The Brevity of Bereavement in the U.S.
I have no complains about my life in the U.S., except that it doesn’t allow me to grieve death in a way that feels whole. Unlike the 12-day ritual we have in India, which allows us to mourn as a community, the three-day bereavement leave we get here seems woefully inadequate. How do I balance this fast-paced American life with my need to participate fully in honoring the deceased in the Indian way?
“At one stage the inner light which had sustained him all through life seemed to be on the point of going out. But it was momentary only.” (Pyarelal Nayar, Personal Secretary to M. K. Gandhi, writing of Gandhiji’s response to the death of Kasturba Gandhi).
“It is not pleasant or easy for me to write about such personal matters to the Government. But I do so in this case for the sake of the memory of one who was my faithful partner for over sixty-two years” (M. K. Gandhi).
Our choices have consequences – some intended, some unintended. Ultimately the challenge for each of us is to choose the life we want to live and balance the many consequences. Gandhiji had chosen a life of service to humanity (see the Oscar-winning Gandhi); this came at a cost to his family (see the less renowned Gandhi, My Father). Even at the death of his dear wife, Kasturba, he had a responsibility to India’s Independence. This left little room for self-pity and perhaps compressed the stages of his mourning as he returned to public life soon after Kasturba passed away.
Each of us responds to death in our own private and public ways. Be true to what is right for you. If you need three days, this is fine; I am sure that your colleagues will appreciate your commitment to shared professional objectives. If you need 12 days, or for that matter 12 months, this is acceptable, too; but recognize that while your colleagues will appreciate your loss, over time your needs and theirs may not be aligned. Choose what is right for you and embrace the consequences of that choice.
As you face this inevitable challenge of life, it may be helpful to remember what Gandhiji wrote, “It is as clear to me as daylight that life and death are but phases of the same thing, the reverse and obverse of the same coin.”
(Dr. Rajesh C. Oza, serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at email@example.com.)
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