“How are you?”
There is no short answer. Often, there is no answer.
This question comes up walking past friends and acquaintances in corridors. All I can say in the given time is, “Fine. Thanks. And you?” All I can do is acknowledge the question, smile and nod. It’s like saying ‘Hello’. No one actually finds out how anyone is doing or feeling.
It’s been 2 years 3 months and 3 weeks. It could be said ‘enough’ time has passed. For who? Who decides how much time is enough? Traditionally bereavement has been a personal and private process. Does it mean that as a society we would generally prefer it to be personal and private? Other’s sadness can make us feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, not knowing what to say or do. The path of least resistance is to not mention death or the deceased at all. There is a fervent desire that the bereaved will adjust and move on per a set timetable, not only for their own sake but also that of others.
The Bible says:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.
- Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
Never assume someone’s mourning is over and done with. It takes its own time.
Jack Samuel on Facebook:
When I found out about the passing of Saagar Naresh, I had very little time to process my thoughts. Sitting on a train to Munich several days later, I was alone with my thoughts for the first time, and a memory of Saagar popped into my head. We were in the music room at Aidan’s, having one of our last-minute band rehearsals. At the end of a song, we realised that one of the porters had been standing outside the room, listening to us. He came in, and he said “I’m loving the music, but could you possibly play a little more quietly?” Assuming that he could hear us from his desk upstairs, we weren’t all that surprised that we were being a bit loud. What we hadn’t realised was that the porter had come from a conference in the Lindisfarne Centre at the other side of college. He had come to tell us that Saagar was drumming so loudly that everyone in the conference could hear him. By extension, Saagar was probably interrupting the whole of college. I wouldn’t be surprised if people in the other Hill colleges could hear him. Nobody drummed as loudly as Saagar.
This is a song I wrote for Saagar that day on the train. Even if Saagar and I sometimes had a different approach to life, he is such an important part of some of my best memories of Durham. He had a joke for every situation, a great awareness of the world, and the most powerful drumming style I have ever seen on a man.
RIP Saagar, this one’s for you.
Here is a song for someone who will bang the drums so loudly that we’ll always be able to hear him, no matter where he is. R.I.P. big man.
The boundaries between ‘sanity’ and ‘insanity’ are elastic. Each one of us has a place on the spectrum and it constantly shifts and shuffles depending upon the changes in our outer and inner landscapes. Each of us with our own fears, anxieties, sadnesses, communication problems and struggles to fit in move up and down that range.
“The world is but a great Bedlam, where those that are more mad, lock up those who are less.” -Thomas Tryon (1689)
“Surely we’re all mad people, and they, whom we think are, are not.” -Thomas Middleton, The Revenger’s Tragedy (1606)
Some days are impossible. I have to roll as a stone on the road, slither on sharp stairs, climb up through a lift shaft, squeeze under the door to the room and then at the end, to finally assemble myself on a chair to make a complete feeling. Today, the feeling is of nothingness. All I feel are my empty arms. The air between them is painful. The arms ache. They stretch out, crying, wanting to hold him. They hate it but they are… empty.
My heart and soul are empty. This house is empty. This whole world is empty. Reality is not what it seems to be. Nor is it otherwise. Am I now bordering on the insane? Am I always like this, but covering it up? Who is to decide what is what? No one knows. No one has ever known. A rock is just a rock. A river is just a river. Misfortune is just bad luck! It is just what it is – the experience of being human. It is absolute. It does not need validation. It does not need a name.
(Inspired by an exhibition at the Wellcome Collection: Bedlam- the asylum and beyond)
To talk about Saagar isn’t easy.
Yet to not share his story, impossible.
Hoping it helps somebody!
To miss him so much, it hurts
Yet, to know he’s always with me.
To carry on living here,
in our house is tough.
To leave, unthinkable.
To look at his beautiful pictures,
Feeling one with the universe
Whole and complete.
Yet, a black void!
knowing that’s what he would want.
And feel the eyes well up,
utmost gratitude for all that he was, is, will be.
And never let him die.
: 02:13 minutes and then a little more at about 03:15)
Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt, nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
–Henry Scott Holland, Professor of Divinity, University of Oxford. Early 20th century.
Wish you were in this room or the next. Wish I could have filled a stocking with goodies for you. Wish we could have shared this day with those we love. Wish I could have heard you call out to me, “Mamma!” Wish we could have cooked and cleared up together talking about silly things. Wish we could have played a game of table-tennis or charades or carom. You were so good at them! And such fun! I did play, pray, smile and think of you a lot. I missed you every minute of the day but I was ‘normal’. Went mountain biking for the first time. I remembered how you loved stamping your little feet in puddles on the footpath when you walked to and from your primary school. I enjoyed cycling through similar muddy puddles and felt how you must have felt. Si was amused by the squeals. Your name was spoken many times with love and pride as if you are here. And you are, in our hearts. Utterly unforgettable. Till we meet again…
Home is so sad
Home is so sad. It stays as it was left,
Shaped to the comfort of the last to go
As if to win them back. Instead, bereft
Of anyone to please, it withers so,
Having no heart to put aside the theft
And turn again to what it started as,
A joyous shot at how things ought to be,
Long fallen wide. You can see how it was:
Look at the pictures and the cutlery.
The music in the piano stool. That vase.
Here is a link to the video recordings of presentations made at a Suicide Prevention conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 17th November 2016. Stories of triumphs, visions, ideas and tragedies. All worth watching. The 10th one tells the story of Saagar and my sad home.
It’s come back. Last 2 years we sat on a beach and pretended it wasn’t happening. We ignored Christmas. Overlooked it. Avoided it. This year, we are home. We are here to face it in all it’s glory and brutality, helplessly watching the abundance of ‘missing’ it precipitates. For many years I volunteered to work on Christmas as I believed it meant more to my colleagues who belong to the Christian faith than it did to me. With whatever time we had together as a family we enjoyed the social aspect of X-mas.
When Saagar was eleven, I wrapped his gift in a hurry and left the roll of wrapping paper in the ‘miscellaneous’ cup-board. When he saw the gift from Santa, he gave me a quizzical look, like a cocker spaniel and said, “But…”. That was the end of it. Although we laughed about it, the Santa story was blown away in that instant. As an adult he thought it was unfair on kids to be ‘lied to’ by their parents. We took different standpoints on matters of wonder, mystery, magic and innocence.
After much internal resistance over the last week, I finally installed a postmodern Christmas tree of white and silver twigs with pink fairy lights right in front of Saagar’s picture. Milkshake loved it and immediately took shelter underneath it. He hasn’t budged in 3 days except for short food and loo breaks. Last evening 3 of Saagar’s friends had dinner with us. I was reminded of how much fun we would have talking about absolutely inconsequential things (drivel) for hours! The fabulous combination of a sharp intellect and a great sense of fun was familiar. Laughter filled the house. American, South African, Indian and Australian accents appeared and disappeared. Stories of travels, girl-friends, dysfunctional families, Facebook pictures and safe-spaces were shared. Opinions on demands for transgender toilets and identity politics were expressed. Future plans were discussed. B showed off her new elephant tattoo and I proudly displayed my Saagar tattoo. Food was polished off. Time flew past.
Wonder what he would have looked like at 22. Wonder what he would have done after graduation. Wonder if he would have had a girl-friend. The ‘missing’ is awful but ‘what might have been’ is killing too.
It was happy and sad. We missed him. Our love for him and his for us brought us closer together. That is the new normal – joyful and tragic at the same time – 2 sides of the same coin.