Death: A Concept

It was a Sunday afternoon.


In the hustle bustle of our lives, Sundays are the sole consolation; blowing softly over countless wounds inflicted by a painful week. Sundays are special for me as a doctor because I am expected to visit very few patients and therefore get the rare opportunity to return home early to my children, who have held their breath from Monday to Saturday; and have their only chance to smother me on Sunday.  I am their mirror and counsellor, helping them sort through their numerous, innocent questions and thought processes; and also their entertainer, regaling them with stories of strange experiences, embarrassments and joys of my week; and thus personally witnessing the bliss of life in a family.


This Sunday was different.


As soon as I entered the clinic, some unsettling news made its way into my ears. It was the junior resident-doctor speaking: “Sir! The patient on Bed no. 7 has passed away! We tried our best but … Sir, where did we go wrong?”


The death of every patient results in a feeling of guilt. Where am I faltering? Is my medical knowledge falling short, or is it a lack of experience? To be honest, my mind wouldn’t accept that more than two decades of medical practice counts as insufficient experience. Every few months, though, one has to digest this bitter experience of the unexpected death of a patient. And the lesson of death being inevitable and the lesson that doctors are not Gods is driven into our minds in the harshest possible manner.


Death: what a strange concept? I spiralled inside the syllables of this word. In my notes, the patient on Bed number 7 was – Avinash Rangnekar, age 45, living with family, dead because of a severe heart attack. Avinash was dead. I could see that. But I just could not imagine the effect of his death on his family, his friends, loved ones, and his colleagues in the office.


In a man’s life, death is an inevitable event. Despite this, we find very little open discussion, research or analysis about it. We receive strong doses of advice on how to plan for a smooth life but no one advises us on planning our death. The two are equally important.


If I have to speak with reference to Avinash; he couldn’t plan his death because of his unexpected demise. Now, the question of running the household stares at his wife, who has probably only handled the internal household-work, thus far and will have to now manage the pressures of the inside and the outside of her home. Will her home feel like home now that Avinash is gone?


What about the aspirations and desires of the dead themselves?


Planning death is not just planning for the family in the eventuality of one’s death, but also involves making use of our mortal lives to meet our goals and fulfil our desires so that we can embrace death with a happy mind.


There are many kinds of death: natural death, unnatural death, suicide, homicide, spiritual death, samadhi, fast-unto-death, human bomb, self-immolation. Whatever be the process, it ends in only one outcome- death.
When alive, one journeys through life with different states of mind with the support of a mighty force (of survival) that allows one to handle or face death. Where does this force or strength arise from? A man who lives with the fear of death abandons all his fear and embraces death in certain situations. Where does this fearlessness come from?


It was Sunday – but these questions haunted me.


What after death? That we sacrifice only our bodies after death and our immortal souls long for bodies to occupy after death is a theory that has persisted through the ages. Is it true? What about rebirth? So many people have confessed to having found glimpses of their past life in their current lives. But why doesn’t everyone experience these glimpses? Why is the memory of past lives wiped out so completely?


In medical practice, one comes across many accounts of near-death experiences. If someone’s heart has stopped beating, he is dead for those moments. But if his heart is revived within three minutes of being given an electric shock, he has successfully escaped the clutches of death. We have asked several such patients about their near-death experiences: Several felt like they were being dragged, or reported flashes of brightness or various colours before their eyes. Some reported seeing instances from childhood which they have never recollected throughout their lives. The experiences vary wildly.


If one is suffering from a terminal illness, and seeks euthanasia (which is illegal in several countries) to end their pain once and for all; how do they feel when they finally face death?
This Sunday, these varied questions circled around my mind.


Trapped in my own thoughts, I reached home. As I stepped inside my home into the loving embrace of my children and family, I told myself I have to know more about death.


It was a Sunday afternoon…


(To be continued…)

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