The past week has been strange. When I think about it, my mind says it was a blur. Whilst my weary body says that it felt like a hundred days. How is it even possible for a week to feel so long and drain you in every sense? I wonder at how time continuously chooses to surprise and confuse us. Death has a way of putting things into perspective for us, making us view our life, our thoughts and our actions more mindfully.
Yesterday was the funeral of my great-uncle; he’d been unwell for the past 9 years but the last few months really took its toll on him. Especially the last week of his life. I’ve never seen life leave someone’s body before or been in the same room as it happening. It’s an experience that both fascinates yet disturbs you. It’s something I won’t forget in a hurry.
There we were, all around his deathbed in the hospital. Disinfectant stinging our nostrils, our tears dripping from our eyelashes and our hands trying to comfort him. Although he couldn’t see us, hear us or breathe properly, he knew that we were there. He felt our presence and was surrounded by love, despite his rapidly declining state. Don’t get me wrong, he left this world with dignity and gave Death a good thrashing until he crossed the threshold and entered a world where we could not go.
Twenty minutes before he passed away, I held his cold, dry hand in mind as I said goodbye to him. I felt the blisters on his hands against the smoothness of my skin as I prayed for him to be at peace and without pain. That’s all I wanted from the minute I heard that he had 24 – 72 hours left to live. I wanted to say goodbye properly and for him to be without pain.
Yesterday at the gurudwara, I saw many members of my family and old family friends whom I hadn’t seen in over a decade. An old lady hobbled over to me, smiled and held out her arms to me, as she said: “Oh there you are. I thought I’d never see you again.”
At first I thought she’d mistaken me for another person but turns out she hadn’t. To be honest, the moment she gave me a hug I felt a strong sense of love, care and sincerity: I could feel how much she had missed me. She was my uncle’s godmother and hadn’t seen me since I was a small child. We spoke, hugged and she stayed with me for the whole day. After langar, she got up to leave and said goodbye to everyone. When I got up to say goodbye to her, she smiled, held my hand and said: “When you were little, you had a shine. So chatty, so happy” she affectionately touched my cheeks and with a sad look in her eyes said: “Be happy. Be my old Chayya again.”
I nearly cried. I wanted to cry and whenever her words float into my head, I do cry. I’m crying having just written what she said because I didn’t realise how much I had changed. It makes me cry because I think: “What has happened to me? What have I turned into?”
Back in the day I was a fierce child; my favourite words were: “No!” and “kutha” (Punjabi derogatory word) and I sounded like a small, brown, female version of Del Boy. In my heart and mind’s eye, I was a 6ft fierce lion with a lush mane who was not afraid of anything or anyone.
I fast forward to now; obviously everyone changes with time it’s normal. But what got to me was the fact that she’d remembered my shine. To lose one’s shine is poignant; you can never really get it back. Not with the same lustre. It’s made me think and re-evaluate things; particularly the way I view myself. Many of us are quite harsh and hard on ourselves – I am and I admit to that. I am a perfectionist, meticulous and a hard worker – if something’s not quite right I won’t stop until it is. The death of my great-uncle and the words of my uncle’s godmother have hit my very being and put so many things into perspective.
Why should I be so harsh and unkind to myself when I am in a world where there are people who will do that for free? I think my inner lion’s reappearance is well overdue, grown up, dying to get out and to be reintroduced into my adult life.