Editor’s note: In this guest post, Dr. Tushar Mehta writes about how spirituality and connection to a community makes a huge difference, and how people can evolve even at a late age.
“Parasparopagraho Jivanam” All life is bound together by mutual support and interdependence
My grandfather passed away 2 days ago, and we just had the funeral today. He was 87 years old, and had deteriorated significantly since he was stuck by a car as he was crossing a road a few years back. This weakened an otherwise vigorous man, and eventually his age caught up to him. There is sadness involved when a family member dies, but there is also an uplifting story in this, and a light.
My grandfather had a hard life from childhood, and the family (my grand mother, mom, uncles and aunts), did go through many hard times. He was a very honest person, but sometimes difficult person often quite stern in demeanor. As family we all gave him due respect and love, but we were not as close to him in a personal and affectionate sort of way.
However, over the last year I saw him change so much. Despite his progressive weakness, he became someone who laughed and smiled so easily and often, which was rare in the past. He became very spiritual in a natural and wholesome way. He spoke of his mortality with ease and confidence, saying that he knew he would not live long this year, and all that mattered was for his soul to grow more mature.
My brother and I spent lots of time with him over the past couple of years, knowing that the inevitable was coming closer. During that time we developed a better friendship as he evolved into someone who became warm and glowing. I would often massage his arthritic neck and back and he much enjoyed this.
Over the last couple of weeks my grandfather did suffer many pains and discomforts of his dying body, but he maintained a spiritual focus, and would listen to and recite mantras so much. In typical Jain fashion he decided that he would die on his own terms and made a decision to stop all medications, food, and eventually even water. This was five days before his death, and is a decision and an act that Jains call Santharo. The purpose is to the leave the body on one’s own terms, a spiritual flight to a new beginning, an austerity where a conscious person decides not to hinder the smallest leaf or insect in that process of consuming a morsel of food; total ahimsa.
However, it does not look that pretty when you are wearing a diaper. My bro and I did all the medical things we could to keep him comfortable. But most importantly my uncle and aunt were with him constantly, caring for his every need and pain as best they could. My aunt was up with him every night and slept by his side (slept very little actually). She was heroic. My grandmother was always there chanting the mantras which he requested and loved. There were also many other friends and family members who came frequently and stayed over many nights to keep him company. He seemed to suffer more at night and had trouble sleeping. When he died, there he was surrounded by many friends and family who were quietly singing mantras and keeping vigil, rubbing his shoulders, head, and feet. He looked very peaceful. This all happened at my uncle and aunt’s home where my grandfather lived.
Today we had a funeral and cremation. It was a bit somber, but afterwards we had a lots of good memories to share. There was a lot of laughter as well, and i think that we were quite at peace and thankful that he achieved such upliftment over the last year or two.
A good friend of mine sent me a wonderful quote from Rabindranath Tagore :
Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.
I think that reflects the way that our family sees things. There is a mystery in life that we theorize about, but there is also a knowledge about a greater journey of the self in the universe, a desire to grow towards the ultimate, about compassion and an inner freedom. Also, there was such generosity and love from a golden web family and friends. I know we will all experience this, and I hope for us to have it sooner rather than later.
Dr. Tushar Mehta is a physician from Toronto, Canada. He is of Jain heritage and feels that this philosophy and spirituality has a great influence on his experience of life.