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Death and closure

A few days ago, I lost my grandmother. I felt helpless. I could not shed a tear.

Childhood memories of Achamma go back to my vacations when we cousins would sit on the floor in the living room listening to her conversations with her sons on international politics, war, law, activism and so on. She was disappointed that I, at the age of seven, had no interest in reading the newspaper to learn about topics as diverse as Gulf oil exports and Marxism. She for one would not let anything get in the way of her daily habit of reading every available left-wing newspaper page to page, even classifieds and obituaries.

The image that comes to my mind is of Achamma, draped in a kasavu mundu and her lips red from chewing a betel quid, in her wooden chair in the porch, which looks out into the dense fields of rubber, areca and vanilla. She would be contemplating on political theories and philosophy or lecturing us on manners and social responsibility. Almost a year ago, she suffered a stroke. One who would narrate endless stories of her brother’s communist revolutionary days could barely recognise her own children.

Pariyarath Thambayiamma, 84, had received basic school education, as was the custom in 1940s Kerala, born into a politically active family with most of its members joining the Independence struggle. She was the youngest sister to six brothers, the oldest of whom, Pariyarath Krishnan Nair, fought the British in the historic Kayyur revolt.

She was a feminist who despised meaningless chatter and gossip. With her ailment, an independent woman, who managed to educate all her children despite the tough financial constraints, needed support even for eating.

Reconciling with loss

After her death, I found no closure. I could not remember our last proper conversation. I did not know her favourite quote or book, or what she valued the most in life. I felt our relationship was incomplete. Her passing felt too distant to me, as if I barely knew her.

I started reading on the phone Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Mitch, in his late thirties, is going to visit Professor Morrie, a teacher he dearly loved in his undergraduate years, after hearing about the latter’s terminal disease. The book reveals deathbed conversations they have about love, family, forgiveness, life, death and regret.

Morrie, unlike Achamma, could speak until his last days. He did not have minor dementia like she did, and so he made it a point to teach Mitch all the things he learnt from living for 77 years, and dying. He was a teacher till the last. He wanted to connect people with their emotions, and cultivate love.

He finally managed to make Mitch cry, and this made him feel like he had completed his task, of awakening the emotions within his student.

I shed a tear for Achamma as I finished the book. Maybe I got the closure I needed and accepted that if I had a conversation with her, she would say the things Morrie did. That love is all that mattered, and its only through these relationships you live on after you die. Death ends a life, but never a relationship. Morrie repeatedly said that he considered himself lucky — unlike those who die suddenly, he got all the time to say goodbye and in his last moment, he did not feel panic or fear, but a sense of calm, as if he was crossing a bridge, surrounded by everyone who loved him.

I now believe in fate, that it guided me to the book the day I realised that I had missed out on some of life’s important lessons and conversations. Morrie’s ashes are scattered on a hill, beneath a tree, overlooking a pond; he chose the calm and serene place to help him think. Achamma will have her place among her favourite areca palms and vanilla plants of Mozhokkom, close to her children and home and next to my late grandfather.

parvati.nambiar.hnlu24@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 7:17:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/death-and-closure/article33048877.ece

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