When my mom died, I was gratified at the love and care we received from our extended family and friends.

I was also somewhat puzzled by the hurt and anger expressed by some relatives on the absence of few others. The relatives present were affronted by the fact that some people failed to show up to pay their last respects or to express sympathy during the thirteen days mourning period. In my mind, it didn’t really matter. I doubted if mom would care since she was free from all this now. Yet, some family members were really bothered by this non-show which they took as a lack of respect and humaneness. 

Since then, I often noticed the importance, we as a society, lay on paying last respects. In fact, I have heard it said, “Miss someone’s joyous occasion if you want, but always show up at difficult ones, especially someone’s death.” This made me wonder as to why we lay so much importance on paying last respects? Perhaps our presence helps the bereaved family cope better with their grief? Or perhaps it is a social norm and as social norms go, they are different in different cultures; though, as far as I know, most cultures give some importance to it.

As I thought more about it, it occurred to me that death is important not because we die, but because we lived. Our deaths are a validation of our lives, after all you can only die if you have lived. More importantly, when you visit someone’s funeral (or burial or cremation, as the case may be), you are not just paying your last respects but you are also validating the person’s life. You are visibly proclaiming that the departed mattered enough for you to stop whatever it is you were doing, give up what you could have been doing during that time, and instead show up. And because we will all die one day, the visit reassures us. It tells us that our lives are not wasted. That somehow, in this vast cosmos that we do not understand, that in this detached life that we know will go on just as well without us, we matter. The visit is an acknowledgment of our presence and value to the world. So perhaps the affront we feel is not because the departed has not been acknowledged, rather because we fear that we too may go unacknowledged. Perhaps no one may turn up when we die and if that happens, what would our life have been worth? 

Swamiji has pointed out that in the larger scheme of the cosmos, nothing matters. Yet, as human beings we seem to have an innate need to matter, to find meaning in our lives and existence. Showing up to pay our last respects is then the final validation in the deceased’s journey and one we hope to see at the end of ours. 

What do you think? Do you agree with this perspective? Or do you think differently? Do share your thoughts, differing or aligned. 

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Juhi Basoya

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