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What if I talk about death?

Why is discussing death such a taboo? Especially when it’s going to affect those who matter to us the most.

sex and relationships Updated: May 12, 2017 20:56 IST
Sonal Kalra
Why is discussing death such a taboo? Especially when it’s going to affect those who matter to us the most.
Why is discussing death such a taboo? Especially when it’s going to affect those who matter to us the most.(IStock)

Amid quite the tamasha about you-know-what that hogged headlines all of last week, a small news item on the inside page of the newspaper caught my eye. And then my breath.

A 39-year-old software professional complained of chest pain and uneasiness in the morning. When taken to the hospital, the doctors declared him dead due to a massive heart attack. His 36-year-old homemaker wife was in utter shock. She came back from the hospital, went up on the terrace of their eight-floor apartment building, and jumped. To death.

It was an unbelievably sad piece of news but reading till here still didn’t numb my senses. What followed did. The couple left behind their only child, a five-year-old daughter, who was blissfully playing at the neighbour’s house when the cops came knocking, broke the news that both her parents are dead, and handed her over to relatives. There. The news ended but left me, and I’m sure a million others, with a deep sense of sadness and a sinking feeling for the child.

Now, I know nothing more about this particular case, and it would not be right for anyone to sit on judgment on the circumstances that made the woman take such a step. But the incident left me with a lot of stress, and a lot of questions. And one big, dark truth — We, the smart, savvy, forward-thinking, wise human beings plan every little detail of everything, but not our death. Death is negative, death is dark, death is not to be thought or spoken about. The younger we are, the more taboo a mere mention of this word becomes in our discussions with loved ones. But you know what, someone up there clearly doesn’t believe in bumping us off in chronological order.

A few months back, I wrote in this column about our ill-preparedness in terms of most people not keeping their spouses informed about how to deal with finances in case they died all of a sudden. This week, I want to talk about our ill preparedness in terms of never getting our loved ones emotionally ready for it.

1. Don’t run away from the mention of death

Yes, death is a disturbing thought. In a survey about what people fear the most in life, ‘death of a loved one’ ranked among the highest, across the world. So the stress of discussing it with family is understandable. But what of the stress the loved ones might have to undergo if you suddenly vanish from their lives one day. If there are practical things you wish they knew in the event of your death, you have to tell them. Just do it sensitively — you don’t want to have a crying drama around you. That’ll take away the focus from what you wish to do.

2. Empower your family

We don’t know the real reason, but a lot of people would think that the woman who committed suicide right after her husband died may have panicked worrying about how she will fend for herself, and the daughter. It may sound clichéd but that’s where the need for all adults in a family to be financially independent is to be re-emphasised. It doesn’t necessarily mean both partners have to be formally employed. For instance, being a homemaker is a critical occupation in itself. But, what this implies is that if a couple has consciously decided that one of them would take up a job and the other would stay at home and take care of the kids, the income still gets divided between the two. A friend of mine followed a neat system of transferring 50% of his income (after taking care of the expenses) in his homemaker wife’s bank account every month. Some used to joke about the need for him to do it so meticulously but his logic was simple…both of them are working, and both of them have to be earning. Why should his wife be asking him for money each month when she’s an equal partner in the running of the household? They may have been leading life a bit too formally but never once did we see a flicker of financial insecurity on his wife’s face. And if something were to suddenly happen to either of them, the other one would not have to run around looking for bank passwords to take care of immediate expenses.

3. Don’t glorify suicide, even as a joke

Dhyaan se suno ek minute. Since time immemorial, our films and popular literature have represented true love through a declaration of romance that’s logically, scientifically, and practically faulty — ‘I can’t live without you’. The hero or the heroine profess love and claim through songs and poetry through decades that they won’t be able to survive a single minute without their loved one. One manifestation of this otherwise romantic thought is that somewhere the audience, too, started equating the extent of love with the inability to survive without the partner. This, when everyone knows that no one dies, or should die, if something fatal were to happen to their partner. The seemingly harmless romantic jargon has clouded our common sense like nothing else. Here’s a conversation I had with a couple when I asked them what, in the event of one of them dying suddenly, would the other do (sorry for sounding heartless, but look at the answers!)

Wife: Oh God, what a horrible question. Bhagwaan na kare inko kuchh ho. He will have a long life. Touch wood (touches the sofa, made of wrought iron!).

Me: Of course, he will. But asking what you’ll do, just in case.

Wife: Gosh, I don’t know. My life would end. I’ll somehow survive only for the sake of the kids.

Me: Okay, but how will you deal with the finances?

Wife: Kuchh insurance wagarah hogi. Papa ko pata hoga (referring to the father-in-law who is already 82)

Me (to the husband): What would you do if she died suddenly?

Husband: (shakes his head, smiling)

Wife: He toh will remarry within six months.

Husband: No, no. I can’t live without you. I’ll end my life to come right after you.

Wife: Sachhi? Wow, I love you Jaanu.

Sonal Kalra has nothing to say after witnessing the above. May everyone in love have a long life. But just in case…. Send your feedback at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or facebook.com/sonalkaraofficial. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.