Being there isn’t easy

My wife and I vowed to never be the lazy ones who would only go to funerals or visit suffering friends when forced to. ..We had to return the kindness that was shown to us during those very tough months.

| Opinion | 29 April 2017 | Asia Samachar |


When she took her last breath, I silently let go a sigh of relief. She had been suffering tremendously for months. She was already in a coma a few days before.

Many came to share condolences that very night. Friends and neighbors that I’ve not seen for years. My relief was evident, and to be fair, many did know of her ordeal. But the hugs and the kind sympathetic looks from each of them, surprisingly, helped with my guilt of feeling relieved. It was a little different for my headstrong father, however, who lovingly and tirelessly took care of her as she became bedridden. The presence of friends and neighbors was for more comforting emotionally for him. He wasn’t relieved. He was, very simply, in utter grief.

“I can’t believe how beautiful she looks with the makeup and dress they put on her. Just like she was before,” he would repeat himself to us, smiling hollowly.

As the cortège took her body to the pyres at the cremation grounds, I suddenly realized how big a crowd had converged at her home to pay their last respects. More importantly, their presence helped those she left behind handle the grief. It kept us strong. Some of them reminded us of the law of nature and that we had to accept it, many even eased that acceptance for us.

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The following weekend was the same. The Gurudwara grounds were full for her farewell prayers. More familiar faces, from near and far, some I’ve not seen for ages, all comforting in some way or another. Some were family and some were friends.

As life very quickly continued the next few weeks, my wife and myself realized how important it was to actually be there present for family members during sad times like this. Not just after the dearly have departed, but also when close ones were suffering quietly hidden from society. It was only after she died that we started to recall the people who had visited her, prayed for her, been present for her when she was suffering before her death. These were the ones that made such a profound difference to the ones close to my mom. Moral and emotional support actually did mean something and it was desperately appreciated by us. Especially for dad, who single handedly took on the role as caretaker, cook and house cleaner, all rolled into one. No mean feat considering his age and that he was the total opposite before. Those hugs, those sympathetic smiles, those comforting words. They all helped him the most.

My wife and I vowed to never be the lazy ones who would only go to funerals or visit suffering friends when forced to. Forced out of obligation. We had to return the kindness that was shown to us during those very tough months.

But making a vow is easy. Keeping that vow is something else. Although we may not be the laziest of couples, we get so caught up with our lives, mostly revolving around our livelihoods and our children.

Very recently, a friend of mine from my university days had lost his beloved wife to cancer, very much like mom. He had shared with us, in confidence, of her suffering Stage 4 a month prior. I remembered my vow and quickly made plans with other friends of ours to go visit him and his wife.

Typically, our plans never materialised. Work meetings and prior commitments were the usual excuses each of us had. We came very close one Friday evening, where I was ready for the two hour drive and even called my friend to notify him of our visit. Disappointingly, he had other plans and was out of town, immediately dashing my well laid plans. Before we knew it, a couple of weeks passed us by and we received the heartbreaking news of my friend’s wife passing away. It was very abrupt and saddening.

The funeral was arranged swiftly and fell on a Friday where I was caught up with work commitments I selfishly could not avoid. As I write this, in hindsight, I have failed miserably at keeping my vows and I believe I’ve disappointed my mother. She would have wanted me to return the kindness she had received during her darkest days.

It’s the simplest of things but it was the toughest to play the role of a kind friend, to be part of a caring community that should be there for one another. My wise wife reminds me that this role is a cornerstone of the teachings of our Gurus. Sanggat is that community, not merely a congregation within the four walls of the Gurudwara, it is beyond that. It’s about being part of an active, kind, caring and supportive community, ever present and never ending.

I will have to try even harder to part of this definition of this Sanggat and hopefully still keep my vows.


Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother


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