My Grandma's Last Lesson

Posted by Rohit Rajgarhia on Jun 9, 2021
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We held an informal circle recently and the topic started to gravitate towards death and dying. I was reminded of my recent experience of my grandmother passing away, which I shared in that group. As few friends suggested, I am happy to share it here too. Thank you!

My grandmom (maternal) passed away recently and it was my first cremation experience. In addition to many other things, I would remember her for pampering all of us with the tastiest of sweets and new clothes. :)

On receiving the news, we went to their town, a 3-hour drive from where I live. We reached in the evening and the next morning, all of us performed some rituals around her body and then took her body to the cremation ground. "Offering a shoulder" or pallbearing is considered an opportunity as well as a duty in Indian traditions, and I felt grateful that I could partake in it.

They live in a small town. While in larger cities the cremations now happen through electrical furnaces, here it was done through firewood. In the case of electrical furnaces, the process of burning as I am told finishes much faster while in this case, it took around 90 minutes for the body to burn and dissolve, to return to nature from which it came into being. That time was an important window for reflection for me.

I could see the sadness in the eyes of my uncles and cousins, and I also felt a bit sad for all the grief that was in the air. What surprised me, is that while everyone seemed to be grieving for the deceased grandma, loving as she was, I felt as if I was grieving for everyone there who was alive, and for myself. I felt that in a slightly different way, but all of our pyres were burning too. Everyone was thinking that she had died, but in a way, we were all just on the path to the same destination.

Till my grandma's body was at home, we sort of all felt she was still there. When the first flame was offered to the pyre, that's when it clearly landed for me and perhaps everyone there, that this is now over. Steadily the flame took up and dissolved the whole body. So I asked myself - When did it all end? When the fire completely consumed the body or when the first flame was offered?
It seemed to me that it was over when the first flame was offered. That the body will now burn away, felt just like a matter of time. An irrevocable finality.

And then I had this strange thought - Right from the day we were born, weren't our pyres were irrevocably irretrievably burning too? Once the burning process has started, does it matter whether it takes 30mins to burn fully or 1 hour or 90minutes or 90 years?
The only certainty is that the burning has started and that it will be completed. And if it is slow, does that make it any different? Does it even more deceptive and less obvious?

I am 32 right now, so even if speak statistically, 40-50% of my pyre has burned. Is my day-to-day conduct reflecting that? Am I becoming more accepting of life, am I becoming any wiser? Or am I still trying to grab and desist and negotiate with life in every moment? Also, a pyre which has burnt a bit, is there any merit in thinking "oh I have plenty of time right now?" I mean, is that true? Isn't every moment contributing and adding up to that burning? So where is the time? Then, my attention went outwards, and I felt -- we are burning and everyone around else is burning too. So if someone says something mean to me, do I react or respond? If someone who is burning said something mean, would I want to generate ill-will or animosity towards them? Can I try to meet everyone with gentleness and kindness, knowing that we all are suffering and trying to come to terms with it?

I felt that this thought and experience brought some guidance to me on how I want to live my life. Grateful to this community for shining the light on kindness and inner transformation as a way of life.

Thank you!

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Comments (1)

  • Meghna Banker wrote ...

    Loved this reflection Rohit, especially the question, "Right from the day we were born, weren't our pyres were irrevocably irretrievably burning too?" and the reminder of how to live our life which then determines how we die!