Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Life after Death

Shofiya is one of the brighter students in our class. She is quick-witted, hard working and capable of making the right choices. Last Wednesday, Shofiya's father gave up his long fight against brain tumour. Being her teachers, we went to meet her as soon as we found out. As soon as Shofiya saw her friends and teachers, she came out of the house. She met Akriti, her class teacher and my colleague, and gave her a hug - and the moment she did - tears ran down her face like water from a broken dam. She held her tight for nearly 5 minutes. After she had calmed down, she came up to me. As much as I would have loved to give her a warm hug, I didn't considering the sentiments of the community.

While she walked up to me, my mind was searching for the right thing to tell her. I thought I will start with "It will all be okay." No, it won't after having lost the only bread winner in the family of 5. I instead told her "This is a difficult time for your family and you. It is okay to feel scared or worried. It is okay to cry. Talk to us whenever you feel like that but, if you choose to show this to your mother, will it make her feel better? I know this difficult time will not pass quickly, but I also know that you are a very strong girl. And you will see this through. You have all your Bhaiyyas and Didis there for you - anytime you need us."

I was holding back tears in my eyes as I spoke to her. I was strong till all the kids left. But then, while in the rickshaw, I couldn't hold myself back anymore - feeling helpless, sorry and overwhelmed with responsibility. What will be of this bright girl if we don't give her the right tools to succeed in life? I know we are not going to change her life instantly, but can we give her life a better direction than the one she would go in if we were absent from her life?

This was my first experience of meeting someone who has lost a loved one on the first day. I was feeling fortunate to have waited 27 years of my life before having this conversation with someone I care for. Unfortunately, I only had to wait 6 days for the next experience!

I am not going into the details of this story. This time it was not my student, but family. This time there was more than one person to console - however, I did not have to say much because a hug and my presence itself meant much more. This time the religious background and community were both different. Unlike Shofiya, this time the finances of the family were not dire.

However, the sentiments of shock and sorrow remained the same. The void was permanent, and the future, uncertain.  And again,  I cried with them.

And as I attended the funeral, while watching the body turn into its elements, I was thinking how beautiful is the circle of life. Like darkness is the absence of light, death is the absence of life. Death is not absolute. Life is. And it means, we don't mourn the dead, we mourn the living! Our presence matters to the living. The deceased move onto another adventure in another world. And they no longer fear death, because it is no longer unknown to them.

It is best we let them move on. I'd like to think they are quoting Charles Dickens as they leave -
"It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done;
it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known."

PS: I was thinking how this poem I wrote in 2009 is apt in the moment!

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