A death sets into motion a whirlpool that sucks everyone around into it. It helps postpone grieving for those who take up the immediate post-death responsibilities, and this often helps the others grieve in peace.
It starts immediately. And while last week I wrote about how it might be better to die at home, post-death formalities are perhaps simpler in a hospital. The death certificate comes immediately, there are no police formalities and the dead person (I refuse to use the term “body”) can even be kept in the morgue for a day or two especially if we have people coming from afar. Having said that, hospitals can also leave scars. There are many hospitals where unless money exchanges hands, the attendants, ward-boys, drivers and cleaners will not move…even in death, they find a way to make money.
I still remember when a friend’s brother committed suicide and was taken to Cooper Hospital for a post-mortem. The *@#ard casualty medical officer refused to give orders for his release until we paid him money. I still remember his face and if I ever see him again, I will hit him, irrespective of where I am.
A little grace during death goes a long way!
But dying at home also comes with its own set of overwhelming issues!
And that is where friends and family come in. The first decision we had to take was whether to bring my mother-in-law home that night or keep her in the hospital till morning. It was my Mom who gave us sage advice and told us to wait till morning. Then two elders came up with the idea to call the NGO Antim Sanskar to take care of the pre-funeral preparations. My brother-in-law arranged for chairs and other furniture. My wife’s friend’s husband brought bottled water. My sister brought food and other cousins brought the paraphernalia required for the “pooja”.
NGOs like Antim Sanskar, started by Dr. Ramnik Parekh are amazing. For Rs. 4000, they come home at the appointed time in an ambulance, prepare everything, take the stretcher to the ambulance, drive to the crematorium and wait till the end. In this day and age, when we barely remember any of the rituals that need to be done and those who do remember are the ones dying daily, they are a boon.
My brother-in-law’s friend went early to the Sion Crematorium to take care of the formalities and by the time we reached, had already sorted everything out and then went to the BMC office to take care of the death certificate paperwork.
Then came the preparations for the “prarthana”. Booking the hall, arranging the singers, getting a large photograph done and framed (which my mother-in-law had already selected in advance 5 years ago), placing advertisements in various newspapers, selecting the songs to be sung, arranging the dinner, the valet, the eulogies to be spoken…it is almost like a mini-wedding that has to be prepared for in less than a day. Some do it simply, some a little more elaborate…but it is still a lot of effort. And in a city like Mumbai, where people live far and wide, it is not always easy to get that help and support.
It can’t be easy for nuclear families, and those who live alone. NGOs and social workers help with the last rites, but they don’t provide shoulders to lean on.
It is at these times that we learn the value of family, friends and local social and community support systems!
And in the end, all of this goes a long way to help with the grieving!