Death has a way of becoming a life force that weaves its presence into our everyday lives. So pervasive, so commonplace, so final and yet so fleeting.
It hovers around me in a meaningful peekaboo these days.
A lady I used to talk to rather often, M, is near death these days. Many years ago, she was part of my Buddhist group and would motivate me in my practice. I never once noticed how ill she was. I assumed she was my age (then in my mid-30s), I assumed she was just another single woman living with her mum. I never realised she needed help, or that she was fragile. On the contrary, she was a mountain of courage and fortitude I often took haven in. She’d spend her entire life working for non-profit organisations helping disadvantaged children — so driven was she that she left one large well-known NGO (Cry) for a much smaller, lesser known one (Udayan) because she felt the former had become too ‘corporate’, too full of ‘administrative’ red tape to actually make any difference to anyone. And if there was anything she wanted to do, it was to make a difference to orphaned children’s lives.
Turns out M has thalassemia, that she is 48 — far older than doctors expected her to live. That she has had a blood transfusion every month of her life since the age of three. And now her time has run out. She’s lying dying in a hospital, surrounded by people who love her dearly. She is tired, she told my cousin, who in turn told me. Death is at her doorstep.
I’m also more intimately related to death through my husband, whose father passed away 36 years ago when my husband was a small child. Hubby never likes to talk about his emotional vacuum but I can see a vast dark cavern where a little boy with big round eyes lives, calling out to papa one minute, and the next an angry teen kicking and punching the air around him with an impotent rage at having to grow up without a dad, at having to watch his beautiful young mother grow grey before her time — an intelligent, accomplished woman who had to face the bitter onslaught of a society that is miserably cruel to its widows.
I see hubby now, a grown man who never speaks about his father (not even when it’s necessary, such as when writing an obituary of his father’s comrade). Instead, hubby seeks his dad in other people’s words. Once a popular political leader, my father-in-law’s name pops up once in a while — a tribute on Facebook by some politician, a mention on TV in the context of political peer, a quote of his in a book. Hubby dwells over these obsessively, secretly. He’s an atheist, he says; he does not believe in God or in old rituals. But a part of him wishes he’d been forced to attend or conduct those that honour our dead ancestors. Maybe there would be some closure.
As part of my spiritual practice, I pray for my father-in-law every day, and over time, I think I have developed affection, familiarity and love for him, even if it’s all just in my head. I encourage hubby to do the same but I realise that while it comes easily to me, it is difficult for my husband, for whom faith and religion are luxuries he thinks he does not possess.
Whether atheist or not, as women, we are more in rhythm with death — a potential form of life dies inside us every 28 days. Men, I suppose, develop other mechanisms to deal with it.
The thing about death is that it appears distant even though it’s programmed in every cell of our bodies.
That sounds like God, doesn’t it?