Minutes after my beloved mother took her last laboured breath in the CCU of a private hospital, I had to fill in the first of many forms. Bad enough, the family of the patient has to immediately grapple with references to their loved one suddenly in the past tense. An application for her Death Certificate had some grossly insensitive questions. Was the deceased in the habit of consuming pan masala? How about tobacco? Not even alcohol? A smoker? Even in death, the authorities, it seems, cannot resist the temptation of data mining. How about delinking Aadhaar with her bank accounts, PAN Card, Mobile Number?
Fortunately, the hospital was humane and gave me a ‘Bills Cleared’ slip even before the final balance, after insurance and our payment was calculated. I know of cases where hospitals don’t release the ‘body’ till the last paisa is settled. Commerce rules over feelings and sentiments and grief. And immediate capacity to pay. Mercifully, with decent exceptions.
“When is the body being brought home?” is a loosely raised poser to refer to the deceased but one that would hurt the family no end. A human being who just the same morning or previous day was interacting with you is so easily converted into a lifeless thing. A more sensitive way of asking that question is: “when are they bringing him or her home?” I must confess to being just as insensitive untill ‘the body’ was one of my own.
When someone you know has just lost a loved one, unless you are really close (in which case you’d probably show up in person) it’s best to send a text message instead of calling on the mobile phone. There are folks who just keep calling, not realising that it’s intrusive, that the person may not be in a position to speak or just too busy with all tasks on hand – from breaking the news to others in the family, to informing the rest of the world to making arrangements for the funeral. Calling for the address, directions, to check if the wreath has reached or just how it all happened is downright rude and inappropriate.
Death is not just about grief. It’s also a logistical nightmare. For some, it’s finding a burial space, making the booking, getting a grave dug, plastering the walls inside, getting a priest, fixing the time for a mass, ordering the coffin, the hearse, rustling up a choir, giving a Notice of Burial, getting permission from the municipal authorities. For others, it would be booking a cremation slot, hiring a pujari, getting through with the ceremonies avoiding inauspicious periods. With the clock ticking. Notice that I have not added dealing with your tears.
Then comes loads of advice. From “be strong” and “be brave” to “time is the best healer” and “this too shall pass.” And oh, also “buck up” when a grieving family member breaks down. As Jesus said, “he who has not sinned, pick up the first stone”, I’d say, he or she who has lost a loved one, offer advice on grief management. There are folks who have no clue in the world about the void and mangnitude of the loss suffered, belting out unsolicited advice. For God’s sake, what does strength or courage have to do with grief? One is a quality, the other, an emotion. I for one believe that it takes guts to shed your emotions in public. It’s what makes us human. Bottling up sadness inside may be psychologically damaging. And if it’s my tears, who is anyone to ration them? Crying your eyes out actually makes helps in dealing with bereavement. Time does not heal. Loss hurts even after a decade. Because memories are aplenty and act as powerful detonators of grief.
What does strength or courage have to do with grief? One is a quality, the other, an emotion. And time does not heal. Because memories are aplenty and act as powerful detonators of grief.
Condolences can be as short as ‘RIP’, reminding one of ‘HBD’ or ‘Tx’! The most comforting messages are not of sympathy but empathy. They come from those who have walked down that road and share their own stories of grief and how they coped. And it’s not a fastest finger on the buzzer that matters. Condolences can be meaningful, even if they are a few days or a week later.
Coming back to the formalities. Right from getting permission to build a tomb at a grave, which is given 11 months after the burial to a Legal Heirship Certificate to checking on bank nominations and obtaining Indemnity Bonds, the sheer mountain of paper work hardly ever gives families the luxury of mourning. And of course, answering questions from pesky relatives or neighbours about why they were not informed, how the person died suddenly when they looked healthy and fine from their windows or balconies, how one is holding up, how it must be so difficult, which they claim to know or imagine, can trigger depression. If only the ‘Rest In Peace’ cliche was accompanied by heartfelt wishes and intentions to ‘Grieve In Peace’, death in the family may be just a little less devastating.
(Sanjay Pinto is a Lawyer of the Madras High Court, a Columnist, Author, TV Political Commentator, Public Speaking Mentor & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)