Sindhuri Nandhakumar | Destined to die
Questions for Answers | It happens to all of us — so why cry for so long about it?
December 4, 2013, 3:32 pm · Updated December 4, 2013, 8:32 pm·
Questions for Answers
My father’s first death anniversary is less than a week from today. The Hindu calendar, being slightly different, marked my father’s first death anniversary last week. Caught between these two cultures, I wasn’t really sure when to sit and think to myself, “Wow, it’s been a year.”
When my father died, people — myself included — lamented about how we never imagined this would happen. The night my father’s body was cremated, I heard someone laughing in my house and I thought to myself, “how inappropriate.”
When I did start smiling and laughing again, at least a couple people told me how surprised they were at how well I was coping. One of them said, “If it was my father, I would still be in a corner crying.” I felt their words to be disapproving and wondered if, in fact, I should still be crying.
Another friend asked me how recently my father had passed, and when I told her that it was less than a year ago, she said, “Wow, you’re really brave.”
The thing is, I’m not brave. I just don’t see the point in being sad. I didn’t think that I had to wait for a year or two before I could laugh again. My father wouldn’t have expected it of me.
Besides, so many other people in my life are going to die. It is a morbid thought, and I am not suggesting that we all stare at people and wonder how soon they might die. But I’ve been fed too many movies and stories where couples say to each other, “I can’t live without you,” or “I’d die without you.”
Death is a universal and shared experience. So why, when it does occur, do we let it unravel our lives in unhealthy ways? Yes, the person is gone and sometimes the only trace they leave is in their dirty clothes in the laundry basket. We sniff their scent, fearful that it will eventually diminish, along with our memory of that person.
But that hasn’t happened to me. I still remember my father and can picture him clearly. I still haven’t forgotten the tone of his voice.
I’ve been thinking a lot about death. Paul Walker, thousands of less famous Filipinos — people die all the time. I just finished reading “Wave,” a memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala, who recounts her experience in the 2004 tsunami that struck South Asia and killed her husband, two sons and parents, leaving her the lone survivor.
Reading about the author’s experiences, the biggest shock came from the sheer unexpectedness of it all. When we marry someone, we don’t think of how the person might die soon and leave us hanging — we build a future with them.
There are different ways in which people reconcile with the idea of death in a healthy way. Many of those ways that I have encountered have a religious or spiritual component to them. As a Hindu, I was raised with the belief that life is eternal and we reincarnate into different lives. Other religions have a Day of Judgment and promises of an afterlife where we can reconnect with our loved ones.
However, I don’t believe that religion is the only means to a healthy perspective on death. Perhaps accepting the mere inevitability can help us come to terms with the deaths of people we love.
My sister has told me many times that she can’t imagine a life without my mother or me. But I wish she would, so that she would realize that she is an individual who has the potential and resilience to survive and learn from extremely difficult experiences.
If my mother or I died, I would wish for her to keep laughing and be happy even after the shock.
Do I miss my father and wish he were here? Absolutely, much like how I wish I could bring about world peace. Do I wish I had done things better when he was alive? Sure, I certainly could have been a more understanding daughter. But I’m the one dealing with those issues, not my dad. He’s dead and presumably in a better place, so why cry so much for him when he seems to have the better end of the deal?
Sindhuri Nandhakumar is a College senior from Kandy, Sri. Lanka. Her email address is email@example.com. Follow her @sindhurin. “Questions for answers” appears every other Thursday.