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