The first time I experienced death was when I was in, I believe, 3rd or 4th grade. I would have been about 9-10 years old. I was in India with my family, we were visiting and had flown out there for a cousin’s wedding. It was a very surreal experience for multiple reasons.
One, if you know anything about Indian weddings, well, they have a way of starting weeks before the wedding and will last weeks after. It’s always great fun, you lose yourself in the celebrations. Two, in the midst of all this we found out my grandfather had passed away. You know those times in your life where you think back on memories as milestones. Kind of like, times before you graduated high school, or times after graduating college, times before or after you got married, well this was certainly one of those milestones.
I remember being there and seeing my grandfather laid out for his viewing before the cremation. I guess the adults thought I was old enough to witness something like that. I want to say that I was. I wasn’t scared, I was in awe in my own childlike way. I don’t think I completely understood the momentous occasion for what it was at the time. I knew my grandfather lay there before me, with his daughters and sons surrounding him. I felt their pain even as a child, but there was also a cause for rejoice in that moment as well. I’m not referring to the wedding celebrations. People were passing around sweets and some were crying, but then there was also laughter and joy as they talked about his life. The huge family that was gathered there that day was in large part a result of the man that lay before us.
I clearly remember turning to one of my aunty’s and saying, “why are they laughing and eating sweets?”
My tone I want to say was inquisitive and confused. I knew what death was, but never experienced it as I was now. I understood in my own childish way that it was permanent, so it didn’t make sense why we would be happy that my grandfather was gone.
My mom heard me and answered before my aunty could say anything. I still recall her words as though she were saying them to me now, though the impact of the words didn’t truly hit home until years down the road. Words lose their romanticism in translation, so bear with me and I will do my best to keep the flavor in tact from what she originally said to me.
“Today we celebrate his life. We will always carry a piece of him with us. We are all gathered together today, because of him. We are hurting, yes, but that means that our love for him will not waiver with him gone. We celebrate his life and let him go, so he can be with God and start that new journey.”
What my mom described that day to me was a legacy. My grandfather’s legacy lay before me, everything that was said, felt, and done that day was a celebration of that legacy. Perhaps some people may think I was too young to be there that day, but I truly appreciate the fact that I was able to experience that moment. I learned a lesson which sticks with me even now.
You see, I believe that death is not an end, it’s the beginning of another cycle. The start of a new journey. I also learned that death is not meant to be mourned forever. Those who love us and leave, no matter who it was and how long they were here for, never truly leave us. We carry their legacy with us in the form of experiences we shared with them, the memories we made with them, the love, laughter and tears we shared with them. I learned that death, though it is permanent in this lifetime, my faith allows me the release of knowing that it is not the permanent end we mourn in the early stages of a loss.
Another important lesson that I realized years down the road was that life goes on. We mourned my grandfather those days as a family and then we quietly kept celebrating the union of my cousin and his wife. Once those celebrations were over, my family eventually made our way back to America. I went back to school, because break was over, my mom continued taking care of her family, my dad went back to work, the moon kept rising while the sun kept coming out every morning lighting the world announcing a new day. I learned a lot that year that stuck with me moving forward. Loss is a part of life; accepting it is our choice.