“She left me at 6 pm last evening,” the text from a dear friend popped up on one of our phones. The friend was referring to her mother. What struck us was the measured language used, despite the wave of grief. These were sober words, like those of writers and journalists used to reporting the death of others. This language is precise, and no one should have it on the ready. No one should expect unexpected grief. No one should live a life where they already have the language for grief when it arrives.
In April, India was hit by a second wave of COVID-19 so strong that we may need new words to truly express its horror. Tsunami does not cut it for they tend to retreat sooner. What we found shocking was how, amid the sudden death of family and friends, no one seemed to be doing what has always been a demarcating feature of shattering grief—searching for words to express it. So omnipresent was death, and so ubiquitous its communication from all around, that everyone acquired its second-hand language. It’s the marker of this tragedy that each one of us subconsciously picked up the exact language to talk about it.
However, the impact of grief was not dampened by this. Grief was still all-consuming. The friend who lost her mother after a continuous 36-hour decline in her oxygen levels was still as devastated. She still had to walk the rooms of their home, collecting her mother’s items in a bag. The hairbrush she used merely hours ago, strands of hair still coiled around it, the lipstick collection, her sarees in the closet, her smell on the pillowcase, the fold of the sheet and the sagging of the mattress from where she last lay, the leftovers in refrigerator from the last meal she half ate—all of these my dear friend still had to remove. Then once removed, stare at the emptiness left behind. Nothing prepares you for a death, nothing can prepare you for the death of your mother.