In a corner of a bedroom in our Chennai home, cleared of furniture and all other encumbrances, there sits an urn.
It is actually a fairly simple clay pot, about eight inches tall and six inches across at its widest. It is covered by a Kerala-style thorthu (towel), the same one I wore around my waist when I and three others carried my mother’s body on her last journey. And in it rests a couple of handfuls of ashes and a few shards of bone.
This is all that remains of a 77-year-old lady who lived a full life — as professional, as wife, as mother and grandmother, and as the go-to friend to the many dozens who, unbidden, arrived at our home with stories, most of which we were hearing for the first time, of how mom had in her unobtrusive way helped them at times of dire need.
A good friend once pointed out to me that the true test of character was how you behave with, what you do for, those who can do nothing for you in return. By that litmus, mom had ‘character’ to burn — and it is an integral part of who she was that we are finding out how pervasive her influence was only after her passing. When she was alive, she never spoke of any of this — nor, as we are learning, did she permit the beneficiaries of her generosity to speak of it.
That urn is warmed by a lamp that burns bright 24/7, and it will stay lit till the morning of the 26th, when I consign to the elements all that remains of my mom.
Meanwhile, what has warmed me — and the immediate family, with whom I have shared all of this — is the kindness of strangers, the compassion of friends, the empathetic readiness of strangers and friends alike to reach out a supporting hand. You imagine, when something like this happens, that all you want is to be left alone, to be able to crawl into your personal space and nurse your wounds. And that is what I told the friends who called. Some heeded that, others ignored me and kept calling, messaging, writing mails, reaching out in many different ways. And I realized that they were right, I was wrong — isolation is no cure for grief. To those friends I owe more than I can articulate (to say ‘repay’ would be to insult them beyond measure).
To the many who on this blog and through calls and emails and Twitter DMs shared their personal experiences – with parents, with children, with illness, with life, with death – what can I say that does not come out cliche?
Hearing your stories helped me make sense of my own; reading of your pain helped me cope with my own; knowing I was not alone helped me arrest my emotional free fall and recover a sense of balance and perspective.
To say ‘thank you’ is to insult your generosity of spirit. Yet ‘thank you’ is all I have, for now. I hope you know there is a wealth of feeling packed into those two words.
PS: There are many mails, and messages in the comments section here, that I haven’t been able to respond to. I will, though. Soon.