A family member ended her life this weekend. I don’t think there has been a death in the family since I began to see life from the Vaishnava point-of-view. Though my wife has lost some people who she gave senior care to, until this weekend I have not lost anyone I was close to or had familial ties to, save our cat of 6 years. I found myself crying for a half-hour, sobbing convulsively, then sinking into a catatonic state for the rest of the afternoon.
To grieve is human, I must remind myself. But I found today that I felt like I did not even know how to react to death. I want to overcome, but I don’t want to be detached insomuch that it means I cannot help my family along in the grieving process.
My family exchanged news of/feelings about this death via Facebook. I tried to express myself in a reply to these postings but found it difficult to do. Coming from a Catholic upbringing, my views now differ from those of my family and would clash greatly should I express my thoughts on death freely.
For one thing I don’t like to say “death” or “died” or any other variation of the word. I prefer to say she “left her body”. She shed her outward covering like the snake shedding its skin metaphor in the Bhagavad-Gita. Nor can I say “R.I.P.” as I believe this was one stop on a sojourn toward the Divine which may or may not have ended with this lifetime. She is not “gone”. Indeed we are the ones who are gone, separated by delusion from our Divine birthright. And I do not believe that “you only live once” though I do believe you should live like it is your only chance. Not in a hedonistic way, but in a sort of way in which you search for the Truth in every conversation, every “chance encounter”, every joy and every defeat.
There are many schools of thought in Hinduism as to what happens between this life and the next time one takes a body. I hope my cousin accrued enough positive karma to earn some respite in one of the upper lokas (vyahrtis) before moving on to another form. I avoid saying someone has “gone too soon” in most cases because I don’t see how it is possible. Again, in most cases.
But this “death” that I speak of was one in which she chose to end her life. In such a case, I would in fact agree that she has gone too soon. I fear that she has not fulfilled her dharma for this lifetime and pray for her, but I try not to speculate as to what that means, and I avoid with all of my strength the temptation to refer to her last act in her life as a “selfish act.” It does not matter, because what is done is done, and what will come of it is not up to me. I understand why some say it is selfish, because the person does not think of the hurt they leave behind. But I feel selfish putting that kind of blame on someone who is not here to defend themselves. And it is an attachment of Maya letting grief, which is natural and normal, condense into misery, despair, sorrow and hurt.
I do not feel anger toward her. Just empathy for the hurt she must have felt to have made such an irrevocable decision. But if nothing else it has been a further lesson to me that this human incarnation is a blessing, a rare, and sacred opportunity.
Anyone who can offer any thoughts, regardless of your beliefs, they are welcome.