dealing with death

This is a flashback really, of something that happened in 1998… This is very delicate subject, and I’ve tried to avoid any morbidity or depression in it though thats rather tricky. One may ask why I share such personal details publicly. I thought about it, and felt that there are times when what I’ve learnt is much larger than “me” – and this is one of those times…

When one confronts the death of a loved one, one typically goes through several phases. First there is shock – one simply cannot believe this has happened. Then it finally sinks in, there is a terrible feeling of grief and loss.

Then there is guilt – this is the worst part which can last very very long and destroy a person, like rust eating into metal. Never ending loops of “if only I’d done that particular action… or taken that other decision or heeded that warning sign or told him that particular thing or if only… if onlyif onlythen he would’ve been ok now“. And maybe even some of “What a blind moron I must’ve been, it was so obvious all along…

Finally, there’s a kind of acceptance, ok its happened, and we move on – never forgetting of course – but atleast forgiving oneself atleast just that little bit to acquire the strength to move on.

At this point, some people get atleast a vague idea about the the nature of impermanence of life. For others, they get busy in salvaging things like sorting out or sometimes quarreling about property and so on and so forth. Luckily for me I happened to belong to the first category.

Once life goes on, again there are two possibilities. Almost anything and everything reminds one of the same person. The person seems to be everywhere. Every single moment of normal routine life goes through where one remembers the same situation earlier when that person was there. So depending on one’s attitude, these memories can be fond happy or sad. One can still get caught in a whirlpool of guilt that sucks a person’s spirit out for days together. I was lucky to have my dodamma (aunt) and other good friends around around, who were a tremendous source of strength and always encouraged my mother and me to remember the happy memories.

Most of this, I later read, is what almost anyone in a similar situation goes through. Some people get stuck in some phase or the other for very long times and never get over it for their entire lifetimes at times, but luckily I wasn’t one of them.

Still for me, there were actually plenty of things to feel guilty and frustrated about – I hadn’t really put in a lot of efforts to understand my Dad and usually had a lot of differences in opinion with him that I had no hesitation in expressing. Nothing majorly abusive or out of the ordinary, and also there’s no doubt we’ve had our good times together as well. But it was only since the previous one year before his death that I was really getting to understand him a lot better and our friendship had started to become stronger and stronger.

This para may be unnecessarily detailed, but its just to give an idea of the deceptively logical reason why I felt guilty. At the time of his death, I was right there while he was reeling under a heart attack. That morning he was writhing around in bed since 4 AM complaining of chess pain. He was sweating profusely. The fact is, none of us really had a clue about what was going on. Simply incredible, I know, esp considering that I’d been a fairly well read chap even then, somehow what now seems to be such elementary knowledge, had eluded me then. Consequently, my reactions were less than wise. Out of sheer ignorance I’d thought he was just having gas trouble from overeating. You see, the thing is I myself had sufferred similar severe pain in the very recent past (though closer to my stomach) due to some gas trouble and I’d thought the same thing was happening to him. I was actually mildly annoyed *”this man eats so much, and then he has to face the consequences and on top of that spoil my sleep as well”*! Anyway he actually managed to survive the attack and suddenly seemed allright. A taxi we’d called came so we decided to take him to the hospital anyway. He did the worst possible thing – he walked down the staircase into the car – and thats probably the reason he had another attack, this time a fatal one – on the way to the hospital. [One amazing thing that I recall now is his calmness – even when he was in great pain, he was completely peaceful and was reassuring everyone that he was ok, and later when he died (only my mother was with him in the car), it was a very peaceful death.]

So effectively from my point of view, I’d eventually let him die right just like that. One can only imagine the feeling of helplessness and frustration of learning all about the symptoms and how to deal with a heartattack only *after* his death – and especially when it suddenly seemed like everyone in the world were experts about the topic, telling us exactly what we should’ve done.

[There was a time when I tried going around telling everybody about the risks and symptoms of heart problems so they don’t make the same mistake wrt their parents, and learnt that nobody was really particularly bothered 🙂 ]

Anyway I know now, but didn’t know then, that guilt is an unnecessary rock we go around carrying on our backs. Maybe lifting weights may be seen as good excercise that builds character, but even that logic definitely does not apply to carrying a guilt around at all. A guilt is totally unnecessary and breaks the human spirit. We are free to drop it whenever we like, forgive ourselves and get on with life, but we feel so strongly that “we deserve it” that we hesitate to let go. We keep punishing ourselves endlessly for [what we perceive to be] a mistake that we committed one time. In fact there are so many burdens we are already carrying around without even knowing it.

A key turning point in influencing me to drop this particular burden I was carrying was Kichu when I attended his workshop. At one time, I confronted him and told him almost in tears “my Dad died and I feel terrible that I could’ve prevented his death if only I’d been a little less of an idiot”. Then he replied – there was not that much of sympathy (I’d become more or less immune to sympathy anyway) in his words, but more of an intense pragmatism when he replied Imagine your Dad was around, would he have been happy to see you like this?

This simple question really floored me. I knew my Dad had loved me a lot – I had enough haunting memories that had proved it beyond a doubt. I whispered… “no”.

It was a tremendous relief, and the depression quickly wore out.

Once the depression was confronted and overcome – I finally figured out that the way my Dad used to overeat and sleep and laze around, esp when he was extremely overweight at the most vulnerable age of 56, he was laying a red carpet for heart diseases if not everything else and er… putting it rather undiplomatically… was almost inevitable. It would’ve been a miracle if I’d done something to save him the last minute. Now I could only regret that *if only* he’d been more health conscious, all this wouldn’t have happened at all! Jaideep ‘s comments while we’d taken a long walk the day after it happened eventually sunk in. I had been bitterly wishing that I had succeeded in my attempts at preventing my Dad from overeating, and Jaideep had said that for my Dad it was his life, and *entirely his personal choice* of how he *chose* to lead it.

Then curiosity set in. What had happened? One evening he was fine, talking normally with everybody. The next day he was gone. Reduced to a pile of lifeless flesh and bones that I could no longer identify as the man I’d grown up with. I had to find out and I knew nothing could stop me. A very intense curiosity, that was only increased by a very unusual experience at a pranic healer (which I’m yet to describe in this blog) as one of my experiments in dealing with my RSI, I was almost willing to abandon everything and just go out to the Himalayas or any place to find out really what this whole drama that we all go through right from childhood till the end is all really about! Eventually I did start to find some answers, and was convinced that I don’t need to go to any special place at all – everything one needs to know is already within oneself! 🙂

And then life resumes its normal course, only thing is the perspective is slightly different.

“Perspective – Use it or Lose it”
– Illusions (Richard Bach)

“perspective is the slipperiest and most valuable commodity on the planet”.
David Allen’s blog

This renewed perception allows one to truly value the people who are sharing one’s life. It can lead to a drastic reduction of superficiality in relationships, thereby strengthening it to live a life of relatively purer, less conditional, love.

32 Responses to “dealing with death”

  1. Leonid Mamchenkov Says:

    Very nicely written and inspiring post. Thank you.

  2. msanjay Says:

    Hey thats nice to know Leonid, thanks for reading.

  3. Uday Says:

    Most parts of the story are straight from the heart hence very warming. I like to think and talk about death a lot because I believe that helps me to start loving life more and respect every moment of it as it slips away into the unknown.

  4. msanjay Says:

    Thanks Udianna… you might like this article…

    My third story is about death. When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then…


    I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept. No one wants to die, even people who want to go to Heaven don’t want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. right now, the new is you.

    Commencement Speech at Stanford given by Steve Jobs

  5. msanjay Says:

    Death in the conventional sense, is simply yet another such transition into some other dimension of time and space. The wonderful opportunity that we have now [in human birth] of improving ourselves is only transient. That is why imo there is so much of importance of living in the now and here, of having awareness.

    Now after all that, to answer the question I’ve asked myself once in a way: “so what?”

    Because everything that I described earlier are some events of the past – which are over, no point in remembering again and again. I’ve found that my *infinetessimal* understanding of this actually has had some tremendous positive implications.

    Just one example – there are countless others: I could see many people of my life – for eg Ajji and Tata not just as my grandparents but I could see them [at a greater depth than merely intellectual understanding] for what they were, their friendship, the tremendous value they’ve had in my life, the number of things they were teaching me with their own example! I might have known all these things earlier as well too, just like anyone else. But there was a key difference: that I came to know all these things, not after they had died but while they were still around in good health! 🙂 I could see in them the divine beings that they were, and tried to be the best possible grandson to them. As a consequence, I only felt relatively negligible sadness when they departed. I will write more about them some time in this blog.

    Wrt other people around me, like colleagues, neighbours, etc, I find that the Rajesh Khanna character in the old Amitabh classic Anand very inspiring.

    Anand is the story of two friends, Rajesh Khanna and Amitabh Bachchan. Rajesh Khanna is terminall ill with cancer. When his doctor friend (Amitabh) comes to know of this he marvels at ‘Anand’s’ zest for life. There is no sign of imminent death in him. He laughs and makes everybody laugh.

    Somewhere inside, Anand is lonely, he is aware of his fate, but tries to live every moment fully. He brushes off fear and enjoys gifts of nature — the sun, moon, breeze, twilight and laughter.

    It is only in laughter that he breathes his last. The film deals with the inevitable end, death, and yet breathes life in such a morbid subject with lively performances and great songs. Anand is, Rajesh Khanna’s best film to date

    I sometimes freely gift things to people, sometimes for no reason distribute biscuits in the office, I particularly like gifting a book to esp a young mind if I feel that person could read and benefit from the book. May even buy an autorickshaw driver breakfast – countless other strange but ordinary everyday examples 😉

    Essentially, I feel a lot more “down to earth” and real!

  6. Wandering the Pathless Land » Blog Archive » Guilt and Loss: A Story from a Reader Says:

    […] m. Recently, Sanjay, a reader from India, wrote me to give permission to link to his very personal story on dealing with the loss of his own father. Sanjay’s is a very tou […]

  7. Sanjay Mysoremutt ಸಂಜಯ » Blog Archive » ಹೇಗಿದ್ದವನು ಹೇಗಾಗೋಗಿದ್ದಿನಿ… Says:

    […] so much to learn from them, but this is not one of them. Having learnt from witnessing my father’s death, I’d spent so much of quality time with them to my complete s […]

  8. Amruta Says:

    what is this sanjay anna?

  9. msanjay Says:

    Just some old flashback Amruta, nothing of any importance! 😉

  10. stella Says:


    thank you for stopping by my website…and your kind words.

    i have read over your blog post here, and it is very insightful. it’s good to share stuff like this I think. reminds us all how connected we are in this ‘human experience’ that is life…and LIVING.

    take care.


  11. Shruthi Says:

    Beautiful post. Thank you.

  12. bellur ramakrishna Says:

    sanjay, having lost both my parents at a very young age, i could FEEL the intensity of ur pain. but i have always believed in these 2: ‘aagodella olledakke’ and SUKHA BANDAGA HIGGABEDA, KASHTA BANDAGA KUGGABEDA.

  13. msanjay Says:

    Thanks Shruthi. Bellur, really touching to know the way you could relate to it… and thats a really good quote (for any who don’t know Kannada, it loosely translates to ‘When happiness comes don’t prance, when difficulties come don’t slump’)

    Sooner or later I’ll eventually catch up with all the comments on this site… but for now just wanted to make a note of a striking and funny verse from a mailing list 🙂

    There are those who do not realize
    that one day we all must die.
    But those who do realize this
    settle their quarrels.

    Dhammapada 6

  14. Shruthi Says:

    What a beautiful quote! The wisdom of centuries, compressed into these 4 lines!
    Thanks a lot, Sanjay.

  15. msanjay Says:

    This one’s really funny… by American comedian George Constanza…

    “The most unfair thing about life is the way it ends. I mean, life is tough. It takes up a lot of your time. What do you get at the end of it? A death! What’s that, a bonus? I think the life cycle is all backwards. You should die first, get it out of the way. Then you live in an old age home. You get kicked out when you’re too young, you get a gold watch, you go to work. You work forty years until you’re young enough to enjoy retirement. You drink alcohol, you party, and you get ready for high school. You go to grade school, you become a kid, you play, you have no reponsibilities, you become a little baby, you go back into the womb, you spend your last 9 months floating with luxuries like central heating, spa, room service on tap. then you finish of as an orgasm !!!Amen”

  16. bellur ramakrishna Says:


  17. msanjay Says:

    Wow thanks RK… thats really nice of you to say that! 🙂

    Recently saw a quote by ~ ŧĥĬřđ Êÿĕ ~ very apt for his photo!

    The death-bed of a day, how beautiful! – Philip James Bailey

  18. janice Says:

    On August 2, 2006, msanjay said the “I think the life cycle is all backwards” was from American comedian George Costanza. George Costanza is a fictional character on the American television sitcom “Seinfeld” (1989–1998). The fictional character is played by Jason Alexander. So the quote should actually be attributed to the writers of the “Seinfeld” show, not the actor who plays a part.

  19. msanjay Says:

    Oh I see Janice – received that in a forwarded email. I’ve watched Seinfeld once in a way but hadn’t remembered the character name… and least of all the writer… but yeah, you’re right, its actually the writer of the show! 🙂

  20. msanjay Says:

    A colleague quoted a nice one today…

    “Never take life too seriously, ‘cos you will never get out of it alive!”

  21. Ram Says:

    Howdu, idu ondu delicate (sukshma) vishaya. Its like defining gali (air).

  22. adhocquirks Says:

    this is a well written post; personal yet, objective.

  23. msanjay Says:

    Thanks adhockquirks.

    Relatively soon, I will die. Maybe in 20 years, maybe tomorrow, it doesn’t matter. Once I am dead and everyone who knew me dies too, it will be as though I never existed.

    ~ movie About Schmidt

  24. msanjay Says:

    Tentacles of Time

    Sadho Ye Murdon Ka Gaon
    Peer Mare, Pygambar Mari Hain
    Mari Hain Zinda Jogi
    Raja Mari Hain, Parja Mari Hain
    Mari Hain Baid Aur Rogi
    Chanda Mari Hain, Suraj Mari Hain
    Mari Hain Dharni Akasa
    Chaudan Bhuvan Ke Chaudhry Mari Hain
    In Hun Ki Ka Asa
    Nauhun Mari Hain, Dus Hun Mari Hain
    Mari Hain Sahaj Athasi
    Tethis Koti Devata Mari Hain
    Badi Kaal Ki Bazi
    Naam Anam Anant Rehat Hai
    Duja Tatva Na Hoi
    Kahe Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho
    Bhatak Maro Mat Koi

    English Translation

    Oh Sadhu This is the Village of the Dead

    The Saints Have Died, The God-Messengers Die
    The Life-Filled Yogis Die Too |
    The Kings Die, The Subjects Die
    The Healers and the Sick Die Too ||

    The Moon Dies, The Sun Dies
    The Earth and Sky Die Too |
    Even the Caretakers of the Fourteen Worlds Die
    Why Hope For Any of These ||

    The Nine Die, The Ten Die
    The Eighty Eight Die Easily Too |
    The Thirty Three Crore Devatas Die
    It’s a Big Game of Time ||

    The Un-Named Naam Lives Without Any End
    There is No Other Truth ||
    Says Kabir Listen Oh Sadhu
    Don’t Get Lost and Die ||

    ~ Kabir

  25. msanjay Says:

    This is a one thought from Eknath Easwaran’s Thought For The Day that I really relate to a lot.


    December 27

    The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
    – I Corinthians

    Most of us find the death of another person or creature deeply unsettling, yet after a time we manage to submerge our feelings and carry on. For someone deeply sensitive to the transitory nature of life, however, an encounter with death can leave scars that last a lifetime. As a teenager Saint Augustine witnessed the untimely death of a bosom friend, and suddenly a trapdoor opened into deeper awareness. He was devastated. “I thought death suddenly capable of devouring all men, because he had taken this loved one.”

    The word anxiety is a weak term for expressing this continuing uneasiness, this unsettled sense of being out of place and running out of time. Generally we can only ascribe it to external events, if we succeed in linking it to anything at all. But what is actually happening is that a wisp of memory is rising, whispering to us from deep within that nothing external in life is secure, nothing physical ever lasts.

    No matter how hard we may try, in the long run none of us can escape the devastating fact of death. Yet an encounter with death, as in the case of Augustine, can leave us changed decidedly for the better. It can prompt us forward on the long search for something secure in life, something death cannot reach.


    After my Dad’s death in 1998, my uncle (mom’s brother), grandpa and granny died in over the next couple of years. All of these were people I had loved and grown up with. However after my Dad’s death I had been fortunate enough to come in contact with the learning about dharma. Developing a relatively little bit deeper knowledge of death, and having known that I had tried the best I could do for them while they were alive – and if not having helped them, had definitely not hurt them anytime, I was able to witness the subsequent deaths with negligible scars but could face them in a more positive and pragmatic way.

    I emphasise on relatively because even after all these years, I’ve hardly learnt anything yet – I still have a great deal more to learn from myself as well as everyone around me! (and this really adds to the beauty of life!).

    I believe the next generation will know more than I can ever hope to learn in this entire lifetime 🙂

    I hear babies cry, I watch them grow
    They’ll learn much more than I’ll never know
    And I think to myself what a wonderful world
    Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world.

    ~ Louis Armstrong (What A Wonderful World)

  26. msanjay Says:

    Why are we born? We are born so that we will not have to be born again.

    A good practice is to ask yourself very sincerely, “Why was I born?” Ask yourself this question in the morning , in the afternoon, and at night…every day.

    The Buddha told his disciple Ananda to see impermanence, to see death with every breath. We must know death; we must die in order to live. What does this mean? To die is to come to the end of all our doubt , all our question, and just be here with the present reality. You can never die tomorrow; you must die now. Can you do it? If you can do it, you will know the peace of no more questions.

    Death is as close as our breath.

    This has simply got to be the best one… 🙂

    When one does not understand death, life can be very confusing.

    ~ Ajahn Chah

  27. msanjay Says:

    At death a person abandons
    what he construes as mine.
    Realizing this, the wise
    shouldn’t incline
    to be devoted to mine.

    ~ Dhammapada

  28. a common man ಸಂಜಯ » Blog Archive » different colors for different situations Says:

    […] Sanjay was a little boy, in usual situations when he didn’t really need anything from his (late) Dad, he’d be a hopeless tantrum throwing brat! :evil: And when he needed something, […]

  29. msanjay Says:

    From a forwarded mail …

    “when I die, I wana die like my Grandpa who died peacefully in his sleep… not screaming like all d passengers in d car he was driving…”

    Sardar visits Chinese friend dying in hospital.
    The Chinese friend just says “CHIN YU YAN” and dies.
    Sardarji goes to China to find the meaning of his friend’s last Words.
    And finds It means “U R STANDNG ON the OXYGEN TUBE!”

  30. Aniruddha Deodhar Says:

    Just remembered the AANAND movie…all things….nice post…keep posting good stuff…

    Quality Tale – The blog contributes to ensure the Quality in any field in your life.


    Aniruddha Deodhar

  31. a common man ಸಂಜಯ » Blog Archive » when I die… Says:

    […] When my Dad had died, I was miserable for a very long time. I just didn’t feel like doing anything – everything seemed so useless and meaningless and the pain had weighed heavily in my heart. The real fact was that somewhere in my life I had learnt that “this is the way we are supposed to be when someone close to us dies” and it all was perfectly justifiable. Even if I forgot and have some fun, I would soon feel guilty “how can I be having fun when he is not there” and soon a dark cloud would accumulate over my head, and I would revert to being comfortably miserable. […]

  32. Sanjay M Says:

    An interesting note is that for most of my life, my view of my father had largely been dominated by what other’s in the family thought about him. We lived with my mother in her parent’s house, along with her sisters, so I had ended up being more focussed on shortcomings in him, hardly ever respecting him for what he was.

    Our trip to Bijapur in 1993 was a key to changing my perception of him, where we actually spent time in an isolated environment, just with each other.

    The irony of course was that the above incident happened just a few years after the trip, in 1998 after a year when my engineering was over. But these years, during my engineering, I had really developed a better bond with him, and am grateful for the time I had spent with him understanding him much better! 🙂

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