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