Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Grief looks different on everyone"

Izzie: [laughing] George is dead! He's dead! They're about to put him in the ground and the priest is doing classic rock lyrics! And that girl, that redhead, is crying harder than his mother and she never even met him!

They say there are 5 stages of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
When George O’ Malley died on Grey’s Anatomy at the beginning of season 6, I didn’t know if I could believe in any of the things that the doctors or the interns were saying or doing. Dear, sweet, doe-eyed George who had been named “the intern with the most promise” and wouldn’t hurt a fly. The trauma surgeon with nerves of steel who signed up to join the Army, couldn’t make it home to wish his Mom a final goodbye because he got run over by a bus, trying to save a girl he’d just met. It didn’t hit me. It didn’t even strike me when they all got dressed to mourn. Not until Izzie laughed in the middle of the funeral. That’s Dr. Isobel Stevens, played by Katherine Heigl. She laughed in disbelief, counting off the reasons one by one. George was dead. Izzie had Cancer. Doctors Derek Shepherd and Meredith Grey had finally made time in the middle of their hectic schedules and gotten married by writing down their wedding vows on a post-it, wearing blue scrubs and no make-up. Reasons to seize if you want to live, like you would seize a raft in the middle of the ocean. They all laughed with her. Hysterically. They laughed because the next day there would be patients and surgeries and George would have to begin the long and arduous process of being just a memory. And I laughed with them.
And as I laughed, a memory from a long time ago suddenly splashed on my mind in technicolour. My grandmother’s passing, 13 years ago. A prolonged illness following a stroke. All my aunts, uncles and cousins were there. The rites and rituals. People I know and those who I don’t, all dressed in white. Baskets full of fruits. The fire. The priest. Squabbles over whether people should shave their heads, because baldness doesn’t go with the suited look that must ensue once the rituals have burnt at the pyre and the last tears shed and it’s back to work. A poem that I wrote for her because my emotions needed decorative pegs to hang from that I could put neatly on display for people to come and hang their coats of grief from.
Even a graveyard needs a butterfly sometimes. And then, in the middle of all that, I suddenly heard peals of laughter coming from the inner chambers. My aunts were in splits. I don’t know who started it. But they had all joined in, pretty soon. My uncles were shocked but you could tell they were tempted. You could tell that the kids were the audience here and everyone was busy trying to define the boundaries of propriety for them. It’s difficult, being the example for children to follow. Hushed whispers went around. “Keep it down”. “There are guests outside”. For some reason it reminds me now of actors backstage, stealing a look at the assembled audience from in between the curtains. They remembered the last time they had met. They remembered the good times. Pranks. Jokes. Legends. Family stories. I remember seeing an inhaler lying around. Someone had escaped with the help of asthma. Someone had started reciting poetry. I remember a cousin asking if it was too soon for him to wear a red shirt. I remember a guy stealing a look at me while I tied my hair in a ponytail, standing in front of a mirror. An aunt asked my Mom if I had shed tears at all. I avoided her throughout her stay. You see, I had been humming a song. I never knew a behavioural assessment was due. Most of us did, though. This other guy was staring straight out the window. This girl I knew was wearing make-up and people didn’t like it. I took comfort in a yellow ochre printed T shirt and an olive green long skirt. Someone wanted to read what my T shirt said. I was happy knowing they can’t make out what it says. They couldn’t criticize it that way. The food was good. The caterers had got it right. And a small time celebrity had stepped in. Some of us wondered while some of us swore. Surely there’s no mistaking those red, puffy eyes? Of course he was a raging alcoholic?
As twilight fell, though, suddenly everyone was holding a cup of tea. It was almost as if someone would propose a tea “toast”. Everyone was eating beguni (brinjal in fried batter) and muri (puffed rice). Someone mumbled an apology about the choice of snacks. It wasn’t sober enough, nor respectful to the deceased, she said. We were a lot of people, sharing a couple of apartments across town. It was a re-union of sorts. We didn’t seem to care about the logistics much. People who had flown in and people who had taken the train. People who knew once they reached and people who had the news broken to them, toothbrush in hand, by insensitive next door neighbours. But we were in it together. And that’s what I remember now.
Yes, I don’t normally recall funerals. But maybe I need to. True, of all the people who came over that week, two left our side. But the rest of us are hanging in there. You see, that week, some lost their mother. Some lost a sister. Some lost a grandmother. But not a single person lost time.

1 comment:

  1. guess that's the reason why we bengalis love to munch on our favourite phrase time and again everytime during the shraadha or essentially on the day of matsamukh ,"babu porte bosho ebaar, time kill koro naa aar", or "eyi kichu bol to, time kill ki kore kori, bahut bore hocchi mayiri." Death is anything but Agantuk eh!