After my cousin’s husband died, let us call him R, I did not call her up for almost a month.
Some time ago, over politics, she being polemically conservative socially, and me, an avowed liberal on paper, we might have had our small cold war (one never is sure) resulting in guarded silencing of her views when I was around, and I, in turn, brazen in my opinions to liberalize and empathize beyond borders.
All through this state of affairs, R kept his silence. That is not to say he was mute.
He was one of the saddest happy person who married into the extended family. But he drank. He drank his way to death in front of all of us defiantly.
Being far removed from the scene the tremors of emotion quaked less within me on hearing the news. Another soul passed and the circle of family stood mourning his dead body.
Strike me down but I couldn’t help thinking he died exactly from that. The circle of family. Here was a man, trapped in conjugal confusion or solitude even, afflicted by severe depression who turned to the bottle while the cackle of relatives chorused “lay off the bottle” or whispered, “what a waste of life”.
I wish I could say I did not call up because I was overwhelmed by his demise. I also was not particularly vexed at offering commiserations to those he left behind. I just did not trust I could keep a bitingly bitter tone out of my voice. What use would a sanctimonious post-funeral phone call serve?
Exactly. Of no particular use.
I suggested divorce and a restart a couple of times. Tellingly his eyes flickered with hope every time but then his words were shaped by conformity. Once, over a smoke, I asked him if he can’t just walk away from it all. Tears welled up but it ended before it started when he realized there was no escape. I waited a bit before we moved onto safer topics.
I wasn’t as close to him for him to trust my words or suggestions.
As an adult, I am privy to some matters of state that I find vexing. The institution of marriage being hailed as a holy grail of companionship. Also, the complete lack of will to enable a dignified death. From what meager resources and recourses he had, R brutally dissolved his liver to nonexistence.
But should that be the case with everyone?
Looking at my sleeping daughter I keep wondering what would be the best lessons she can learn from me and how they are delivered. Lip service about doing the right thing or heartbreaking decisions that she might not come to grips with ever or ever understand, where I as an individual follow decisions that empower me at substantial costs.
I read up a bit. Not obtuse volumes by strong-willed people, but comment sections of Yelp/Quora/Reddit and the like. Published authors and public personalities can coral popular sentiment and voice their stories and gain empathy. I suspect R feared he might garble his story. I also suspect he did not dare think his life through and I also suspect as adults we do not discuss or unknot sticky situations. We hide them under the carpet, watching mutely as unsuspecting kids walk into such situations.
I know for sure I am terrified more than saddened at the way we daily itemized a death dance within our midst.
We stood rooted by a tenacious need to hold onto appearances lest we be abandoned by our own ilk. Sari-clad, mundu madakki kettied, bespectacled brain-dead zombies.
Had he been selfish and walked away he might have been living. We did not foster an ecosystem of re-evaluating life. We had drilled a morbid fear of straying away from the beaten path too deep. Death seemed more inviting than life.
I don’t commiserate.