One of the most poignant things I've ever heard about the pain of bereavement came from a Sunday School colleague a few years ago. The older brother of D, another fellow teacher, had died and as we assembled together at their house to condole with him, this guy A, normally the most jovial, joke-cracking kind, spoke of how the dead guy had always been like an older brother for him. Struggling to hold back tears, he wondered why God allowed us to love each other so deeply when we must die and be parted forever. Why couldn't He have made us to love less deeply so that when death came, the parting would be more bearable and less heartbreaking.
Two weeks ago, on the evening of the 3rd of February, a good friend died. Parteii had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years ago and I had written about her here. At the time, I had wondered idly how it'd feel if she died. I've experienced a few bereavements in my time: first my father, then my mother, and in between and after, assorted blood relations, well-loved pets. This is the first time ever that a close friend has died.
I don't make friends easily and don't have many either. P and I got to be friends from being Sunday School teachers in the children's departments for several years, and this would've been the 17th. In many ways, we didn't have a lot in common. She had been born and brought up in a village and then came to continue college in Aizawl, found a good government job and settled down here, accomodating assorted nieces and nephews while her folks continued to live in Thenzawl. In many other ways though, we bonded instantly. It was a time when my mother had recently died and the onus of visiting bereaved families and paying condolences, in Mizo social tradition, fell on me. P was also active in Church and lived alone with no one else to rely on to do the condolence visiting thing. With another friend MB, also in circumstances similar to hers, we met up and went for these obligatory condolence visits together. Over time, we became close friends, being in the same age group, and single and childless.
A gentle spirit, steady, consistent, unassuming and unobtrusive, and coming from a religious family, clean-living and church-minded, her cancer came as a shock to us all. But in the months that followed, she remained calm and upbeat, invariably comforting us instead with her cheerful, philosophical attitude. A memory that shames me every time I think back on it is when I had been going through a low time at the beginning of last year. I visited her at home and cribbed about how everyone else seemed to be moving ahead while I was stuck in a rut and going nowhere. She listened quietly and spoke a few encouraging words, not caring to remind me that she had cancer and was in a far less advantageous position.
It saddened us all that she didn't have an adult relative living with her, taking care of her and her medical treatments. But when I once broached the subject with her, she said quite firmly that she had consciously taken the decision not to marry so she did not ever want to trouble her siblings or family in any way. Of course, when her final days came, her family came together for her. By then, she had grown skeletal and gaunt, and it was painful to even see her. We all knew there was no hope of recovery and prayed for a painless release, but when she eventually passed on, it was and still is, something that's difficult to come to terms with.
What I shall miss most about her as I realise belatedly was her always obliging readiness in coming to condolence visits with me. There were times when she'd have already gone with someone else but if I mentioned that I hadn't done my bit yet, she would say, "Do you want to go, Zualte? Then I'll come with you. I don't mind going again."
Rest in peace, my friend. Hon hoi theoi philousin apothneskei neos. They, whom the gods love, die young. And we shall meet again some day.