Tuesday, January 03, 2012

on death (and life).

a family member passed away last week.

as it was happening. it didn't really seem to affect me. this was an aunt of mine, my mom's eldest sister. she was in the UK, and beyond a few forced/awkward Skype calls (when visiting my mom), i honestly had not made the effort. i only really got to know her as a kid, on the occasional visits across the pond. ~20 years ago she was diagnosed with MS, and it slowly began to affect her mobility, getting significantly worse these past few years. when news of her worsening condition became dire, my mother was quickly on plane. not two days later after she passed away. beyond the relief of her pain being over, and a deep sympathy for my mom, her other sister, and my grandfather - i didn't feel much inside for my now-deceased aunt, and i wasn't sure if this was OK or not.

maybe it's because this isn't the first time i've had to directly dealt with death. i would imagine we all have. 

as a kid, a schoolmate was killed by a drunk driver. the trip to the funeral home gave me some bad dreams. i now only remember all the baseball cards his friends had put in his casket. but i didn't really understand/process what had happened.

over the next few years (my childhood), a lot of my father's family in India would pass away - many uncles i had only met as a six-year-old kid. it was still so distant. i always wondered why i couldn't see my dad express more as all the people i saw on TV. it wasn't until i was in college and his mother (my paternal grandmother) pass away that i saw the affect everything had had on him - the guilt of not being there, of not doing enough. it's not often one sees a parent break down. it leaves an effect on you. compassion for what they've done and sacrificed, and also a glimpse into realizing that we're all human.

around the same time, as a young doctor, my sister had to deal with some pretty horrible things. we don't talk about it often, but it reminds me that the worst we have to offer is closer than you think.

as a young adult (2004), one of my best friends i grew up with took his life. that was a pivotal point for me - shaping the way i view a lot of things, as well as interactions with a lot of people, for better and worse. i try not to think about it as much anymore, but i realized long ago how futile that is. i would be lying if i said my thoughts don't stray there once every few days, especially given all that he gave me that i clearly could not reciprocate. at that particular funeral, my dad, being "experienced" in death, said something that's stuck with me. "people say the pain will go away. that's a lie. you just get used to it." my dad was right.

a year later, another kid i knew from childhood (nowhere near as close) also took his life. it turns out he had MS, and it had only recently began to manifest itself. the issue of choice came to mind, in light of his condition. i did not go to the funeral. every time i see his parents, i feel like saying something, but i haven't. and now it's just to awkward. the elephant in the room is still there, but the moment has passed.

in more recent years (2008?), the one uncle with whom i was always closest (my mom's younger brother) was diagnosed with a rare nerve cancer. he was a smart, well-off guy, so he fought it as best he could. but his sheer intelligence gave him a hubris and confidence that eventually caught up with him. the effects are still felt in my family - his children, his parents, his remaining sisters. i still catch myself at family gatherings expecting to see him there, or to say something funny. i want to see myself as successful as he was professionally, while avoiding a lot of his personal mistakes. 

not 3 days after moving to NY (early 2009), my maternal grandmother passed away. i was actually ready for this one, and she had a life well-lived. so the grieving process actually made sense. but i still catch my grandfather crying when he lets himself stop to remember her, and can't help but find myself at a loss for words.

last year one of my wife's close friends (and her husband) was killed in a car accident. i had just met them at their wedding months earlier. we got the news as we were preparing to go to another wedding, where my wife was to be a bridesmaid with her. it was an odd shadow cast. such a random thing striking at such a random moment gave pause to the fact that it can happen to any of us. it's only a matter of (bad) luck. but i don't believe in luck, much less anything, so i guess it's only a matter of time.

since my mother's recent return from England to see her sister one last time, she brought a number of photos back. she asked me to sort through all of them. it's only in the act of going through these, on late nights, early mornings, and long plane rides - that i've begun to feel regret. not just for the loss of my aunt, but for not having made more of an effort in these past years. i take some comfort in knowing that she was surrounded by family that loved and cared for her in England. but the more i recall her personality, i sense that as an adult, i would have found a kindred spirit in her hilarious sarcasm, broader optmism, surprising creativity, and silly organizing tendencies. but maybe i'm just projecting as i stare at all of these damn pictures.

her funeral and cremation was earlier today.

i tell myself that death is part of life. it is. 

i tell myself that it's all balanced by new life - all the babies my friends keep having (most importantly my sister's new son). but then i remember that we're all getting older, and life is getting harder. aunts, uncles, fathers, mothers, in-laws, friends, mentors. it's only a matter of time. so sieze the dium or whatever. 

that doesn't make it easier. 

i just wish i wasn't getting used to it.


  1. sorry to hear that, man. you've had a lot of experience with death. that's sad, but also in a way, i'm jealous. since both my parents are the youngest(ish), there's inevitably a lot to come in the next decade and i feel unbelievably unprepared. i've heard that those who have dealt with it starting at a young age handle it all a lot better than you do as an adult. even now thinking about it, i have chills.

    anyway -- hope you're hanging in and if you need someone to talk just email/call

  2. mandi2:35 PM

    love you raman. thank you for being the family historian (keeping all the pictures organized). sending you one big hug from me and nikhil.


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