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Ready or Not…

Yesterday’s newspaper brought the news of the passing of an elderly relative. She died peacefully in her sleep, the announcement said.

I have met this lady only once. She carried herself well, despite her age and general infirmities. Her English had that slightly nasal touch peculiar to those who grew up speaking Portuguese as their primary language. Her mouth, outlined in bright red lipstick that only a certain generation can carry it off well in their youth and well into their later years (it is an art I have yet to master, I confess).

I thought about this lady yesterday. I remembered the stories she told on her last visit here and how she wistfully laughed when we said we’d come and visit her sometime.

How does it feel to die peacefully in one’s sleep, I wonder? Do you just stop breathing? Or is there a spasm of pain as life leaves you? It sounds pretty painless and a good way to go. Perhaps she was lucky.

The death of someone (and the subsequent funeral) always brings a peculiar thought to mind : what does one wear to one’s own funeral?

There are many people who are very particular about their appearance. They don’t let age, illness or any other excuse prevent them from being groomed and presentable. Then there are the ordinary joes, who try to make an effort, but don’t waste too much time on it.

All of us will die. The question is, do we let some stranger decide what we wear for our funeral?

For certain people, the decision is simple. Women who wear saris, wear saris. Widows wear white, married women get decked in a bright sari. Men get their wedding suit or a white kurta pyjama.

What about women who wear a little of everything? What about younger women who don’t wear saris?

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I remember when my father was brought home from hospital. His death was sudden, most unexpected and a bit bizarre in retrospect. When he was brought home, he was still in some of the clothes he was in when they admitted him to that hospital. As the eldest child, I was (somewhat) in charge that day. I hung around as my rather heavy daddy was placed (on the sofa? on a stretcher? in the coffin? I can’t remember) on a surface. There were several people around, some relatives, some friends.

Before they could put Daddy into the coffin, he had to be dressed in his new suit . Someone thought of closing the door to the room, leaving just a few of us inside. Someone got a scissors ready.There were these white bandages holding both his wrists together. His nostrils already had cotton in them  – I recall being horrified at this.

I remember seeing the body stripped down to the underwear. Then, I remember someone saying that I shouldn’t be there to see this (“It is not right for a daughter to see her father this way.”) It was not right for a bunch of almost-strangers to see my father this way, I thought. I left anyway. It was the right thing to do.

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I sometimes think of what I want to be dressed in when I die. I don’t wear dresses very often, so that’s out.I don’t want the fuss of a salwar-kameez (imagine the trouble that would be) and a sari? Umm, not sure about that either.

So what’s left? Trousers? Boring! Maybe I’ll ask to be just wrapped up in my favourite sheets – yards of soft, just-washed cotton, the fragrance of detergent and Comfort keeping me company.

I also have this fancy notion of being cremated (electric, not on a pyre). If I die in Goa, then that the cremation ain’t going to happen because India’s Best Small State does not have an electric crematorium yet.

I don’t want to be buried. That’s because I’m petrified of being buried alive. Haven’t you seen all those Hollywood movies where there’s  no way out? At least give me a cell phone in my coffin, so I can let someone know if I wake up.

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I often hesitate to write about death and dying on my blog. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m fine and have no plans to make a trip to the crematorium. Just thoughts. And I’m curious if other women also think of their after-death attire.

Or is it just me?

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One comment on “Ready or Not…

  1. I have thought about after-death attire, but not for myself. When I’ve looked at what people have been clothed in, at their funerals, I’ve often wondered if that was what they would have wanted. I suppose their attire, in some ways, is a reflection of how the people they left behind would want to remember them.

    Dot and I have taken to stopping and having a wander in cemeteries if we come across any on our walks lately and it inevitabl leads to a conversation about where and how we would like our remains disposed off – usually an inconclusive discussion. Death poses some incredibly complex questions for something so inevitable.

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