Rudraksha (Prayer Beads)
Name: Sharada Eswar
Tell me about the person who died:
My dad’s name is Krishnamoorthi, and we were very close. He died suddenly sixteen years ago of a heart attack, when he was 65. It was so unexpected, it was the first heart attack, and he succumbed to it.
My dad was a self-made man, and he was very much my sister’s and my hero. He wasn't much of a talker, but the silences spoke volumes. When I started working, he would drop me off every day. The ride was probably around 30-40 minutes. And there would be days when not a word would be exchanged. The entire ride would be done in complete silence, but it was very natural. Nothing needed to be said.
He was in marketing and sales, so he traveled a lot and would be at home for about ten days in a month. He would always return with gifts for us, the same gift every time, because he would never remember that he'd gotten it for us. I think my sister and I were too kind to say, "but Papa, you got this last time,” because he would be so happy giving it to us.
What was the grief like after your loss, and how did it change over time?
I think the first couple of years, I sort of told myself that he's away, on one of his travels, and he'll be back. But then slowly, you realize, no, he's not coming back. My sister and my brother-in-law were very helpful, and my brother-in-law—so sweet of him—would offer to give me a ride to work. But I couldn't think of anyone else doing that for me. I probably felt guilty that if I accepted somebody's offer, I would be disloyal. On occasion I was probably rude to my brother-in-law and my sister, when they were trying to make it easier. I didn't want anything, I just wanted to deal with this myself. I knew that he was dead. But I was not ready to let go, either emotionally or metaphysically.
Time is the biggest healer though. It can't heal the scars that are there, but over the years, I've learned to allow people to extend their hand to console me.
Something like seeing a peanut—my dad used to love peanuts—sometimes even seeing one peanut, can trigger happiness or sadness, depending on what frame of mind I'm in. Then there'll be days where I don't actively think of him, but it's like an open wound. It never really heals, but I've learned to cherish the memories I have of him and to be kinder to myself.
It's great to grieve, and it's okay for people to see you grieving. Because for me, it makes his existence real. The grieving, it tells me that yes, he was there. Since it's been so long since he passed away, I say that the tears are a reminder that I'm proud to be his daughter. I don't mind them anymore. I don't know how it makes the other person feel, and I'm sorry if it makes them uncomfortable, but there's nothing I can do about it.
How did your private grieving relate to your public mourning?
It was originally extremely private, because I didn't want my mom to see me breaking down. She often said she felt strong because I was strong, and while I understand that it came from a good place, it was a kind of a weight on me. Privately, when I was taking a shower, or taking public transport to work, I would suddenly find myself crying copiously.
Was there anything about your cultural or religious background that affected the grieving process for you?
In Hinduism, there are many ceremonies that take place during the 13 days after a death. My mom's older sister, who was with us throughout that period, is very traditional, and had a beautiful way of explaining the rituals and the stories behind them. Death is such a strange thing that even if you consider all of these rituals as old grandmothers’ tales, you still want to do them when something happens to you personally.
It was all about my dad's soul reaching moksha—not exactly heaven, but a safe place—and you want to do everything to insure that happens. For instance, on the 13th day, one makes donations. Some of them are symbolic, like you're supposed to donate a cow. And you do that because it's a long journey from this world to that world, and the soul has to to be nourished, and the cow is a provider of food.
Another example, on the 9th and the 10th day is when people come and visit you, and they wail loudly, I mean it's almost like Greek keening. At first it sounds irritating, but then it becomes comforting. Just being together. Though I think some part of you wants to be alone, there's also a part of you that doesn’t.
How has your loss and your grief changed you?
I think I'm not scared to lose another person now. Nothing worse can happen than losing my dad.
Tell me about an object that reminds you of the person who died, and why?
I have beads of his called rudraksha beads. They are seeds from a type of endangered evergreen tree. The name of the tree is Sanskrit. Rudra is a name of Shiva, and Aksha means teardrop. The story goes that Shiva was in deep, blissful meditation. When he opened his eyes, it moved him so much to see the beauty and the peace that surrounded the world that he cried. The teardrops that fell to earth became this tree. I feel very close to my dad when I wear the beads. He had a rough exterior but he was also man enough to cry. I wear them every day—sometimes I don't even realize they are there, it's just a part of me.
If you had to describe your grief as a landscape you’ve been passing through, what would it look like and feel like at different parts of your journey?
It's a still body of water, like a lake. But then you drop a pebble, and the ripple triggers the grief, which becomes a torrential river or ocean, and I am completely subsumed in it, and then it becomes still again. It's ever-present.
Sharada Eswar's passion for words, spoken and written, began at an early age. A trained Indian classical musician (Carnatic School), Sharada has been performing and teaching in Toronto and internationally, drawing on her own South Asian ancestry and heritage. Sharada is a published children’s author, Ontario Arts Council’s Cultural Animator in Mississauga/Peel and a core artist with Jumblies Theatre in Toronto, where she works extensively with diverse communities.