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The Wondrous Path

Responding to grieving friends is challenging business.

When Tarun's parents and my father passed, and now with the loss of my brother and mother, we have tried not to be sensitive about what others say because condoling takes a lot of effort. What to say, how to say it, when to say it - none of it is easy for the condoler and the bereaved.

Our family has received countless texts, WhatsApp messages, emails, in-person visits and phone calls in the last few weeks. They have kept us sane and responding to the outreach has been therapeutic. Most of the messages and visits have brought us relief, some have made us cry with their poignancy and a few have left us mute.

Unexpectedly these interactions have helped me evolve my thinking on how I should respond to grieving friends and family.

I will check in with the bereaved on every device. I will not expect a response, but I will send love frequently. Knowing we have so many good friends who support and cheer for us even when we are unable to reciprocate has been a soothing balm.

I will ask how are you doing today because every day is different. "Today" provides the best context for an answer. I will avoid open-ended questions or projecting my own grief because shifting the onus to the bereaved is plainly wrong. As for the 400 millionth time a consoler has laser-focused on the thing that is causing us the most anxiety, we've decided to keep repeating "tandoori chicken" in our heads while they talk to curtail a reaction that we may regret later.

I will avoid doling religious solace even as I privately pray for peace because in the immediate aftermath, attributing the upheaval to "God's way" is a tough pill to swallow. I believe that in due time we will be able to rationalize with divinity what we cannot understand with logic.

I will say, "May the universe and your immediate circle give you the strength in these difficult days." I will not say "Be strong" because who on earth is stronger than the bereaved? Those replenishing our reserves from their strength are the ones we have gravitated toward - like the cousin who showed up from Mumbai for a few hours just to be there for morning tea the day after Ma passed because the family always gathered in her room at 6:30am and he knew how acutely they would feel the double whammy on that particular morning.

I will ask if the end was peaceful. If it was not, I will hug them tightly and just say how sorry I am. I will not ask for the details of the last moments. In the early days, repeating the sequence of events had the potential for churning the grief in volatile ways.

I will provide digital support because our footprint in the cloud is a force to be reckoned with! I will not unload a boatload of pictures from my phone to the bereaved's. We saved chats, framed pictures, curated digital albums through a shared folder, and made movies to bring relief right away and to enjoy later. This made the tears flow, made us laugh and filled our days with a collaborative activity.

I will suggest mood-lifting streaming content when the time is right and offer to watch with them because passing time is the hardest thing to do when steeped in a void and relief from the monotony of browsing is priceless. We have watched "Coke Studio" on loop and have lined up "Emily in Paris" for round two.

I will anchor on the next generation when a parent passes away. I will not just focus on their loss. The young adults in our family have contagious positivity that has lifted our spirits in untold ways. They have also sought a steady hand when dealing with their own emotions. We are each good for the other and we have used humor generously to top off our reserves.

I will include the bereaved in our happy moments. I will not forget their loved one's milestones. I will not avoid contact because the family will inevitably seek joy and they will never forget their loss or the milestones which will continue to rekindle grief. For my brother's birthday, which was a few days after he passed, we celebrated with his favorite vegetarian dishes which numbered exactly two items, both without any vegetables! For my mother's birthday, soon after she passed, we prayed for her peace and marveled at how she left in her birth month. She had predicted this for years, driving Sandeep and me to drink heavily every January.

We do not understand why we lost the two of them so quickly and we may never be able to, but we know that the years of reserves we have built weaves a wondrous path on which we now travel.

May we be blessed with finding delight as we look through the windshield, living life in vivid color, never being afraid to step through the gates and to go around the bends. May the rear view mirror always remind us of where we've come from, how charmed our life has been and our responsibility to keep accumulating beautiful memories every single day.

Thank you for the shoulder, the hugs, the love, and for being there for us. We know it was tough for you and we continue to be grateful even when we mumble tandoori chicken in our heads!



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