We see death everyday, but experience it very little. On TV, paper and media, death is just an everyday phenomenon. But up close, death is brutal. Up close the scenes on TV become reality and we begin to contemplate the truth of life.
As I read The Death of Ivan Ilych, it was difficult to go through the first few pages without thinking of the death I’ve come across. Maybe it’s because I’m a thinker or because it’s human nature, but I had to put down the reading, take a few deep breathes to keep my mind from racing, and begin writing. It wasn’t that I was on the verge of tears. (That’s hardly what the reading does. If anyone has read Tolstoy’s literature, the purpose of the reading is to show the impassive nature and distance of death; “Thank god it is he who died, not I”) It was more the fact that I couldn’t stop the imagery of death from escaping me. It kept looming and the images forming in my mind of my visit to the hospital, the day the two died.
The man had cried all night, so much so that his tears had dried up. I watched him mourn with over a dozen bloody, bandaged blade wounds on his body. At the sight of him my tears flushed, without a sound. I mourned his loss—although I knew little of it. His words of remembrance allowed me to see into his heart. On that hospital bed lay my uncle, with whom I had little acquaintance.
Ten stories high, I looked out at the tree tops. There was nothing but greenery and the horizon. I thought of what God had taken from this man who had only his children. There was no reason to hide my tears (as a matter of fact there was no way I could at the speed they came out). But still, I looked away into the horizon as I couldn’t bear the man seeing me mourn with him. What would he think? Why do I grieve knowing nothing about his loss? I was successful, perhaps not because of my efforts to keep my tears from him, but because of his lost touch with reality: deep in thought in an endless monologue about his two sons 20 and 24 of age. He seemed oblivious of everyone around him in the room—my two parents, another uncle, an older cousin, and myself.
For what seemed like hours we listened to him speak. We said little to nothing and just let him mourn. Then suddenly, he stopped, as if knocked back into reality. I looked over at him. He was looking directly at me! Red in the face, I tried to stop my down-pour of tears. I assumed he hadn’t expected someone so young to be in the room. He stared for a while before turning to my dad.
“You have such beautiful daughters,” he said in Urdu “promise me you will take care of my daughter as you have your own.” These words struck me like lightening. So deep and so full of despair. He had a young daughter, the age of 11 who had lost her 2 older brothers. What it’s like to lose someone so close at such a young age, I would never know, but his plea was heartbreaking.
Of course my dad didn’t respond to the plea. He knew that it was my uncle’s tragic circumstances that led him to utter such words. His daughter still had her mother and father, although she lost her playmates. She lost her brothers who would drop whatever they were doing to spend time with her. She lost a part of her life, alone in a big house, with two aged parents.
I didn’t know my little cousin very well, just as I didn’t know her brothers. I had only met her a few times as a baby and once or twice as she grew older. It was only later that this realization hit me. I had busied my life and let family rifts impede my relationship with cousins who lived less than an hour away. Now, two were gone and I would never know them. While my little cousin, being so young would never understand why she never knew me, I felt much regret, denial, and confusion.
It is not important as to what or how the tragedy happened. What is important is the contemplation of death and what follows: the lost lives, the mourning family, the young left behind, the regret of not knowing the dead, the changes in family structure, the new people that enter our lives, and those that try to fill the hole. I might have said that my family is not one to fill that hole. But boy was I WRONG. I guess you never know what you have until it’s gone. I was luckier—or should I say my little cousin was luckier than most people. There were people in her life that began to value her and her happiness. God gave her more than he took away. He seamed and binded the rifts that were the family delimma once—if not in the adults then at least in the young. I guess I was not the only one who regretted not knowing my cousins, but all my cousins did. I know this because after that day all our cousins began to spend time together. We became the siblings that the little one lost. “Forget the adults,” I remember my 14 year old cousin agreeing “if it means us cousins should stay apart.”
Death has its own ways of presenting itself. It may be expected or unexpected; it may come for the young or the old, the rich or the poor. But remembering death allows us to live a life of purpose, contemplation, and truth. Remembering death allows us to appreciate everything in life as a gift, not take it for granted. It allows us to cherish the ones we have now, not regret their passing. It allows us to remain content with families, not resentful of their existence. Remembering death allows us to guide ourselves and our loved ones to faith, righteousness, truth, and patience. It results in peace and perseverance.
We have all misunderstood death. We run away in fear or fog it from our mind. Yet remembering death is a blessing to those who remain conscious of it. It never leads you to wonder “only if…” you did something differently. Remembering death everyday allows you to fulfill that “only if.” It allows appreciation, love, contentment, and positivity. Regret is lost time (What is Time). Remembering death means understanding time and never regretting loss.