How a death left a mark in me

Biological Death for me was insignificant.

Yes, I had consumed my quota of spiritual perspectives of it from Buddha and few Hindu mystics who had made a name for themselves by preaching an ideal life lived with a constant realization of the inevitability of death, but the impact these things had on me was limited to a stare into the void following the consumption — that’s all.

I hadn’t experienced the death of any close family members closely. but I had gone through those moments of horror that are typical on hearing the news of some friend or relative passing away. In those situations however, I would receive the news, be shocked and feel gloomy for a minute or two and then move on. In this way, no perspective bending or life-altering death encounter had occured in my life until my grandmother passed away — in my arms — literally.

I do not want to go into details about the conditions in which she passed away or however the events transpired, apart from saying that she was 75 and it was a sudden death from a stroke attack one afternoon. Further details surely wouldn’t be fit to the scope of this writing, but, I surely do want to briefly share my involvement in the process and whatever happened to me after the event.

Firstly, like any other day I had seen her healthy and normal on the morning of her demise. Everything else was like any other day – No bad health signs, no mystical intuitions. No dreams involving the goddess Kali either, warning anyone of us of what was going to happen that afternoon. Just for context , I would like to let you know that our family keeps an idol of Kali in our worship-room (temple) as the head of the gods. Meaning, there are posters and idols of many gods, but Kali is the commander of them for us. She was and is our guardian deity and it would be apt to mention that Kali is the goddess of death.

Suddenly, I was called upon when grandmother had difficulty breathing. When I reached her room, she was sweating and panting heavily. Grandfather was by her side trying to console her that everything was alright but their expressions clearly showed it wasn’t. He was in a state of terror. Himself being of around 80, he didn’t know what to do. Not that his physical condition would allow him to do anything even if he wanted. Seeing me, grandfather seemed to have some of his hope returned. Mygrandmother told me as soon as she saw me to call an ambulance. Her voice was so feeble that it hardly came out. It was soft and desperate. A last urge of help and hope perhaps! It didn’t take me a second to realize that she was in tremendous agony! I didn’t know what to think or how to react. It was the first time in life I was encountering something like this. I remember being frozen in time , my mouth went dry and I started sweating as if her condition had suddenly transferred into me. I felt dizzy and ran downstairs to call an ambulance.

Long story short, the ambulance took some time to come, her condition got worse and as I proceeded towards the ambulance carrying her in my back, she had stopped both talking and moving. I still remember grandfather’s voice cracking as he hopelessly spoke — Her hands and feet are getting cold!

When the ambulance came, the driver took no time placing her inside as we raced towards the hospital located about a couple of kilometres from our home. As we drove in as high a speed as circumstantially possible with the siren on, I was holding onto the oxygen mask placed in her mouth. I carefully tried to sense whether she was breathing or not but was too scared to want an answer to that. If she was still breathing, it could be merely my hope filled optimism and if she wasn’t, well, I couldn’t even think of that.

We reached the hospital and about 15 minutes of various medical checks later, the doctors bluntly told me that she was no more.

Family members and relatives had gathered in the hospital and it was upon me to explain to everyone what had just happened. I had to keep a poker face and do the explaining in the most comprehensive manner. After I had explained to enough relatives such that the details could now be explained to further arriving relatives by someone else, I went to the restroom and cried. Cried as hard as I could! I glanced at a mirror and saw myself, my entire face was now drenched in tears. I just couldn’t stop myself, I didn’t want to either! No thoughts, no feelings, just tears! The tears and the crying would stop after a while though, but only to begin again. This went on in a loop for about 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes to me still feels like 10 years !

The strongest emotional turmoil continued as I spent days following the incident sharing this agony with my family. The rigorous Hindu traditions had begun, which, I felt, was making things worse for the family. My father and his brother had to put on white clothes, stay in a room without any furniture, had to cook and eat in the most primitive of utensils and mannerism as modernly possible as the Pundit came every single day and did some kind of Puja (worship and rituals) and took a lot of resources back to his home and I mean a lot! A lot of people would come visit, which I thought was the only good thing going around. 

That’s when it began for me: A strange set of questions started to appear inside my head after a couple of days as if placed there by some kind of external injection — 

  1. What then is life if it can end out of nowhere?
  2. What is the guarantee that I won’t die any moment?
  3. Why should I live if I have to die one day? What’s the point of life?

Difficult questions to answer, no doubt!

But the amazing thing was, they hadn’t appeared as a byproduct or a hangover from a lately finished philosophical/spiritual book, the type which I read too often. But this time it was different, this time it was real. It wasn’t an abstract notion. It wasn’t a privileged pastime which disappeared once practical stuff came about. This time it hit me at the deepest zones, those questions meant too much to me . They had a purpose, they had meaning and more importantly for the first time in my life, musing on death became significant to life itself. These musings now were the most important thing to do for any human being, let alone me.

The frequency of these questions increased almost exponentially every single day. I ate with those questions, I walked with those questions, I slept and woke with those questions. Of course, there were no answers! In fact, in hindsight, I hadn’t even wanted any answers. I didn’t even want to talk about them to anyone. I was just living in the questions —rather  I had become the questions. 

For a lot of days these questions were all there was in my life, everything else just seemed to be  mundane formality. I still remember a moment when I had gone out for a refreshment walk alone when I just stood still by the road watching a forthcoming taxi as I wondered, what’s the guarantee that this  taxi won’t hit me and end my life right there and then. Of course,

The taxi didn’t hit me and I didn’t die there, but I did change and change forever.

The questions and I went together for a few more days when suddenly one night the questions ceased. I remember vividly till this day, the moment that happened. It was late at night and I had turned off the lights of my room and was lying in bed. I had opened the YouTube app on my phone. I wasn’t really watching any video that would lead to my answers or reading anything metaphysical with the intention to decode the meanings of life and death but somehow I found myself watching a video about Buddha. The story went something like this: It was a story about a woman who had lost her husband and had gone to Buddha for help. She laments and weeps in front of him for the injustice that has happened to her due to the demise of her husband and demands that  Buddha bring back her husband by miracle or whatever he is capable of. The Buddha then smartly hands her a jug and tells her to bring water from those houses in the village where no one had ever died. Agreeingly she goes around the village only to be told by each household that she couldn’t get water from them because someone had died in their home at some point in time. And so she returns with an empty jug. Buddha then gives her a dose of wisdom — 

Death is inevitable. Everyone has to die and has to go through the death of their loved ones. The only thing we can do is admit this truth, get up, be strong and move on.

The end of this video is the exact moment my questions vanished. The questions had disappeared in the same manner they had appeared all those days back: abruptly. All of a sudden, all GONE! That night I slept quietly. 

I didn’t treat the appearance and disappearance of those questions analytically or philosophically. I didn’t really have to. I still haven’t and I know why. It’s not because I am lazy or incapable of analyzing my thoughts .

The fact is that those questions had transfigured into a real sensation, a mark, deep inside my emotional self that then had transferred into my thoughts and flowed to each and every part of my cognitive and physical self. Like blood, it flowed to each and every corner of me and became permanent. I still carry it as I write this. It has had an impact on not only almost every decision I have made after that moment in my life but on every moment I have breathed. It shapes me, moulds me. I will admit that I have made better decisions and have walked on a better route of life. Every time I do take such actions, that mark silently smiles from within followed by the reminiscences of the events of grandmother’s death. What significance does the Buddha anecdote hold on all this, I don’t know, I can’t tell, neither do I desire to know.

As to the literal answers to those questions, this line works just fine for me — Death might be just around the corner!

 

About the Author

Adesh Acharya

Thinker and Writer.

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