And then they started swarming in, easily settling in spots like they were pre-assigned. A hive of bees-each one knowing her mission. They held our mother within the folds of their dupattas, offering words or silence as needed.They know where the pain originates from and the salve needed to alleviate it.Thankfully, she eased into the lap they created for her, ensconced in palpable camaraderie. Slowly, bit by bit, they contained all of her.
Bereavement is the heaviest burden humans are forced to bear and there is no escape from it. Each one of us has to haul it, sometime or the other. And there is nothing in the world that prepares you for it; there is no rehearsal or a curtain-raiser to that event. No cut or gash even comes close to that searing pain.
My father passed away and I, my sisters and brothers could not console my mother. How do you face a woman who has lost her mate of 50+ years? What do you tell her that she does not already know? We were helpless: shoulders crumbled under the weight of grief, eyes unwilling to let up. Wouldn’t God provide some cushion to muffle the crash? Some unguent for the suppurating wound?
They addressed my mother as baaji (elder sister), bhabhi (sister-in-law) or called her by name. I recognized some women from the hazy corridors of childhood, some I had never met before but all were angels from God. Together, they filled the unrelenting night with purpose and activity. They brought in thermos flasks of hot tea and biscuits, chapattis, curry with paper plates and cups. They forced tiny morsels greased with love into my mother’s mouth. They lay down with her, adjusting her pillows, covering her feet with blankets. They poured tea for all of us and made sure we ate something. They held us to their bosoms, wiped our tears with their dupattas or let us soak their shoulders. They held us and prayed with us all night without a wink of sleep. They were the Godsend sponges who helped absorb our pain.
I can’t help marveling at the nth dimension of every life event: women.The are the upholders of traditions and rituals that make us human.They adorn themselves in shimmering outfits an jewelry, sing and dance in exuberance to accentuate weddings and births. Then they swathe themselves in somber dupattas, assume a divine aura and work as God’s sentinels to hold and lift those paralyzed with grief.
What we would have done without them? We couldn’t have survived that night without the scaffolding they built for us. Such masonry is only the forte of women. The design and the bricks are laid out by love and compassion that reside in their hearts. The obduracy of grief is such that it ebbs and rises again. It does not lie vanquished, but raises its head again and again. A special army is needed to combat it-one that’s not clad in clunky armor, but draped in soft dupattas. They are the soldiers and the masons; they are the rock and the sponge.
Eventually,we had to return to our lives but we left our mother in the hands of the capable troop. I salute and hail the warriors..