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Losing a Loved One

December 2010
Losing a Loved One

Dear PMG:

One of my dearest friends came to my door and stood there, silently.

He had returned the day before from a trip to the East Coast, where he had spent time with his mother and ailing father. 

In my usual cheerful way, I bounded toward him and said, “How are Uncle and Aunty?” 

He stood there, without a word.

His silence told me that Uncle had passed away. As I hugged and drew him into our home, he shared his deep sadness. A void had entered his life. He no longer had Appa in his life.

I protested, saying that Uncle would always be with him. 

We both sat on the sofa, silent.

And then I realized the truth of his words. The father who had always been there for his son was gone. I told him that I understood. That some time in the future, when his children would marry, my friend would look about for Appa’s quiet, reassuring presence.  And there would be an unbearable silence.

The reason I write this is because in India our families have rituals around grieving.  Raised in America, I feel lost and uncertain. The death of loved ones has a grip on me, and I don’t easily re-enter the world of the living.
Dear Friend,

“If thy life be rescued, life do not withhold.” (M. K. Gandhi).

Your Uncle’s death can nurture a greater commitment to living. The sadness of the loss suggests that the seemingly ordinary act of living is hollow and meaningless.  But with an ending there can be a new beginning.

In the West, we have the wisdom of thinkers such as Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who has identified the five stages of grief:  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The dying have much to teach those of us who carry on. Yes, we, who grieve for those that are dead, are likely to withdraw into the more isolating stages. And just as affirmatively, we must move back into the world. 

The ceremonial Hindu mourning period of thirteeen days helps us move through the confusion of losing someone we love. Embrace the silence. Retreat to your own sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of life. And honor the life that is no more. Let the exterior landscape pass you by for some time, because as Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “The world rushes on over the strings of the lingering heart making the music of sadness.”

And when it is time, perhaps after the thirteenth day, emerge back into the world. Some time after the ashes have been scattered into a sacred body of water, embrace the noise. Jump back in with the living, and give your heart permission to make music of all sorts.

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