We stood around with our eyes fixed on the slight bump in the dirt before us. My colleague was wearing a white dish-dash with blotches of mud on it, evidently from the burial process that took place a few minutes ago. We had lost our way from the mosque to the graveyard and were a bit late. The look of utter devastation on my colleague’s face was nevertheless unabated. He was an only son. His father was slightly older than fifty-four years when a brain stroke took his life the night before.
On the way to the graveyard, while we were still struggling with GPS and crude, shouted directions from passer-bys, my other colleague, who is also an only son, told me to imagine how difficult it would be. Being the only son, losing your father, your sole role-model and life-guide, and becoming a de-facto patriarch of the family yourself. How absolutely life-shattering. I thought about it for a minute. I told him if you keep thinking about it, you’re going to suffer twice. Once through the worry and another (probably) through the real event, God forbids. And it’s not going to make it any easier.
There’s no rehearsal for grief.
Or is there?
It takes a year for the soft tissues of a body buried underground to decompose*, while the dry remains may persist for a hundred years. A friend told me that psychological studies showed that a family could take up to five years to regain balance after the loss of the patriarch. My other colleague (the one who can’t read GPS) got philosophical and said that death puts life into perspective. That we live, work hard, marry, make babies, make them grow and then die on them. I said, well, that’s life. It’s a cycle. Decomposition and regeneration. And we, human beings, are making more babies than ever. There’s more life on earth than death than ever before…. None of that will give you comfort when the big one hits. But that’s the reality. We may have different beliefs about what happens in the unknowable strata beyond death, but we all agree that life- with its cycle, bio-degradability, and renewability- will go on.
*Interestingly, the prostrate gland in a male body is the last soft organ to go. I don’t know why this fact gives me comfort, but it does.