The stark reality hits me each time I visit the graveyard.
It just seems so, what’s the word I’m looking for, it seems so…final. Yeah, that’s the word: final.
In all honesty, a part of my mind blanks out, almost as if in denial , when I enter the graveyard.
Traditionally speaking, graveyards have always been associated with all things that go spooky at night. However, for me, more than being scared or distressed, I am more in a solemn mood. At times I want my visit to be over real quick. I say a quick prayer and then I want to run away. I don’t develop any emotions, I don’t feel a tear coming on, I don’t feel anything. I just go numb. Extreme denial is what happens to me. I block everything out.
My father is buried in this very graveyard. Not just only him, my paternal grandparents (they are buried next to each other!) and my maternal grandmother are all here. So each visit entails visiting all four graves.
The graveyard is a mere ten minutes away from my house and it’s been a tradition of mine to visit every Sunday.
It is a very well maintained and well-kept graveyard. The grass is always manicured. There is a separate area graveyard in the same complex for Christians. At the rear end of the compound, space has been allocated for all the army men and women who’ve been martyred. My father is buried on the right side of the complex.
Each time I go, the caretakers show up at the grave and wash the grave, including the headstone. They do this for all four graves. They are a very aged a couple, with wrinkled faces, white hair and slightly bent backs (they refused to have their picture taken). They do their job diligently, with a lot of love and care. The old hands of the caretaker will wash the headstone, making sure every speck of dirt has been removed. The woman will bend down and brush off the fallen leaves from atop the grave. Today, the woman was not there, so another man came and did her work.
All the while, the grave is being cleaned up, I am taken back to the day when I buried my dad.
The day was November 25th, 2014. It was a cloudy afternoon, with the sun shining through intermittent gaps in the clouds. There were a lot of people inside the graveyard when the ambulance, in which we were bringing my dad, entered the complex. My brother, myself and my uncle were inside the ambulance. There was a slight bit of confusion as we got out, with some people instructing us to do this or that. I wasn’t even sure where the grave was. That’s how preoccupied I was with the fear of burying my dad.
“MANSOUR! MANSOUR!” I thought I heard my uncle scream out my name. I looked around. Nothing. Perhaps I misheard someone. A tap on my shoulder directed me to look towards my uncle, who was actually indeed screaming out my name. He was standing somewhere in between the graves. I quickly rushed over to him, fearing for the worst, only to see him stand inside the grave, six feet deep. Yes, that’s where he was standing, inside the dug up grave.
Gulp. Now what, I thought.
“Mansour, you need to get in here. We need to lay your father down,” he said.
Oh God. Not me. Why not my elder brother? I can’t do this. I am not fit to do this. My brother should have the honor to do this. Not me. Where the heck is my brother? Will he be ok if he finds out I was the one who went in? What if I mess up? What if I slip my hand and mishandle the body? What if I break down here and everyone is staring at me?
“Mansour!” My uncle snapped me out of my blank stare. “Take your shoes off, and get in,” he said.
Like a robot, I took my shoes off, and with a help from a friend who held my right hand, I stepped into the grave. It was a strange moment to be in. It was a rather tight grave, about six feet deep, eight feet in length and three feet in width. This is like a prison cell, I thought. I made myself stable, with two feet firmly on the ground. All of my six feet four body height is standing inside the grave. I could peer up and look towards the ambulance. They are bringing the body now.
What happened in the next moment is something I can barely recall. It just happened so fast for me.
My dad came. They lifted him off the charpai- a bed made with net taping- and handed the body to my uncle and I. My dad was wrapped in a white sheet, and I held to one end of the sheet, the feet end. Once we laid him down on the floor bed of the grave, my uncle slightly removed the cloth from his face and tilted it slightly towards the right side. The last glimpse. He looks so peaceful. Perhaps it’s better he’s left this world for a better place. That was it. Final. End.
Several slab stones were placed and with the final slab placed, the grave was shut. Cement was placed between each slab to seal the grave completely. Men picked up dirt that had been dug up earlier and threw it over the grave, till the diggers came and completely buried my dad.
That was it. The finality of it all hit me. It is one thing to bury your own father, and it’s another to accept the fact that you are burying your own father. There’s a big difference, and as time is showing me that acceptance takes its own time.
My dad’s death is something that’s shaken me. It’s made me realize one thing for sure: life’s too damn short.
It’s too short to not live your dreams. It’s too short to maintain false and petty relations. It’s too short to put off plans till later. It’s too short to not live in the moment. It’s too short to worry about worldly desires and pleasures.
For this, I will have to thank my dad- his life was all about living each day to the maximum. His life was all about counting your blessings. His life was all about gratitude. These very things helped him deal with his cancer in such powerful ways, so much so, he lived his life!
In When Breath Becomes Air, a medical memoir by Paul Kalanithi, the author writes about mortality and his own impending death, and drives home a very strong point: when you know and accept that you will die one day, what’s stopping you from living? It’s such a poignant and profound thought.
Yet in another book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Mark Manson talks about how we should live our lives keeping in mind that we will have to cross over one day. Why do you give a damn to so many petty issues when your focus should be on your life’s goals? Focus on the now. Focus on the present.
It is this very thought that’s driving me today.
Mansour, buy that car you’ve been wanting to for the last three years (which I did eventually after contemplating whether I should not for three years). Travel and stay at a super luxurious hotel you’ve been planning for years (which I finally did on my 40th birthday!). Visit a new country each year. Start that book club you’ve been pending. Go join Boot Camp and lose weight. Meet new people. Make new friends. Learn a new activity. Revive your decade-old blog. Start working on your book. Start your own bakery. Embark on a new career path. Create your own path. Live according to your own rules. The decisions you make in life must make sense to you and you alone! Who gives a damn about what others have to say about my life? The point is that I probably would not have done all of the above had I not gone through the moment of burying my own dad.
Life is indeed very short. If I speak for myself, I am technically halfway through my own expiry date (if I set my average life expectancy to 80 years! There’s a very cool video on FB shared by Jay Shetty online explaining this concept of drawing out your own life’s timeline and working out a way to live life meaningfully and purposefully).
It took one single moment, the burial of my father, to wake me up and force me to “live” my life.
Which brings me to the point about our lives. We aren’t merely here on this planet to survive. We are here to strive and thrive. There’s a huge difference between surviving and striving!
We are here to be winners. We are here to achieve goals and create better versions of ourselves. We are not here to accumulate degrees, medals, and trophies. We are here to make an impact on other people’s lives. We are here to leave a legacy and our legacy should be making an impact on other people’s lives. If there is anything that taught me about my dad’s death, it’s that people don’t remember your achievements, your house, your lifestyle, your money— but they remember your generosity, your kindness and who you were as a person. That’s what makes all the difference.
In life, we are not meant to just survive, but to strive and thrive. Seize the day. Live you life as if it were the last day of your life.