I had my first encounter with death recently. I’m one of those lucky people who have never lost anyone who is particularly close to me. It made me think I never would. Time caught up with me and I did. Appacha passed away on 31st March 2010 at 10.45. Nine days after his 80th birthday and my 19th.
Hearing it at first was just shock. It couldn’t be but it was. I had seen him, less than 30 hours ago, he could not be gone. But he was. Gone before anyone realised. We tend to take time for granted. Or rather we don’t really think about the consequences of it. Everyday, in every way, everyone is growing up, getting older. Time wont wait. It’ll move slowly and then slap you in the face.
One of the things you feel most at someones death is remorse. For the things that could have been, all the things you could have done. We had just spent the weekend with him. I laughed at him and once with him, cribbed about him, pitied him and realised that no matter how much I missed the man who used to be active and everywhere I loved him very much. We said our goodbyes on Tuesday, got in the car and drove a straight ten hours to get home. Twelve hours later, Appacha had gone. Twenty fours hours later, we were on our way back.
It didn’t sink in for me. There were no tears. I wondered if I was so cold that I couldn’t feel anything, thought about what difference it would make to me and felt heartless. Society had conditioned me to believe that tears were symbols of sorrow. That they were the only symbols of sorrow.
We reached at five the next morning, April 1st. We walked in and the first thing i saw was Ammachi who collapsed in a flood of tears. I couldn’t cry even then. I looked at Appacha. Eyes closed, lying in the ice box. He looked the same. He could easily have been alive and sleeping.
The problem with a funeral home is that there is nothing to do. Nothing to distract, to keep me busy. I sat staring at the box. There were points when I was sure I saw him moving and others when I imagined he would get up and complain about the cold. Tears still didn’t come.
Out of nowhere a memory entered my head, one of me sitting on Appacha’s bed when he lived in Chennai, my little brother Aku sitting opposite and my Appacha. Telling us stories and calling Aku the sky, his name is Akash, me the earth and himself Hell. I always argued with him. I remembered laughter.
Then the tears came. Not for what I had lost But for the fact that it was over. I never realised. We all grew up and grew busy but the little I spent with him recently I always had laughter. I wont deny I cribbed a lot towards the end but I understood and we laughed about that too. Till the end, one of our last solo conversations being about how his birthdate was messed up. I loved him, I always will.
I was mostly okay excepting the few occasional tears, until the time came to kiss him goodbye. That makes it final. It was hard, but we did it. Ammachi broke down. You tend to depend on your elders to be strong or rather you believe them to be beyond tears. They arent. They’re like us and that’s probably why we love them.
The two things I feared the most was seeing Ammachi and seeing my mum or dad cry. I didn’t think I’d be able to handle it. Seeing Ammachi was okay, We were there for her. That gave us purpose. My parents are both so incredibly strong. As hard as it was for the two of them they never let us see tears. It helped me more than anyone could realise.
It is at death that you realise all the goodwill a person’s life has generated. People poured in from near and very far, offering condolences. It was touching and in many ways overwhelming. I never knew he had touched so many people, so deeply that they had to be there. There was a lot I didn’t know.
Once the tears stop you begin to count your blessings. And there were a lot of them. In mourning the dead we shouldn’t forget about living. We all mourned and now we’ll move on. Continue our lives. It might be missing a small part but it’ll go on. And we still have each other.
I love you Appacha. I will always remember you fondly.