In my last column, I had talked about how we impose on grieving families “the right way” to grieve or to do the final rituals at the ghat or a funeral place. Though I concluded by saying that sometimes silence and space are all we can give to people/family who have lost their loved ones, there are still a few things to consider post-cremation or entombment.
Every religion has its own books on how many days the family should grieve. Hindus have 13 days of mourning plus one year of different pujas that need to be done. Nowadays, families are becoming more and more progressive and rational and are trying to finish the pujas within the 13 days. It is an individual choice and decision of the family and relatives. The 13 days is the time people visit the mourning family and express their condolences. It has become a regular practice in Hindu culture.
A couple of years ago, I was shocked when someone asked me not to eat at the mourning family’s house. Since then I have noticed that a lot of people actually don’t eat at these places. Forget eating, they don’t even drink water. Maybe some religious theory, some enlightened being must have chanted and is followed from generation to generation. I asked a lot of people why they don’t eat or drink at these houses and the only close to convincing explanation was: Back in the days people died from epidemics or some communicable disease, the doubt was that the family house might be contaminated. So this might be the only practical way to stop the disease from spreading. As people would do anything if told from a religious point of view, this was induced in the rituals and religious practice.
A couple of years ago, my best friend’s grand-mom passed away. At that time her father was in a reputed government position, so a lot of people visited her place to give their condolences. As per the Nepali culture, you must take a lot of fruits while visiting the family because apparently for the mourning 13 days you must eat satvik khana and fill yourself with fruits. In this case too, the family distributed those fruits to orphanages and old homes and still, there were baskets full of rotten fruits every second day we were throwing away. Again these fruits had entered the family house and were “untouchable” and so could not be given away to extended family and friends. Two rooms were filled with fruits and for the next six months, the family did not even take one bite of any.
That time I promised myself I will take anything but fruits to a grieving family. After years of trial and error, I have come up with my own condolence visit pack. It consists of a small bottle of ghee (as everything is cooked in that for the 13 days and so it will be properly used), a packet of sugar which won’t spoil for couple of months, teabags, and incense sticks as they will be used every day for next one year. If I am close to the family, I take a bit of grocery too.
One appreciable practice I have noticed in India is friends collecting cash and giving it to the deceased family. We all know hospital bills are unbelievably expensive, funerals are costly and if you are Hindu, the 13 days of rituals will only add to the burden. Probably this is a little we can do to ease the family’s financial burden.
I have noticed we have our own ways of grieving. Personally, I like to be alone while I am mourning. I am not a religious person so my prayers consist of wishing for peace and nirvana for the departed soul. But my family and extended families prefer to pray in mass with religious chanting and bringing in religious gurus. As we have different temperaments even with grieving, frankly I don’t like people coming and lamenting at my loss. I want them to behave normally. I wish to cherish the memories I have with the deceased person rather than feel sad over the loss. Maybe this is my way of handling my loss. And I do request my family and friends not to go to a mourning family and keep reminding them about the beloved person. I am not indicating that you should holler at the awkward situation but at least we can have a regular conversation instead of crying and making it worse for the family.
Grieving is a process and we should let the family take their time. In the end there is no other choice than acceptance.