When I came home from the hospital after I was born, she was there to greet me into my new home. She was my elder sister and best friend. She would refuse letting anyone come near my cot and start talking. After many years while I was still a child, I still remember that fateful day. I was watching a cartoon in the hall. I suddenly noticed my father kneeling on the ground holding her in his arms. I knew something was wrong. I ran to my father and was just in time to see her breathing her last. I had never cried like I did on that day to feel that she was no more was hard to comprehend. My best friend had gone.
Her name was Puggy and she was my grandparents’ pet dachshund. Puggy’s was the first death I ever witnessed in my life. I still remember when I was crying, how my mother comforted me. She was crying too, however, she said just one sentence and that calmed me. She said ‘Nami, we’ll get you another pup’. That was all she said. Maybe it was the comforting tone of her voice, I immediately accepted the fact that Puggy had died. I cried a couple of times after that but all in all I had accepted that Puggy had moved on.
The next death I witnessed was that of my Nanny’s. She passed away about two weeks before I met my then future husband. Unfortunately she didn’t live to see my husband. She was always saying how much she wanted to see what my future husband looked like. She was my Millie Acchie.
Millie Acchie died of cancer in the bladder. She would pass blood with her urine and was most often in utter pain. It was very hard for me to see her suffering. However, the worst was over soon and she passed on. The moment she died, I was at my own home giving a cello lesson when the power went out. So I, together with my little pupil went to the back verandah to get on with the lesson. We were about to start the lesson when I saw the most breathtaking of sights. Sunlight was streaming from a point above me up in the sky, filling the back garden with light. I don’t have the words to describe it. The sunlight filled the verandah with light. I like to think it was Millie Acchi’s way of saying her final goodbye to me. I believe she must have been born as a deva, if not a very good human birth.
The next person who died in my life was my grandfather. He lived a good long life and somehow, I was able to accept his death, unlike my father’s. When my father died, I never imagined the extent to which I was bound to grieve. I suffered like never before after his death. I would choke with sadness whenever I remembered him and would find it so hard to bear that I had even been off food.
Death is such a mysterious thing. People you see everyday walking talking eating sleeping, suddenly no more in your life. When we love a person, although he or she has passed on, the love one bore for that person never really dies. It always remains. But one has to invariably suffer the consequence of grief. And that is something extremely hard to endure.
While I write this, I am seated at a restaurant overlooking the beautiful blue sea in Negombo. I can’t help remembering all those who died in the tsunami and what a tragedy that was!
My own parents happened to have been at the beach that fateful morning, and I dread to think the worst that could have happened in my life that day. My life would have taken a tragic turn if I had lost both of them. They had seen that the shoreline had receded into the sea in an unnatural way however, and had not thought anything much beyond that. They left the beach just in time before the first giant waves hit.
After my A/Levels, I did social work at the cancer hospital in Maharagama for a year. My grandmother and some friends would go every Wednesday morning in a van to the hospital and distribute rations like tea, milk powder and sugar to the poor patients. And also piping hot tea to drink, hand carried in kettles. I used to go with them and help them in this task. I also would, from time to time, visit the hospice and spend some time with the terminal patients there. Doing this job for that one year really made me happy. I did what I could in my own way.
Death is such a tangible reality. There isn’t a single person in this world who has not known a person who has died in their own family or social network. And so many people all over the world grieve after the loss of loved ones. After my father died, I questioned so many things in my life and in the lives of others. I got to know the true meaning of grief after my father passed away. There were deaths in the family before that like I mentioned. My grandfather for example whom I was very close to. However, I accepted my grandfather’s death and moved on. When my father passed away, I suffered tremendously, I never knew how bad it would get.
Death is one form of suffering. Both for the one who dies and for the ones left behind to grieve. However, there are so many other types of suffering. I’d see so much suffering around me and it would be unbearable. I would be moved to tears by empathy. In fact, after my father’s death, I am now able to feel for others in a way I never did before. I am able to empathise with all those who have lost a loved one, or loved ones.
In the context of other forms of suffering, if my own son is hungry for a meal while we are travelling somewhere, I would cry together with him. I could feel his hunger, I could feel his pain. When I commute on the roads, I would often see beggars begging and I would be so moved, I wouldn’t go past them without giving them something. A few rupees or even a meal at times. But I see so many people, passing people in need without offering them as little as a glance, and I would wonder why couldn’t people help the needy. Those who could make a difference and contribute. Why do they pass by people in need. Cripples really move me. I find it hard to even look at a cripple and at times would end up tearing when I saw one.
Life is short. We are here for a little while. What is the use of our lives if we haven’t helped others. At the end of my life, I would have these questions. How well did I live? How well did I love? How well did I give.
I have always considered myself to be a loving person. However, after my father’s death, love took on a new meaning. Earlier, I would simply love others. However, now, I feel so much more for people. I am apprehensive that every single person I know and associate, is going to die one day. My loved ones, as well as my own self; this is a very humbling thought.
I now sense suffering in such a strong way more than I ever did. The pain of others is my own pain. Their sorrows are my sorrows. Their hurt is my hurt. I would do anything to help anyone who is suffering in any way.