After all the formalities are over and the relatives have left and the solitude sets in…that’s when the void hits.
It is perhaps worst for the spouse, who bereft as it is, is also suddenly left alone, especially if old, given the nuclear structure of our families. Statistics say that a living spouse quite often follows the dead partner in less than a year…surviving men find it much more difficult to cope than women. To thwart these statistics, we need to do everything we can to keep those left behind from withering away, physically and mentally.
While it is not easy if you live in other cities or abroad to find time for your single surviving parent, it doesn’t get easy in a city like Mumbai as well, unless we all live close by. With kids, work and home pressures, and other social responsibilities, it can be quite challenging to find time for one’s parent. The simplest thing, if practially feasible, would be to move the parent in with you…but the parent often resists and is loathe to give up his/her comfort zone and local social network. What is required then, is to have some kind of support system in and around the parent’s home and the ability to be physically present at short notice, whenever required.
Children and siblings are also among those “left behind” and it doesn’t get any easier for them as well. The pain takes quite some time to subside and literally it is only time that helps. Taking care of the remaining parent or sibling helps assuage some of the “orphan” feelings…to an extent.
Activities help. Lockers to be checked, bank accounts to be closed, shares to be transferred, jewellery to be sorted out and if required valued, property papers to be rechecked and re-assigned if necessary, other formalities in the will to be completed…all these, especially when well conducted, give a sense of fulfilment that partly helps reduce the pain and loss.
My mother-in-law, planning in advance, had kept in her bank locker, small envelopes marking out very clearly, who was to get what…this made things so simple and easy to manage. She had also written out instructions on how to handle the extended family, which also took away the need to make stressful decisions. Just like the way she had chosen her prarthana display photograph 5 years in advance, these are things to learn from. After a certain age, it is just a good idea to get affairs in order, write out a proper will, tell your children and relatives what playlist you would like during the prarthana and give clear instructions on what you would like done during and after the funeral. While this sounds a little macabre, practically, it just makes everyone’s lives easy.
As life settles back into its normal rhythm, I remember what the manager of Manav Seva Sangh told us during my mother-in-law’s prarthana. An old Bengali from Five Gardens, he came up at the end after all the eulogies and songs and prayers were done and said “Everyone here has come today to grieve for Mrs. Sanghavi. That’s fine. But please take the time and pick up the phone and make the effort to talk to and meet Mr. Sanghavi as many times as possible. He is the one alive and needs all the help and care you can give.”
And how true that is! While we remember the dead and grieve, it is the living who we should look towards as well and make the time to ensure they are fine, both physically and mentally!