Death was always meant to be an end to hopes, dreams and everything life has to offer in general. It meant a dark shadow that soon envelopes you and wipes out your meagre existence. The very thought of death, in that perspective would make life look less worthwhile.
Yes, they say your memories live on in those people who you left behind. But for a person working as a social worker in an old age home with people who are easily twice my age and with chronic illnesses varying from Alzheimer’s to just slight senile dementia, one thing I do notice is how lonely life gets in the last phase.
The old age home makes sure these elders do enjoy their stay here, throw birthday parties, plan small trips to the nearby lake every weekend, host meets by people they want to interact with and much more. But all that has always been, and will always be just a distraction. A diversion from the harsh reality of being abandoned by people who vowed to love you.
Well, I can’t be all rude towards these relatives. Most of them are brought here by their kids who move on to better workplaces and send enough amount back to their parents, not realising that’s hardly of any value to these old and frail humans who crave for one last interaction with their progenies. Others, as I’ve noticed were the ones who willingly joined the Home cause of their illness or everyone around them suddenly became distant, either by death or emotionally.
And whatever might be the reason, we all try to make their last few days a happy distraction from the other, usually heartbreaking reasons they all have that lead them to this doorstep.
And this gives us immense satisfaction, because we helped someone. Someone less capable of giving us anything in return.
Well, that’s where I was wrong.
Mr. Ray passed away three days back, his last rites were performed yesterday. We all had a small memorial for him in the evening. None of his relatives attended. He wasn’t very talkative either, so we knew not much about him except that he had no kids, only a wife who had departed before him. We knew he liked fish and he was always happy when we went to the lake, cause he was found smiling and splashing his feet around in the water like a toddler.
He always liked to be left alone, spoke only if somebody acknowledged him and sat in the balcony reading his novels every evening.
When the time came for me to go through his stuff and see if there was anything that needed to be discarded, I wasn’t surprised to not find much. A few daily clothes and other necessities, a box full of novels and another box sealed with a cellophane tape. When I cut open the latter, I was startled to find a row of albums stacked next to another row of old journals.
A transparent fancy box containing an expensive fountain pen sat on top of the albums. I picked it up and turned it over to reveal a message.
“To my dear Millind, happy 50th.
From your Vrushali”
I opened the first album to reveal a younger Mr. Ray, standing on the top of a cliff, the setting sun behind him, and his wife Vrushali standing next to him, holding his hand. I’d never seen him that happy.
The next few photos of the album plunged me into a small glimpse of his life. His wife’s candid photos, followed by photos of her looking at him and realising that she was being clicked, leading to photos of her genuine laugh. Another section of him cooking and his wife helping him.
More sunset photos, some chipped away in the corners, some yellowing at the sides.
And before I knew I was going through all the pages of his journal, his life in college, how he met his wife, and about all the places they had travelled together.
Some pages were bleak, routinely- about his work and the stress associated with it. Others were too painful, for instance when they realised they couldn’t have kids. He had gone onto write that he would make sure she was never unhappy because of this.
His journals stopped after she passed away, and so did the photos.
All these days, I thought I was giving love to society, to people unable to do the same, not realising I was learning so much more in return.
And never had I expected to share in so much love from someone who hardly even made his presence known around others.
We gave away his clothes, and his novels were added to the small library in the building.
“What about that carton?” My coworker asked as I kept his third box on my desk.
“He left them for me.” I said.