It was the thirteenth and final day of the last rites of the old lady.
Her nonagenarian partner kept staring at the designer ceiling of the room, and broke down occasionally. He cried without tears, which appeared to be his stubbornness or demand for attention at times, but one could also sense helplessness. He was totally dependent on the two male nurses who looked after him, and a bell on his bedside. His devoted sons would pop in, as and when their busy schedules permitted. He told all his friends that his wife had raised four gems, and he could not have asked for better sons. Yet, the emptiness of the room seemed to gnaw at his insides. The familiar bipap mask that his wife used to facilitate her breathing was not there. The siblings and relatives who had gathered around him the past few days had left.
He needed the curtain on the window to be straightened, so that he could catch some sleep. He rung the bell maniacally, but it appeared that his daughter-in-law had switched it off at the other end. They thought that his insistence on placing the chair at a particular angle, having the handkerchiefs neatly folded and kept on the pillow besides him and the bathroom door shut tight was an obsessive compulsive disorder. He missed his wife for the umpteenth time that day. She would walk out slowly with fumbling steps to call the attendant, and gave him his medicines at the right time. But she was old and sick, and one of them had to go first ….
The family looked tired with the stress of the last few weeks, but there was a sense of anticipatory relief, of the ordeal being finally over. They would be able to resume a normal life on the next day.
The daughter-in-law desperately waited for the ceremonies to end, so that she could resume preparations for her daughter’s upcoming wedding. The old lady’s illness and subsequent death had disturbed all preparations, and there was a lot to catch up on. Her cancer-survivor husband was not in very good health, and she constantly worried about his well-being. She silently blamed his old parents for the multiple pressures created on him, and the unexpected drain on resources, just before the wedding.
The show must go on. Tomorrow, she would be able to check how the bridal outfits were coming up. She had some more shopping and packing to be done. She called her closest friend to help, swallowed some energizers, and geared up for the next round of work.
There were some inheritance issues to be resolved, and others hoped that their husbands were getting a fair share, after a lifetime of devotion to their family.
The grandchildren had all settled abroad in their respective jobs/marriages. In the past, they had complained that Gramma irritated them with her Skype calls at odd times. The old lady could not always decipher international time.
However, they were now shedding tears on the same tablet screens, where they were shown their grandmother’s coffin. One of them placed a demand that she wanted four of Gramma’s outfits as a remembrance. The old lady always had an expensive taste, and a loving family to pamper her with gifts. The Facebook posts with appropriate pictures and text saying that ‘Gramma was the best’ came up quickly. They wondered how all the cousins had come up with similar sentiments. It was after all, what they kept reading on similar posts all over. One had to say the right things at the right time.
The sons were physically and emotionally exhausted. They had done everything in their capacity that ideal sons would do, as they had been groomed. Individual temperaments were now coming to the fore. One of them could not stop bragging about the quality of care they extended to the parents, to every visitor who came for condolence, while others silently chaffed at the exaggerated claims. Another was striving to cover up his wife’s misdeeds – she had whacked a substantial chunk of jewellery from the old lady’s cupboard. The eldest strained himself wondering how he would maintain a balance between the warring factions. He was the next head of the family, but all members appeared to be going their own way. He practically had little or no control.
The brothers dreaded the night, as they had to face queries from their wives about inheritance issues. Alas, there was no will, and they had to settle things amongst themselves, as amicably as possible, but often, to the dissatisfaction and consternation of their partners.
Life had to move on. They had to plan their future life, and care for their ailing father as long as he lived. God knows for how many months/years more … till they themselves reached that age. They knew that their children would not be around in the same country.
Whom would they fall back on?