Learning the art of dying

By Adnan Murad


For the past few months, I have been watching a lot of movies, reading lots of books and simultaneously working in a national daily. On the other hand, I am also dealing with varying degrees of emotional engagement with my family, while living alone in Karachi.

Even though I have lived away from home for half my life, it seems hard to deal with this new form of life which is more brutal, murkier and uncompromising.

Being a young adult, I should not think about death. But instead of being scared by the idea of death, I have started learning more about it.

I learn about it in different forms: books, conversations and movies.

Last Wednesday, when I returned from work, I learned about it from of an octogenarian couple—played by late Emmanuelle Riva (Anne) and Jean-Louis Trintignant (Georges)—in Michael Haneke’s ‘Amour’.

After a series of strokes and the subsequent onset of dementia, Anne’s character is reduced to little more than a helpless child in this film. She is no longer able to play the music which has been an essential part of her life.

Georges’ love for her is also put to test because of Anne’s deteriorating health and erratic behaviour.

There is an utterly heart-wrenching moment in this film when Anne is recovering from the first stroke and Georges is out to attend a friend’s funeral.

In Georges’ absence, Anne attempts to commit suicide. However, she only manages to open the window and get to the floor from her wheelchair. She has no option but to turn to her husband.

“There’s no point in going on living. That’s how it is. I know it can only get worse. Why should I inflict this on us, on you and me?” she says.

He insists, “You’re not inflicting anything on me.”

“You don’t have to lie, Georges,” she replies.

He looks at the floor thoughtfully, believing that she doesn’t really mean what she is saying. He tells her, “Put yourself in my place. Didn’t you ever think that it could happen to me, too?”

“Of course, I did, but imagination and reality have little in common,” she answers.

Anne is relatively stable at this point in time. She requires little help in moving around the home and making meals, but she can read and feed herself.

“But things are getting better every day,” Georges tells.

Anne responds, “I don’t want to carry on. You’re making such sweet efforts to make everything easier for me. But I don’t want to go on. For my own sake, not yours.”

The last line of this confrontation is the essence of life. When one is inching closer to death, it becomes extremely unbearable to just go on with life. Getting old may not be a reality one wishes to happily embrace, but death is the ultimate truth.

At one point in the film, Anne asks Georges, “What would you say if no one came to your funeral?”

“Nothing, presumably,” Georges answers.

While they have this conversation, they have become feeble and fragile. They have come to terms with the unflinchingly realities of old age and its crippling disabilities.

Films like this make me think about the phenomenon of death more closely. Sometimes, I also tend to prepare myself for this uncomfortable journey as well.

As I lie on my bed, assuming it to be my funeral, the first thing that I think of is the person sitting next to my corpse.

See, it’s a difficult question.

Frankly, I often envision my mother sitting next to me with swelled eyes. At other times, it’s my friends who are discussing moments that we had spent together.

As I still lie on my bed, pretending to be a dead body, I feel a more urgent need to see my family, friends and all the loved ones.

My body lies still, while my soul lurks in the corners of my home to check who is around to see me for the last time. I go around seeing my friends, my mother, my father, my sisters, brothers, nephews and nieces.

As people come to lift my body to take it to its ultimate destination, I yell and cry. I want them to stop but my body can’t move. It’s stationary. I lie motionless, while my soul wanders around and pleads in vain to the people who have carried me on their shoulders, begging them to stop. But to no avail.

Eyes wide open. I still lie on my bed with dry eyes and a heavy heart as I come out of this improbable concoction. These flash-forwards have left me drained. But they just reaffirm the fact that life goes on to be a whimsical juxtaposition of love and loss, but one that doesn’t wallow needlessly.

Life has its moments. There’s hatred and humanity at work in equal measure. But, we have to find the right balance in life. I have realised the significance of funerals too. Funerals, which hold more connotation than weddings, are real tests of relationships.

I love to attend funerals now because I want to be part of an experience for people who are not alive and valued me in their lives. They will not know that I am secretly enjoying the way they are looking at me until I will secretly go and whisper to them, “You die so well. Let this be our little secret till we meet next.”

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