In the time of grief after my grandfather’s death in 2002, we enjoyed remembering him by telling each other such memories. It was not only us, our small family there, but also my grandfather’s brothers and other relatives. Unfortunately being together with them was not a very pleasant situation.
I had the feeling that many of them were not really there because they were grieving our grandfather but because it is a social responsibility and formality. They did not seem to have a feeling of loss but came to the funeral just as you come to any other social event such as a marriage or birthday celebration. A lot of their actions and talk hurt those who were really in grief. We were not really close to these further family members and their behavior led to some discussions and disagreement with our guests.
As my mother is a single child and my father is, too, we don’t have a lot of extended family relations. We don’t have uncles or cousins. When we saw the behavior of my mother’s uncles and relatives, we realized that we were living in a very different world, with different values and feelings for each other and for those around us. It just did not fit and we understood that it can be a good thing not to have such a very big family as it is normal in India. If you just cannot go along with those who are related to you, why do you have to be together with them?
It is usual to have rituals and ceremonies for thirteen days after a person’s death and for that time the whole family stayed to participate. It was a difficult time. We were all sad about the loss of our beloved grandfather, father, father-in-law and husband and additionally there were those relatives who kept on criticizing the rituals we did, complained that some were not performed or in another way. We did it from our hearts whereas for them it was empty rituals.
In Hinduism there are rituals for every little step you take. As a religious family we did them all but seeing those relatives and the complete atmosphere I started questioning the rituals in my mind and heart. It was, as I said before, the first close experience of a death so close to me. I realized that the more money you spend, the better it seems to be for the soul of your beloved. On the thirteenth day after the death, you call thirteen Brahman people, of the highest cast, one of them being a priest. You give pots, clothes, money, gold and silver to all these people and to the priest you also give a bed, a mattress and everything that belongs to it. The concept is that you believe that you actually give it to the one who died as if he needed all these things wherever he is then. Additionally to those thirteen you invite more people to feed them. The higher your reputation in your town, the more people you are expected to invite. Invitation cards are printed and sent out and many people come to whom you provide food.
We did this all, invited hundreds of people to a big feast, gave a lot of money and other things to the priest and his twelve friends and did everything that should be done. If we had not done that, people would have thought that we did not love our grandfather. With the whole situation however I thought about one question: What do these rituals really give to those who have the feeling of loss?
When the thirteenth day was over, our relatives finally left and we were alone again. We were actually one person more. My grandmother stayed with us. We did not want to let her go and she agreed on staying with her daughter and family.