I think I have an exceptional talent for organizing. I sometimes imagine myself to be a chest of drawers with hidden compartments.
When I was fifteen, a friend of mine along with his entire family died in an accident. I heard the news a few days after, when a mutual friend remembered me and sent me a hastily worded email. He remembered to attach the newspaper clipping. I cried for a day, but it didn’t feel real afterwards. I pushed it into one of the hidden compartments, shutting it down with force every time a memory tried to make its presence felt. We would have fallen out of touch anyway, I said.
I was pretty convincing.
I do this with everything I find unpleasant. It makes life easy, but I also feel like Courage the Cowardly Dog. When pushed to the edge, it is only too easy to fall. The heart really does burst with pain that has needed a release for far too long.
I do not recommend the cowardly dog approach.
I feel the same way about my grandmother. My mother cries, wears clothes that she once wore, talks to her photograph; while I avoid looking at the photograph and do not ever attempt to go into her room. Maybe I think pretense is the best way to cope.
I pretend nothing has changed.
I envy the believers as they walk about spouting rituals and rules that they do not understand. They confidently claim the soul has reached the highest levels of heaven attainable to good people, that the way was paved with only good things paid for by our money and sincerity in performing said rituals, and that the efforts are not in vain.
I am not so sure.
I think about how most Hindu ceremonies I have attended cannot be distinguished from each other – wedding or death, they all look the same from a distance of about five metres. Priests chant, new clothes are worn, relatives make everything about themselves, there is a feast. Somebody invariably starts teaching the imbeciles that the ancients in their infinite wisdom devised such a hectic schedule so we don’t dwell on our grief.
I was a bit busy rolling my eyes.
I envy the non-believers too. Even if the phrase “S/He is in a better place” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, I think they still try to explain death in terms they feel comfortable with – maybe they remember that energy is not destroyed, it merely changes forms. Maybe their logical and emotional reasoning converge.
I do not know where I stand. I am somewhat terrified to imagine a universe without an unknowable entity, but I do not want to annoy this entity with my endless needs and petitions. I feel ridiculous doing so. I never know what to pray for, and I don’t know what happens to someone when they are no longer with us.
Some help is always welcome.
I happened to read The Ammuchi Puchi, a children’s book written by Sharanya Manivannan and illustrated by Nerina Canzi. The story follows Aditya and Anjali, siblings who are suddenly faced with the death of their favourite grandmother. She is the one who told them scary stories and played with them. She was their friend; a feisty lady whose presence added sparkle to their lives. When she’s gone, the children miss her every minute. But then something magical happens. They discover a butterfly, which they think is their grandmother, whom they call Ammuchi. They name the butterfly Ammuchi Puchi (Grandmother Insect), and believe she is back with them, showing them unusual things and sending them off on little explorations.
I thought the relationships were depicted in the most natural way. When the kids tell their parents about the butterfly, the parents start worrying that the children aren’t dealing with their loss in the best way. The kids go on though, stubborn in their belief, displaying the solidarity that siblings show under stress. The book suggests that something magical may be lurking behind the most ordinary things – it doesn’t insist that the dead come back among us. But it gave me hope.
Maybe all I need is a sign. I’d be happy with that. Until then, the compartments shall help me.
The Ammuchi Puchi is a book that allows children (and adults like me) to explore death and grief. The visuals are stunning, in rich jewel tones and expressive beyond reproach.