Pati (grandmom), a brilliant woman who lived up to her late nineties, left her earthly presence a month ago. During her last few years I wondered, which was better - Death or Old Age? Old age looked as much a living hell as death, where family cared little to spend quality time with her. I had the good luck of serving her while she was alive, spending time with her the way she wanted it.
Her death was sudden, and an eye opener to say the least. Death knocked on her door, not because of ill health, not because of an accident, but it was just simply time up. We, the younger folk had taken her living for granted, she was one of those permanent aspects of our life, she was "always there". We didn't quite know how to deal with a world when she would not be there. Death, just came, and in half an hour she was gone. No pain, no hint of lament, no warning, just permanent silence. I just realized she had been prepared, to some level... to face it.
I spoke to her last on a Sunday, she was gone by Thursday. I wish, just wish I had spoken to her one last time. I remember the last meeting, my uncle, as usual, was bashing her up for being herself. Little did he realize that would be his last outburst, she wouldn't stick around being the punching bag anymore. That moment really haunted me and the suddenness of her death. Uninvited, silent, sure.
The activities that surrounded her death, became clearer as the Brahmin priests directed us. She was that spirit who was suddenly an outsider, who had to go and we had to send her away. She was an outsider because she was not human anymore. I learned why we don't leave our hair loose in the south of India, or why wearing a bindi is such a must or why food is served with the spoon turning in the opposite direction. Its all because during the time of 13 days, when the spirit has to be sent away and cannot hang around the house, we do all of this to send them away, to show them they are uninvited and not to encourage them to stay behind. In India, traditional India, leaving the hair loose is equated to looking like a pishacha(meat eating demon). Being well dress, with bindi, is a mark of respect to invite a guest, and when it comes to a spirit that needs to be sent away, the reverse is done.
It made me wonder, how could I do that to her, whether she was in human form or another state. She was grand mom, and disrespecting her in her spirit state... didn't feel right. The whole task of bidding her good bye left me uneasy, not because of the concept of death, but more about how we treat the dead in their next state. It was so unfriendly, and so rude, to shoo someone out just because they are not "human" anymore. How wrong was that.
But she taught me something more serious, and that was the association of Lord Shiva with this whole process. The homa to Lord Shiva, the recitation of the Rudram, the offerings to the great fire made Him so real, as the subtle force that guided her through her journey to the abode of the Gods. The Lord of destruction sounds scary to the uninitiated, but to me, He appeared like the only truth I need to know. He became my purpose, He added meaning to my life, He made me realize just how distracted I really am.
Pati taught me more through her death than through her life. She introduced me to the sacred book of the dead, the Garuda Purana. Believe me, its by far one of the best books am reading. Her lesson to me is not over, far from over. Her voice rings in my mind, she smiles at me through her photo, my darling Pati... I only wish we all had been kinder to her in her living days. We probably wouldn't curse ourselves so much after she went.
Clearly, I haven't identified death earlier as much as I did now. I have lost people, close friends... but none came so close to teach me lessons with their death. I have been thinking so much on death, I have realized there is no point hanging on to life. Death will come when it has to, and there is nothing, absolutely nothing that can stop it. The only thing I really need to gear myself up to is how to look death in the face, smile and accept it as my transformation towards spiritual progress, when it shows up.
And Pati was my first teacher to introduce me to this subtle truth that looms around us, waiting for its turn to make its presence felt.