Increasingly at our time of life we lose someone who has been very dear to us. This has happened to me more frequently in recent days than I like. A friend my age said the other day that all social occasions in her life these days seemed to be shraddhas and memorial meetings.
Society puts in checks on unbridled grief with such social and religious observances that occupy one in the early days of bereavement: arranging for “pathi” or purohit, consultation with church or mosque, making a list of people to be informed, putting a notice in the newspapers, the venue, menu, flowers, puja samagri, granite for the headstone and so on.
There is a stream of kind and thoughtful visitors who recall happy moments with the departed person or help you with the formalities and the days speed by. Unbearable loneliness and grief have to be put off for the time being even if one’s awareness of their imminence is strong.
I think it might be easier for the immediate family if the departed person leaves behind a small informal document which is a clear indication of what he/she would like done both in the forms of observance and with money or worldly affairs. A will is good for the latter, but does not necessarily indicate the former. Worldly affairs should be left in a state in which they can be dealt with without too much trouble: either or survivor accounts for everything, clear instructions on how to dispose of valuables, furniture, place of residence, how best to express gratitude to the people who looked after one during the final years and so on.
There should be several copies of this document available to all those who are nearest to us. If there are charities you wish to contribute to, tell your spouse and children ahead. If you wish to donate your eyes, or your body for medical research, that should be organised ahead too. I was intensely moved by the graceful way in which West Bengal bid farewell to the late Jyoti Basu at the entrance to the hospital where his body would be used for this purpose.
I think the powers that be should threaten severe punishment for those persons in banks and offices who hold up the swift process of transfers and re-routing of finances to bereaved persons. One does not want money matters to disrupt one’s life at such moments.
I would be very happy if my family and friends did not organise any kind of religious function when I die. I would like them to go home from the crematorium or the doorway of the hospital and to behave completely normally as if I were in the next room. They should sort out my worldly affairs and then as soon as possible get back into their own lives. They should stop long enough to make a list of all the things we enjoyed together: adda, music, books, wine, food, flowers and a great deal of laughter and factor these into the next few days.
My sendoff from my place of work had most of these elements in it. It was hilarious and memorable. I would like to think my departure from the world would incorporate some of the same elements.
For while I love songs like Abide With Me and Aaguner parashmoni, most vegetarian food, white/black clothes, rajanigandha and dhup, I am saddened with their almost indelible association with death. So abjure all of these, skip the tears and make my departure like the best moments of my life: happy and colourful.