves very little fodder for your memory.
The only detail that I can recall with some confidence is the thick smoke and the haze that encircled the crematorium compound. I was lost in some stray thought when the smoke began to choke me. I quickly stepped away from the pyre to catch my breath. While I was struggling for air, I forgot that my best friend was burning away. Two puffs from the inhaler brought me back to the present.
As I was keeping my inhaler away, it dawned on me that asthma was one of the many things that I shared with him. In just two moments, my mind went from forgetting him to reminding me of his permanent irreversible absence. Such bouts of oblivion and remembrance was a premonition to the grief I’d experience in the next three years.
I first met Harsh when we were still little kids. He was everything a mom wanted their child to be. He had straight As in all his exams, won medals like candies and steered clear of trouble. He was quiet, obedient and had an academic gaze that could instantly make you feel sorry for yourself.
Though I can remember Harsh in my earliest memories of myself, our friendship truly blossomed in our late teenage years. He gave me a home to all my weird thoughts and I, in turn, gave him the space to grow out of his good boy character. We bonded over our shared obsession with science, cinema and the oddities of human existence.
The night after his funeral was surprisingly short. I woke up as quickly as I fell asleep. I reached for my phone even before I could open my eyes. I wanted to check the time but I got distracted by a notification. It was a college friend’s message. A silly meme. I let out a muffled laugh but stopped midway as I realised that I was awake in a world where my best friend had just died.
This realisation filled me with deep guilt. Here, I was laughing over some joke while my best friend unexpectedly died yesterday. This was my first date with grief. It was not going easy, but there was no ghosting this one. Grief is the price we pay for love and it was the time I paid my dues.
Death is quickly followed by stupid consolations. “God needs good people”, “He will always be with us”. Really? Where is he? When can I tell him about a silly joke and when I can expect his equally silly comeback?
I don’t understand how these well-meaning gestures meant to console five-year-olds can bring me, an adult, any comfort? This is also emblematic of how we treat grief as a society. Instead of understanding it we just wait for it to pass while we fiddle with mindless distractions.
The days following his death were similarly filled with alternating periods of grief and guilt of lack of grief. Few months after his passing, things got better only to become worse again at the slightest provocation from a familiar memory.
Harsh was obsessed with chai. His fixation was an easy target for my jokes. After his death, every fleeting mention of chai reminded me of him and what I had lost.
The permanence of death obliterates any hope of resolution or reconciliation. I think this is why no amount of bad breakups or irreparable fights ever really prepares you for death. It is swift and it is final.
This is Harsh, I took this picture on my terrace where we spent most of our time together. This picture was taken at 1 pm after we had gorged four stale samosas and found the cure to the middle east crisis.
Three years after his death, the grief still lingers but in different designs. From a bitter trigger, Chai has now become my gateway to remembering him. Each act of remembrance is an exercise in mourning and letting go.
But mourning is not easy when friendships are muddled with painful memories and unresolved fights. In deep relationships, love often cohabits with anger and hate. Letting go therefore also means letting go of the unsavoury parts of your time together. Which I have learnt is more clingy than the happy parts.
Harsh’s death is more painful because it was unexpected. In our friendship, I was the flaky one. My existence feels like a borrowed favour in exchange for his death. I keep asking myself if more phone calls or messages would have made a difference? But such questions can never have a convincing answer.
After his death, I find myself incapable of friendships. If grief is indeed the price we pay for love, then I don’t know if I have much capacity for such love.
With time, as grief evolves and so do we. As is the testament of all our lives, we do indeed learn to live with grief and guilt.
It’s been three years now. Some nights I feel like I should let him go now, but on other nights, I feel that letting go is overrated. I want to keep him, in whatever broken mechanism of memory, remembrance and guilt that death operates in, I want to keep him. Tucked safely with all the deaths that I’ll face before finally melting into the ashes of oblivion.
Featured image credit: Pixabay