Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Death at a Funeral

(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)

You know what is the worst part of hearing that someone you know has been visited by the grim reaper? No, not the part where someone you know has stopped existing forever; that’s something you deal with much later. The worst part is the realization that now you have to attend their funeral. 

If the funeral is for someone you shared an emotional connection with, then you’re probably too zoned out to notice what’s going around you. However, if the person being mourned is an acquaintance you didn’t meet often, like a ‘facebook friend’, you become a party to the farce that most funerals are. All our rituals are useless and horrible anyway. People do things they imagine would help the dead wherever they are, but it only helps them feel better about the situation. The dead don’t care what you do after they’re gone! They’re not coming back.

Firstly, the deceased is suddenly turned into a saint. Even if it is that old fascist relative who not only judged you for wearing jeans but also blamed you for putting a scratch on their precious Ming vase.  And despite the fact that everyone who has spent their life bashing them is relieved that the object of their disdain is finally visiting the big gulag in the sky, they still have to find something nice to say. He was a creature of routine! She really believed in old fashion values! At least he died doing what he loved; sucking the innocence out of young children.

Secondly, a lot of the people who populate these shindigs are kind of terrible human beings. They are not there because they feel any sadness or remorse over the passing of the deceased. They’re there because it’s a social obligation. Because they imagine that if they don’t show up and pretend to mourn, people are going to hold it against them and won’t show up when their own time comes. If I wanted to see people put up a false show of emotion while also trying very hard to look forlorn, I’d watch an episode of KBC.

Then there is the compulsive Indian need to put food into people. We’ve been programmed to be so social that even during a funeral we have to take care of people who are supposed to be comforting us. When you go over to give your condolences and mumble empty platitudes that offer no real solace whatsoever, members of that family will cry and force you stay for lunch. You feel like shaking them and telling them that you just lost a family member! Mourn, for cripes sake! Stop asking me if I have eaten. Instead, you nod and awkwardly agree to do whatever they say, because you know on the inside they’re thinking: here, have some lunch. A single serving contains vegetables, salt, tears, despair, and a compelling feeling of running away somewhere, anywhere, just to get away from all these expressions of artificial grief and phony concern that I have to endure for no logical reason.

We even take this with us wherever we go. For example, after the horrific shooting at a Gurdwara in Wisconsin last year, while family members waited outside with a smattering of friends, relatives, police personnel and journalists, some of them got together and were serving food and beverages to all the people who were waiting. I’m so worried about my family still trapped inside, but here, have a bran muffin.

According to most of our traditions and religious customs, the official mourning period ends after the deceased’s family has fed a few hundred of their closest friends and relatives one last time. But people don’t get the memo! They still keep coming over or calling you on the phone. And everyone wants to know what happened! So you keep reliving your trauma each time you need to answer that question. By the time the last vestiges of ‘well wishers’ are done darkening your doorstep, you start wishing that you were the one who died instead of the lucky bastard who escaped this daily dose of fresh hell.

A common reaction to hearing of someone’s demise can be summed up as it could have been me! Death, even if it happens to someone we barely know, reminds us of how thin the thread of life really is and despite what our favourite self-help guru says, we’re not really in control.

Hey, at least we don’t have to attend our own funeral.

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