When someone very close to you dies, you take a step close to infinity, you travel along for a distance with the dead. This is how I felt when my mother passed away. During the thirteen days of grieving I was given to believe that my mother had embarked on a journey – a journey that the Brahmin who aided my brother perform the 13 day rites said, was facilitated by me and my brother. We experienced a feeling of awe that it lay in the hands of small mortals like us, who had been given a passage into life by our wonderful mother, to assist her in the journey from the pretha lokha, the astral world to the pithru lokha, the world where she gets united with her ancestors. The pindam, the rice ball that I cooked every day and the rites that my brother performed were meant to conduct her on the journey. During the thirteen days we followed with great absorption the journey that my mother made.
As we sat in the evenings silently those 13 days, having nothing to say, dumb with shock we felt close to her, felt her breath beside us. The nighttime was the worst, I could not sleep. I had never been in my mother’s house without her; we had never assembled – my brother’s family and mine, without her overseeing our needs. As children she was the mistress of the house, we glowed and fleshed out in her love and care. We felt alone, yet not so much alone as we felt just a thin wall of invisibility and a shift of realm separated us from our mother. I felt that she could see me, hear me and watch helplessly her beloved daughter suffer her absence.
I felt that I had in some manner transcended the earthly domain and raised myself a wee bit to peep through the window of timelessness at eternity. The 13 day mourning period had created this island of experience, this limnal space of not here – not there, a platform that the dead and the living share.
This cathartic experience, far from comforting me, shocked me after the twelfth day when my mother sailed away from me to cross the Vaitharani river on the final leg of her journey to the Yama lokha. Here she attained the form of a pithru and the pindams were integrated to symbolize this transformation and dhanams were offered to Brahmins to aid her safe and successful passage.
I came to my house after the 13 days of mourning. My mother’s house was locked away and my father left to stay with my brother in Bombay. The space was lost – the literal space (my mother’s house), as well as the metaphoric space that our religion and scriptures had helped us to create during the 13-day mourning.
Now, in little less than three years my father has passed away. He had stayed with me for long periods during these three years. The mourning period has just got over. I feel my father has just stepped across time to join my mother. Yet I feel both of them very close to me. Are they pressing themselves close to the wall of eternity to commune with me, to make me feel that true love never dies? — “ Death ends a life, not a relationship” (I discovered this line scrawled by my mother in her diary; this line is from the book Tuesdays with Morrie – a book that deeply moved her.)