Dying in Mumbai – Being There!

I have been accused of being extremely insular, thinking only of myself first and then of others, during times of stress and conflict, including when someone dies. While a feeling of sadness is universal, the next set of reactions is typically…Should I call? Or will an SMS be good enough? Do I need to drop everything now and go to the funeral? Can I wait till the prarthana? I hope the venue and time are convenient. Or should I just wait for a week and meet them later?

Despite having seen so much death at close quarters professionally, when it comes to the death of someone I know or his/her relative, I have generally tried to run away from the situation. I find it difficult to go to a prarthana if I don’t really know someone well, and for many years I have had no clue what to say to those who have lost people. I worry about asking the same repetitive questions and sounding shallow and saying the wrong things or putting my foot in my mouth and ever so often, I have taken shelter behind SMSes and emails.

But guess what!

Except for those who create a scene by crying like professional mourners and those who just talk without listening, every little act of reaching out helps. And it doesn’t matter how you do it…just do it!

Initially, I used to find SMSes and WhatsApp to be highly impersonal. But if physically getting to someone is practically difficult, something like “Sorry for your loss. Hope God gives you the strength to endure”, even if it sounds boilerplate, works. More importantly, it also tells the grieving person that you are aware of the situation.

Whenever and wherever possible, a phone call is a good thing, especially if you know the person. We often think it may be inappropriate to call, for a variety of reasons…and we are often afraid of being a cause of interruption. But these are usually our own self-created, false perceptions. Even if the person can’t pick up, usually someone else will and relay the message. And there is no time limit to when you can call. Recently, I found out about the death of a close friend’s father a month after the event, and I immediately picked up the phone on a busy morning. He spoke to me for 30 minutes, both of us finding it cathartic, while letting our patients wait just a little longer.

Not everyone has the luxury to drop everything immediately and rush to the funeral or the home to pay one’s last respects. Even attending the prarthana may be difficult. A home visit in the next few days then is not a bad idea. Usually, at least for a few days after, people expect visitors usually over the nearest weekend and make it a point to be at home to greet those who come by. And unless the atmosphere is really “heavy”, it is also not bad form to smile and perhaps even crack a light joke or two.

And if you are really close, you can just hang around whenever possible, taking care of small tasks here and there, or if you are a long distance away, call and say that you are just one phone call away, anytime…all these make a huge difference.

The point is. While we may find it difficult to know what to say to those who have just suffered a loss, for those who are grieving, no support is too less…even if it is delayed. It is all just about “being there”!

This is the third part of the “Dying in Mumbai” four-part series. The first one was “The Care-Givers’ Hell”, followed by “Grace and Support”. This was published last Wednesday in the Mumbai Mirror. 

13 Comments

  • Sugata Sanyal wrote:

    Bhavin: Another great post. Good to see you back here. And sharing deep points. I had faced a tough situation, once, when there was a death of friend, same age, happened in my organization, and I had to speak in front of few hundred colleagues. And I had to meet his mother after a week or two. 1995. It was tough. Sometimes we do what we need to do. I appreciate your power of writing and topics you chose. Deep. Regards. Sugata

  • premal gangar wrote:

    Indeed a great piece….just love reading whatever you write.

  • This was a good read for me. I face the same situation in many occasions. Never been to a death ceremony though and never will I ever go.

  • Shubhojit Bhattacharya wrote:

    Bhavin,
    Good to have you back in my life ….though I don’t live in Mumbai any more but this connect helps …in its own langruous way. Small things, minor incidents, little memories …your words bring them all back in a very unique way.
    As I await Atul Gawande’s latest release in the coming week, yours is a glimpse into something we all have to face in a much more familiar way one can relate to.
    Regards,
    Shubhojit.

  • Well said! Yeah even I find myself at loss how does one expresses grief or how are the etiquette??

    I lost my dad in sept 2012 and I was surprised how my friends turned up. They were just there …. I don’t remember what they said or how they said it to console me…I remember having them around…..Many kept a tab on me for few weeks…. My dad’s friends came home on Diwali with sweets …. They still keep a tab on us!!

    There is no right or wrong way …. If you are close friend then just be there in some form call/SMS/in person… It means a lot at that moment!

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    Personally if I am happy it would be gladly be shared. But, in grief I’d rather be left alone and have rarely ‘been there’. I don’t know what it is like ‘being there’- maybe I should learn.

  • Reach out. Phone, e mail, sms anything. In person if possible, funeral, prarthana sabha or later at their residence. It shows you care. Small talk is OK, or just sit in companionable silence that works as well, But do reach out. These days many children are living elsewhere and the seniors are alone. Children leave and that is when help is needed.

  • Ravi Ramakantan wrote:

    Why only in death, Bhavin? Empathy is the corner stone of human existence.
    It needs to be ‘around at all times’

  • Indira Laul wrote:

    My sentiments exactly. You don’t really need words. Sometimes, a touch, just being there, is enough…

  • Very nice and very timely. A close friend just lost her dad and I was wondering how to approach it.

  • Armaity Suresh Patel wrote:

    I agree with the views expressed by Ms. Jamna and Mr.Ravi Ramakantan. We must make a sincere effort to reach out to someone in such times. It helps the bereaved to tide over their loss.
    Thanks Bhavin for sharing this topic.

  • Dr. Nitin Bhorkar wrote:

    Well said Bhavin. Nice to read your posts again.

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    Though it does not matter to the deceased at all, the next of kin would rather have a large contingent of ‘mourners’ than have sparse gathering at the funeral. And if you cannot attend then a sms/phone call or any other mode of communication is in order. At least your own conscience will be clear !

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