As we floated past a funeral possession I asked the youngest of the boatman, Perkesh, if people were sad when a loved one died? He replied “when someone has lived a long time we cannot be sad, we can only be happy. We celebrate their passing for they have lived a long life”.
It made sense. We had floated past a dozen plus cremations along the Ganga. Although I had no clue who those people were or what status they had attained in their life, the reaction was always the same. We never saw tears or heard cries. We often were greeted with waves and the odd person proclaiming “hello!”, all too eager to practice their broken English. Death was no more a stranger to these people than the birth of a child, the delight of a good harvest or the challenge of overcoming illness; it was all just part of the human experience.
On my last full day in India I found out my Gramma had passed away on Christmas Eve. She had lived a full 83 years of good health and comfort. With that in mind I was still shocked and saddened of the news. That evening just before sunset I walked the beach alone to reflect on her life and to say goodbye to India. As my bare feet met the wet sand, I looked out over across the ocean at the setting sun. For me, being out in nature has always been the best healing agent and the only real opportunity to make sense of things that one can never truly make sense of. The colours, the beauty of the sky and ocean, it was then that I realized something I had not realized at home, something that India, the Ganga and Perkesh had taught me.
As the day came to an end here in India a new day would begin back home. If the sun never set here than night would last forever back home. If this was reality people in India would never be able to appreciate the beauty of a sunset nor would people back home be able to see the calming power of a sunrise. One needed the other just as the other needed it.
The same can be said about life and death. Without death, life would hold little meaning. It may be something we fear because its something we cannot control or ever fully understand, but it is as purposeful as a setting sun.
So while I am saddened by the passing of my Gramma India did teach me “when someone has lived a long time we cannot be sad, we can only be happy. We celebrate their passing for they have lived a long life”. With that said I say goodbye.