Trust my errant muse to make sure my first post of the decade is about finishing and not beginning. But I’m grateful to receive a visit from La Muse at all, so let me not complain.
On January 21 I saw a Facebook post about the recent death of a friend’s wife. I had met this couple — I’ll call them Ashok and Jaya — many years ago in my hometown of Pune, India. When I read the condolence message someone had posted on Ashok’s page, I had the memory of a tall, gracious woman with a serene smile. I tried to recall something Jaya had said to remember her by, but I couldn’t even evoke the sound of her voice.
Then I read Ashok’s comment under that condolence message, and I found the thing by which I will remember Jaya. This is what Ashok had written:
“She finished her race well.”
The comment stayed with me for the rest of the day. At one point, as I was sipping elaichi chai in my kitchen, I remembered that January 21 was the day my maternal grandmother had died. This is Nani, in whose house I was born and who had led me to be born again.
Nani’s is the first death that hit me as a death. I do have memories of Nana’s death, but at four I didn’t fully grasp what death was. As I looked at my grandfather’s unmoving body laid out on the slab of ice, with Mummy holding her beloved father’s head and weeping, I didn’t know I would never see Nana again in this life. But the word “death” became real to me for the first time that day, as I heard the sad-faced, teary-eyed adults say it in hushed, respectful tones.
Nani’s death five years later hit me very differently. I never saw her body. She died in New Delhi and we didn’t attend the funeral. But at nine I knew that death was final, and I grieved accordingly.
A couple days after we got the telegram informing us that Nani had died, a parcel arrived in the mail. It was Nani’s Christmas gift to us. She had mailed it well before December 25, but it had apparently traveled all over the Indian Subcontinent before showing up at our door (thankfully unopened and in one piece). The gifts Nani had so lovingly chosen meant that much more to us because it was the last time we would receive something from her.
I have forgotten everything we found in the parcel, but I remember there were three necklaces, identical except for the colors. The colors were different so my sisters and I could share them. Mine was yellow, and the others were brown and red. I cannot remember what became of my necklace, though I do recall the fate that befell my younger sister’s red one some years later.
My sister was dressing the Fabled Dachshund in a sari, and I suggested that she add a necklace to complete the attire. The Fabled Dachshund had long ago refused to wear his collar, and I thought he might find a necklace more to his taste. As it turned out, the Fabled Dachshund didn’t care for necklaces either.
The moment my sister had fastened it to his neck, the Fabled Dachshund bent his head in one forceful jerk and the string instantly snapped. As the red beads bounced all over the living room, the Fabled Dachshund slipped on them. He didn’t have far to fall, so the effect was comic rather than tragic.
My sister and I shrieked with laughter, which brought Mummy into the room. She scolded my sister for being careless with Nani’s gift, and my sister was kind enough to credit me as the brains behind the brawl.
For using my brains, I was immediately rewarded with a spank or a dirty look, I forget which. It was probably the dirty look because I have no memory of an aching butt. On the other hand, I have so many of memories of an aching butt that it is quite possible I was spanked on this occasion as well. And my parents being so very generous when it came to discipline, it is equally possible that I received both.
But I digress. I was telling you about Nani’s death. My aunt Joyce, who was with her at the end, told us that Nani’s last words were the same as Jesus’ last words on the cross:
“Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46).
Nani ran a good, long race, and as I think about her last words, I can confidently say what Ashok said about Jaya: She finished her race well.
Someday may someone say this of me.