Friday, March 31, 2017

the undiscovered parts of bereavement that no one tells you about

I went through most of my life thinking I looked exactly like my grandmother.
Until my mother died and I cut my hair because I wanted change. Until my mother died and I discovered her pictures from when she was about my age. Until my mother died and I smiled so much at these old photos because she and I have the same haircut. Until my mother died and I started wearing her clothes. Until my mother died and so many of her friends told me I sound just like her. Until my sister said it to me herself. Until one day, I caught my reflection in the mirror and I did a double take because I thought I was my mother. 

And then I miss her and I don't miss her all at once. 

And she's staring right back at me and I'm smiling so much because she's right here, I sound like her, I look like her and we're the same age in the photographs of her I've collected. 

This year, I'm as old as she was when she had me. I've got so many pictures of us together in our first year together. And I've got pictures of her in the few years just before she had me and the few years just after she had me. All these are my favourite pictures now. I want to freeze myself, I want to look like how she looks in these photographs. The resemblance is near perfect, I really don't have to try at all.
I know with each day I'm growing older. Soon, I won't be the person in the pictures of her that I've surrounded myself with. I want to somehow freeze the clock on that. So then I take pictures of myself. I've taken more selfies in these 2 months than I ever have or ever will. Because I'm freezing myself to look like my mother. Because maybe when I'm dead, whoever discovers these pictures will drive themselves crazy trying to tell us apart. 

It's complicated. When my grandmother died, I really just wanted to live my days wrapped up in her sarees. I didn't and that's mostly because I have no idea how to drape a saree. 

With my mother - her clothes are more accessible to me, so is her jewelry. I'm in a phase of my life where I clearly bear an uncanny resemblance to her when she was my age. My hair looks like her hair, my eyes look like her eyes, my feet are her feet, my hands are her hands, my voice is her voice and it's so easy to get us confused. Except, well, when I'm wearing her clothes. She's obviously given away the clothes she had in her twenties and thirties. What we have left are her clothes from the later stages in her life. They are the clothes she owned as a middle aged woman in her forties and fifties. And I'm wearing them now. Young body. Old person's clothes. 

There are days when I'm confusing myself so much with this crazy traipsing backwards and forwards through time.
And then there are days when I feel oddly satisfied about being her living resemblance. 



Friday, March 03, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died - how to organise a cremation

The first thing to do is to call up the crematory and book a slot. It really is as simple as that. We used the Lodhi Road Electric Crematorium.

The next thing to do is to order a refrigeration unit and a van / ambulance to transport the body to the crematorium grounds. If the death occurred at a hospital, you can choose to pay for mortuary services until it’s time for the cremation – but if you need to or want to bring the person home for anything more than an hour, then you do need to get this refrigeration unit organised because bodies tend to decompose steadily and the bio wastes can be harmful for those who are alive.

I found out that cremation grounds have good business links to refrigeration unit providers and hearse van drivers – and the simple phone call that you make to book your slot is a one-stop phone call where you can also ask for a refrigeration unit and make the hearse van bookings.

Remember to have a doctor check and declare the death BEFORE putting the body into the refrigeration unit. But also remember the  caveat - if it has been a violent death ( for example, a murder) or a crime scene – please DON’T disturb the evidence until it is feasible to do so.

The important thing to remember is that in India, the businesses around death – crematorium services, refrigeration units, ambulances, hearse vans, priests etc – more often than not, use cash as their ONLY acceptable method of payment. Ensure that you have enough cash to bear the costs. We made it a point to visit ATMs within the very first hour of my mother’s death. Sometimes friends and relatives can be incredibly generous in helping out with cash. I suggest accepting the money and settling accounts later, but of course, each to one’s own.

The refrigeration unit will arrive at your house within a couple of hours of your phone call – and if the doctor has already declared death, then I recommend moving the body into the box immediately. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the heavier the body becomes and the more manpower you will need to help you out.

Unplug the refrigeration unit roughly an hour before you expect your hearse van to arrive. Depending on your beliefs, you can use this hour to bathe and dress the body for the final goodbye. Even if you aren’t planning to bathe and/or dress the person, unplugging the refrigeration is useful because it brings the body temperature down to a comfortable level for the hearse van staff to move / handle.

The thing I realized is that news of death spreads really fast. I remember that all it took was a few phone calls to some relatives and friends, to let them know when the cremation would be. Then my sister and I wrote a facebook post and put it up on my mother’s wall.

We had a priest come over to our house and recite some prayers with a few close friends and family before we took my mother in the hearse van. At the cremation grounds, more friends and relatives just tend to show up.

Again, many side businesses mushroom right next to the cremation grounds. We found the flower shop particularly useful. One of our friends had the foresight to generously buy enough flowers for everyone who had come to see my mother off. This was a way to spend a few moments with her by standing beside her and laying flowers across her body. And then the priest said a few more prayers and then we had the cremation. 

And so, yeah. That’s pretty much how it’s done. Abrupt ending, I know, but death is like that

Friday, February 24, 2017

things I figured out when my mother died – how to get paperwork organised if the death occurred at home

While you and your family/friends may be able to easily TELL that your loved one is dead, remember that we live in a world highly affected by documentitis and it is therefore prudent to organise a document declaring death.
I recommend calling a doctor as soon as possible – try to do this within the first 15 minutes. Request him/her to come over to your house along with their letterhead and seal to write out a statement of death.

I say first 15 minutes because bodies tend to decompose pretty steadily and you may want to begin preserving your loved one’s body in a refrigeration unit as soon as possible. I also say first 15 minutes because when you realise a person is dead, emotions run high and /or a complete numb shock may take over and you just sometimes need a few minutes to grieve.

When the doctor arrives, he/she will need to check the person before pronouncing them as dead. Once the person is declared dead, the doctor will proceed to write out a statement on the letterhead. You may be required to supply details such as name of the dead person, their date of birth, name of parents and/or spouse, house address,  approximate time of death and nature of illness (if any). You may not necessarily know all these details - that's fine, just do your best to give as much correct information as possible.

In India, this statement of death given by the doctor is one of the things you will be required to submit when applying for a formal death certificate, which is issued by municipal authorities. Note that if your loved one passes away in a hospital, the hospital will issue a death summary that you should submit.   I will write a separate post explaining the procedure for obtaining a formal death certificate.

I hope this has helped you. I would be happy to edit and update this post - let me know in the comments section if I have missed out any crucial information. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


The day my mother died, there was a moment in which she was lying on her bed, connected to the ventilator and my dad and I were with her. My dad was undergoing dialysis, I was administrating it for him. It was just the three of us in the bedroom. Like it used to be, several years ago.

The same three people.

So much change.

It felt surreal.

Friday, February 10, 2017


A few weeks before my mother died, I lent her a pair of socks, which she wore until she went to the hospital for the very last time. I found them the other day and put them in the wash. I’m wearing them today and I feel like somehow the more I wear them, the less of her will remain inside them.


But I’m now greedy about these socks, I feel like they are the pair my mother and I share. I want to wear them and yet I don't. I don't want them to tear. But they're just socks, and they were a gift from a man who is now .... well.

Sigh. They're just socks. In all likelihood, one of them is going to disappear into the black hole of our washing machine. The end is predictable.  

Sometimes I wish emotional associations were just as straightforward.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday, February 21, 2016

stuff of life

We moved houses last week.

My mother put me in charge of sorting out my father's things. And I put myself in charge of making sure he moves with least stress.
Sigh. What can I say about my relationship with my dad?

I don't know if words will ever cover it.

But let me tell you about my dad's things - books, papers, books, clothes, books, electronic gadgets, books, visiting cards, books, sports equipment, books, phone bills, books, bank statements, books, credit card statements, books, share certificates, books, take away menus, books, keys, books, spare car parts, books, petrol bills, books, old boarding cards, books, music, books, books, books, books, books. 


Sorting out my dad's things reminded me of the person he used to be. 

I want to write it out, because it is so easy to forget. So easy to forget the person Dad used to be. So easy to forget amidst the exhaustion of dialysis and chemotherapy and the new personalities we all seem to have developed over the past few years.

So let me tell you about my dad.

He used to be happy.
He used to travel all over the world. 

He was famous in his field of work. 
He liked to network. 
He enjoyed eating out and he enjoyed listening to music.
He used to play tennis. 

He used to go camping. 
He tried to change the world. 
He excelled. 
He liked to read. 
He read everything.

Let me tell you about my dad. He lives in a world of silence. I can't seem to reach out to him anymore. Either I can't or I am too afraid to try. Or I am exhausted. I know I feel exhausted. 

Chronic illnesses can kill your soul before they kill your body. 

It's painful to watch.

Watching a person crumble into silence is hard. Watching over and protecting their things, the things of their life that once used to be is like a prison of emotions. 

I threw so many of my dad's things away this time - I threw them away because I know I won't be able to after he is dead. 

And I threw them away because I know my mother and sister never will. I threw them away to protect them. I threw them away to protect myself.