I dreamed of Mr. Chimi who I heard died in a car accident two weeks back. I feel my hands tremble when I mention his name here. I don’t know, I always feel like something bad might happen when I utter names or think of those who are dead. It has to do with my own fear I know.
The first time I witnessed death was when my father’s mother passed away. I think I was around five years old then. I remember her corpse lying in the innermost small room and so many people coming and going. Then, I remember me and my relatives standing in line, bending and praying as her corpse was carried away for cremation. In my culture it is believed that meeting dead body is good luck. We also have the tradition of taking blessing from the corpse.
Since then, I have seen many, many deaths. I lost my father in March 2006 and this was the death that shattered me to pieces. I had looked up to him all my life and I had come to cling on it in such a way that I had somehow felt he was invincible and he would be there for me always, all the time. His death shocked me out of life and brought me to full sense; it was his death that made me realize the uncertainty of it and how sudden it could be. He died in an accident too. And I was unprepared for the news. It was when I heard of his death that I wanted to run away. I thought if I led a life different from the conventional one, where I could pursue nothing but dharma, then I would find meaning and be able to cope with death. I hold this feeling till this day, a little less strong though.
Then my husband’s uncle died. He stayed with us when he came for treatment. The surgery failed and he died all of a sudden. His operation went well and he was in the ICU and he had gained consciousness. The first two nights he was fine. Then the doctor said that he needed to be taken for another surgery – something didn’t seem to have gone right. He said, it was a small one, where he would use only local anesthesia, but later we found he did in fact have to use general anesthesia. And upon that operation, he died before he could regain consciousness. This left us perplexed. We did not even know who to blame. In my country, blaming a doctor for such thing is something that we fear. It can’t be done. In my country, people’s relationship is superior to many things in life. What makes us remain quiet on such issue is that we say, we cannot bring back the dead anyway. But in a way, I think this is a wrong attitude, because, we are not saving other people who could fall victim to the same procedure. Anyway, his death made me deal with it very closely. Even when my father died, everything was arranged by my brother and all I did was mourn. But this time, the responsibility of arranging the cremation and all the associated works fell on my husband and me. And I found that there was no time to think I would be scared to sleep at the cremation ground with the dead body. I did so. I had to. And this left me feeling a little reassured that after all death was natural and there was nothing scary in it. A corpse cannot inflict pain on us; what makes it seem scary is our own way of seeing it.
Since then, I had to see many of relatives pass away, many from cancer. But even with seeing so many deaths, I feel scared. A cousin who died at 49 of liver cancer left me so frightened. I could not sleep at night. His face kept coming and I had to sleep with my bedroom lights on. When I wake up late at night, when the world is so still and quiet, disturbed only by the howling of the street dogs, I can’t help think of the people I lost, and the so many deaths that I have heard and seen. Though death is inevitable and will come to me and everyone close and far, I think I can’t come to terms with it, until I have really worked something out. Right now, no matter how I think of it, it scares me. I think of it constantly, more than three times a day. I contemplate myself dying; I contemplate of people close to me dying. I am fine with it. But what scares me is when I think of the faces of those who have died. And I don’t know when I can get rid of that fear.