Friday, January 12, 2007

Death

The first time I encountered 'death' was when I was around 10 years old. An old ammachi, one of my favourite grand aunts died of oldage and her funeral was the first one I have ever attended. My parents as a rule never took us for funerals, but this aunt died when we were in Kerala for summer vacations and hence there was no escaping the funeral. This was the first time I saw a dead body too. I knew vaguely that dead people stop breathing...in fact that was my concept of death. I remember watching my grand aunt as she lay in the coffin and feeling a little suffocated because she wasn’t breathing. I wondered how she was managing without breathing. In school we used to have “holding the breath” competitions and I know the discomfort of holding one's breath. But this aunt was lying rather comfortably even though she wasn’t breathing. I just couldn’t believe that she was not breathing. I watched her stomach closely, very sure that she must be taking a sneak breath like we did during the ‘holding the breath’ competitions. But she lay serene. After the burial as the family slowly wound its way back home I felt bad for my aunt because she would have to sleep in the cemetery now, all alone. I wondered if she would get scared in the night.

That night I badgered my mom with questions and my mom struggled to answer me as she wasn’t sure how she would explain death to me. All I got from her rather reluctantly was that the dead body would decompose and become one with the mud and soil. I was satisfied with the answer besides those were days when you thought that only old people died. Then I grew up a little and realised that young people and even kids died. That was when I got a scare. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be put in a coffin and left in the cemetery. I didn't want to lie in a coffin all alone for eternity. I tried to reason that there would be other dead people in the cemetery to keep me company but somehow that wasn’t too reassuring.

I guess my Dad sensed my alarm due to my frequent questions about death and then one day sat me down and told me that when a person dies his soul leaves the body and goes to heaven. He told me that I live in my body and that I will come out of it when I die and go to heaven. And that I wouldn’t be buried when I die but the body that I cast off like the snake skins that I had seen in the parambu around the house in Kerala would be buried. This took an enormous load off my shoulders and a big nagging worry somewhere in the backend of mind was lifted.

Topics like death should be explained clearly to kids or kids come to their own conclusions and worry unnecessarily. The reason for this rant is my cousin brother’s daughter who was heard questioning him the same way I questioned my Mom years ago. My cousin brother struggled to answer and gave some vague reply about going to heaven etc. With his permission I told his little daughter the same thing my Dad told me years ago. She looked visibly relieved. My cousin brother also looked visibly relieved. Obviously his parents hadn’t explained the topic to him too. In the discussions that followed later in the house we concluded that topics like death should not be brushed under the carpet or shielded from kids. It is because of this that death becomes a morbid word for most of us. I think death like birth should be treated as a natural stage for every human. I have made my peace with death and the inevitability of death and don’t worry about it or think about it. But there are many who dread the word. Sad, life is for the living and not worrying about its end.

This beautiful quote illustrates my view of death.

Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace."

– Oscar Wilde

15 comments:

emmanuel said...

there's nothing new regarding death or life.....the definitions get different.....

when some uncurable diseaes come and the eventuality is only death and that realisation comes to the heart and mind of a person, some starts praying for a miracle, some turns philosophical and some people face it in so cool a manner that we can't even believe that he or she is going to die...

when my dad's brother was dead when he was only 40, we children were asked to give him the last kiss.....he was the healthiest in the family, but fate had it's own way......when i kissed on his forehead, i felt cold and dark...i realised that he has just transformed from "someone" to "something".....it's the ground reality...... :(((

one more thing, death does not come at the end of life....but when it comes, life ends.... :)) that is my conclusion....

i've not thought about it seriously...i agree that kids should be given an accurate account on it......and yeah, it is a good post.....:))

alex said...

Silverine,

You have raised a very important issue.

I believe that all things should be discussed about. No restraints. After all, all the questions pertain to life. Why hush them up? If we dont know the answers- we could always say 'i dont know'.

I agree cent percent with your views.

Ajith said...

a post in a very serious tone.. that was something which I frankly didnt expect from u.. Though I should say, 'Well written ' :)

Jeseem said...

we shouldn't expose children to death till they have grown up enough to understand it.

people have such a fear of end, that they have created an everlasting life for themselves ,'if i am not alive in body, then i will be alive in soul forever'.
what if human, was just a brilliant machine. Someday the machine will break. and then when a machine breaks , it doesn't have any thoughts, and so does it matter where the machine parts lie, once it is broken...
hmmm i wonder...

mathew said...

Exactly..the inevitability of death , something we love to forget..But it makes a huge difference if it is instilled in the child's psyche as a normal stage in the process of living and unliving..Unfortunately we ourselves are trained to brush aside difficult topics and expect the child to learn many a important things just by word of mouth..
loved the quote..so true..

Nariyal Chutney said...

In Arundathi Roy's God of Small Things there is an interesting section on the funeral of Sophie Mol and the reaction of Estha and Rahel to it when they saw the moth for the first time. The same moth is used in so many times with in the Novel to convey difficult and hard times. Was reminded of that when I read your post on Death. It is strange that the first death has so much effect on us . Still I can remember the first death in my family very clearly and all the memories connected with it . What you said is right , It has to be clearly explained to the children.

~£i~ said...

The Quote from Oscar Wilde looks beautiful because he was living when he wrote it. Death seems to be so monotonous at least to me.

P S: May be you should ask a dead person his / her opinion about death.

Vimal said...

Reminded me of this quote. :)

"The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A death! What's that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you're too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you're young enough to enjoy retirement. You drink alcohol, you party, and you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no reponsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last 9 months floating with luxuries like central heating, spa, room service on tap. then you finish of as an orgasm !!!Amen"

Jay Sun said...

A beautiful quote...and a lovely post... :)

Alexis said...

Very well written post. Yes, kids should be told about death and what happens when a person dies.

Your dad's explanation is an excellent one. As you said, it takes a lot of load of the shoulders and removes confusion and chaos from the mind.

Neihal said...

"To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure. - Albus Dumbledore."
okay...i dont believe in it...but cudnt resist writing it:D
I agree when u say these topics shud not be treated as taboo...coz children will come up with their own conclusion anyways.
:)

Mind Curry said...

its a topic i have avoided writing about always..although at the back of my mind its something that scares me..not at my own death..i dont think that i fear a bit about that..but about my loved ones..its scary..to imagine your world could come crashing in a moment..

Sachin R K said...

Beautiful Oscar Wilde quote. Heres one by Emily Dickenson I just love ( from one of her poems) :

"Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me;
The carriage held but just ourselves
And Immortality."

Di said...

the last quote was so full of peace...but ur.."I didn't want to lie in a coffin all alone for eternity" made me realise i didnt want to toooo.. :-/ i want to be put into an electric crematorium and totally forgotten..really no ceremony no nothing..just clean environment friendly byee

silverine said...

Emmanuel: "one more thing, death does not come at the end of life....but when it comes, life ends." Nice quote! :)

Alex: True, they will witness or hear about death anyway but it shud be explained to them in a language they understand!

Ajith: This is my serious blog :)

Jeseem: LOL as though that is in our hands :))

Mathew: Children have an active imagination so it is better that things are clarified. I never realized that the aunt who died wouldn't feel anything. I felt that I would be buried alive :)

Nariyal chutney: It's a fact of life.

Lijo: Why don't you ask and let me know!

Vimal : LOL I have also read this quote, very optimistic :p

Jay sun: it is indeed :)

Alexis: Kids need to be told or they will go thru turmoil like I did!

neihal: Yes, kids are keen observers :)

MC: The thought of losing people you love is terrifying!

Sachin: That was a really beautiful quote!!!

DI: Same here!!!! But I thought like that because I thought I would be alive when put in the coffin :)