On the noon of July 31, I began counting down the days from eleven to zero. Yes, you read it right—eleven and not ten. Odd, right? A couple of friends even made fun of that. But I guess I was just overcome with the excitement of having got my visa approved. The previous day was memorable: two friends, traveling from faraway places, came to Chennai to meet me, not knowing when they’d get the chance to fellowship again. We stayed at a common friend’s place reminiscing about the good old days (and nights!). I returned to Bangalore on the first day of the following month, and headed straight to the hospital. Jo was getting serious each passing day, and I was left to wonder when the suffering would end. I, like many, was torn between wanting something and at the same time not wanting it. Days quickly passed and I went about doing what I had to. Slowly got to getting my stuff ready making sure I pack all my essentials. Having only a few days left, I desired to meet a lot of people but I had to cut my list short.
Meanwhile, Jo’s health was worsening and on the morning of Tuesday the 7, he slipped into eternity. For two weeks, prior to that fateful day, and with Jo showing no considerable improvement, I had been readying myself for the worst. Every time I rode back and forth between the hospital, my home, and my aunt’s house, I would listen on repeat to Westlife’s “I’ll See You Again” (I still do). My eyes would always tear up. I guess this was just my way of preparing for the inevitable. Trust me—no matter how emotionally equipped you think you might be, when reality strikes it hits you real hard; it dislocates you.
I was scheduled to meet my professors for dinner that evening, and I went ahead with the plan. The following day, I met another family that was (and still is) close to my heart. The day after, I went to UTC to meet few friends one final time. That evening I went to a mall with my brother, cousin, and sister-in-law to do some last minute shopping. By night, I had all my stuff packed. “Life had to move on!” I thought to myself. While the day I dreaded had already come to pass, another one, significantly less severe than the latter but notably grim, was quietly lurking amidst the ghostly shadows of chaos, agony, and unrest.
August 12, 2018 was the most emotionally-charged day of life. I remember going to bed the previous night with anxiety and sorrow. Two things swamped by mind: the funeral service of Jo that was set to take place the following day (Sunday, Aug.12), and my departure to NYC that same night. I lay there in bed overcome with numerous emotions, and then feeling heavy with numbness. I’d oscillate between the two. It was a long night. I woke up the next morning and the house seemed quiet and empty; it was, for my parents had already left to my aunt’s place. I freshened up, ate, and got ready. Just as I was about to step outside, I sat on my bed once again and I couldn’t help but weep. I wasn’t sure of the reason though: Was it because Jo had left us all and had gone far far away? (Or) Was it because I would soon be leaving my family behind and going far away? Honestly, I think it was both. I’d be lying if I said otherwise.
Upon reaching my aunt’s house, I saw few people standing on the porch and some seated inside. I entered the door and my eyes fell upon my aunt who had arrived from NYC that morning. Since I was seeing her after three years, I instinctively smiled only to quickly realize that the occasion didn’t call for one. We hugged. She cried. I didn’t. Sometime later the coffin was brought in and the place was filled with mourning family and friends. Jo lay there immovable, lifeless, at the very place he would eat and watch television. Where he always sat, he now lay flat in a box. I stood in the hall but would often step into his room and sit on his bed each time I could hold my emotions no more. Soon enough we left for church. I rode alone.
The church was full, which only testified to Jo’s welcoming and friendly personality. I have no words to describe the funeral service partly because of the unspeakable emotion of the occasion, and partly because of incongruous pontificating homily that vitiated the solemnity of the gathering. During the viewing, I vividly remember holding on to two of my best friends and wailing aloud like a toddler. I realized later how important the presence of a person is to a lamenting soul. As soon as the service got over, I left for home. That evening I was visited by a few friends, and we laughed and talked even as I inattentively watched Liverpool win on Matchday One. Following a light supper, and with the help of another friend, we left for my aunt’s place, and I got to spend few hours with family before I left for the airport at the stroke of midnight. It was painful to see my aunt who was visibly distressed to see the departure of her nephew, days after witnessing the ‘departure’ of her own son (and no, I’m not equating the two). And so, my mother, dad, brother, and cousin drove me to the airport, and for the better part of the journey there was quietness, clearly due to exhaustion. No sooner we reached the airport, I bid farewell to my family and went in. No one teared up, thankfully.
Now, I am seated at the very place Jo lived. There are times I wonder what Jo would have done had he lived with us during this pandemic. Would he have stepped out and broken the rules, as he is known for, set by my cousin? Would he be playing his music aloud through the day? Would he step out to the gate to receive the packages being delivered? Would we have some interesting conversations on Christianity, sexuality, and just life in general? How and for what would he shout at me? How might he babysit Hope? What exaggerated stories would he narrate about himself and his friends during our cousins’ meet? How would he have responded to my mother’s illness? I, and others here, can only imagine.
Even as I recollect the events that unfolded during those days, I wonder if I have a reason to type this down. I can’t think of any. Maybe it is for my own healing, my own comfort. Perhaps, this is the cathartic function of remembrance. I will end this post with the words of a man who lived in the very place I live in. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words give me immense comfort and hope:
“There is nothing that can replace the absence of someone dear to us, and one should not even attempt to do so. One must simply hold out and endure it. At first that sounds very hard, but at the same time it is also a great comfort. For to the extent the emptiness truly remains unfilled one remains connected to the other person through it. It is wrong to say that God fills the emptiness. God in no way fills it but much more leaves it precisely unfilled and thus helps us preserve — even in pain — the authentic relationship. Further more, the more beautiful and full the remembrances, the more difficult the separation. But gratitude transforms the torment of memory into silent joy. One bears what was lovely in the past not as a thorn but as a precious gift deep within, a hidden treasure of which one can always be certain.”
You will always be remembered, Chief!