* The living lessons I learned from my brother’s childhood death

In the year 1965, almost 50 years back, I was in a place far away from home, in my first job. That was the first time I left home alone and yet unmarried. One day, I got an open post card from my father that my brother named ‘Ramu’ of age 10, died due to drowning in the lake near our house. His body was found by the divers in a decomposed condition after searching for 2 days.

Ramu was the darling boy of our family. He was exceptionally good in behavior, studies, and helping mother at home. I remember him sewing on the sewing machine and helping mother in domestic chores.

When I got the news of his death, I was in a turmoil. One question arose in my mind: ‘Why did God take away such a good boy at the premature age of 10? Why? Why?’  This constantly swirling question did not allow me to do my normal work, eat or sleep. I was totally restless and inconsolable for 2 days.

Later on, I came to know that my brother, who did not know how to swim, went to a nearby lake along with some of his friends who could swim. When my father came to know of this, he thrashed him and warned him, to never to go near that lake. It was also learned that some time back, he came across a fortune teller sitting by the side of a road with a parrot in a cage. There were printed cards kept outside the cage with different printed versions of future written on each of them. My brother paid that man, he released the trained parrot, it came out of the cage and picked up one of the cards spread out neatly before the cage. The card picked up for my brother was contained among other things, that his life was in danger from water. This was perhaps working in his young mind, making him to seek out the danger from water. Or perhaps, he was destined to die as a child and the parrot forecast served as an excuse.

Let me come back to my agony over his death. On the third day, I heard a silent voice asking me a counter question “Mr Suryanarayana, why do you blame God for your brother’s childhood death? Did HE promise you that your darling brother Ramu would live into old age? If ever some entity made such a promise, blame that entity for breaking the promise. If no promised, you have no business blaming anyone. You can’t even raise that question. I was stumped by the irrefutable truth behind the counter question.

My mind was stilled into silence. The restless questioning of the last two days suddenly stopped. There was some peace in my mind.

After some time, a supplementary thought popped into my mind. It is said in some spiritual texts that this world is like a stage. We are all the actors. Some people play the roles of older people, some that of middle aged ones and some of children. Every actor enacts one’s assigned role and goes back stage. My brother Ramu was assigned a child actor’s role. He played it wonderfully and went back stage, never to appear again. What am I complaining about? On the other hand, should I not be happy that he played his assigned role superbly, giving us the pleasure of his company for 10 long years. In spite of all the above self explanations, I was still suffering for the loss of my dear brother.

After a few days, another wave of a thought arose. Why was I suffering? A thought came in response. I am suffering because of my own invalid expectation about his life term. If I had been aware about the uncertainty of my brother’s life, like that of any other human being and accepted that he may die any moment, I would not have suffered beyond the practical loss of a very dear family member. If I had imbibed the uncertainty of any individual’s life, not only his, I would have thought this way – ‘Yes, nobody guaranteed his long life, neither God nor anyone. He might have died any moment. But we are lucky that he lived 10 full years giving us the gift of his company.’

When these thoughts repeatedly circulated in my mind over a few weeks, the reality of his death did not cause me any further suffering. I was at peace with the occurrence of his death and could function normally.

Later, when faced with some disappointments in life, another offshoot of a thought arose. If there is no certainty about the full disc called life, how can there be any degree of certainty about the other segments of life: education, employment, marriage, children, so on? If the disc itself uncertain, any segment of it has to be equally uncertain. If I could be at peace about my brother’s death as  child, I might as well be at peace about the other incidents in my life or of any other person.

Once I accept this fundamental uncertainty, I can deal with it. It need not paralyze me. Generally, we attach disproportionately higher weightage to our disbelief in success. We tend to believe more in failure. This may be because of the negative mode in which we are brought up since birth.

It is rare that I have zero chance of fulfilling my goals. The probability of some magnitude of success is as real as that of failure. I should not blow up the negative probability and not try at all, thereby missing the apparently available opportunities. That would be foolishness.  This healthy attitude can motivate me to keep on trying to the best of my capability to achieve my goals. Whatever I achieve in my lifetime will be a surprise gift.

My brother Ramu’s childhood death taught me some precious lessons for living: embrace the inevitable uncertainties; resist blowing up the potential failures; nurture the potential for success by putting in my best efforts and be grateful for whatever life offers.

***

  • I shared this story with a woman attending my classes. She was on the verge of an emotional break down due to the verbally abusive and controlling behavior of her boss at work. She realized that her expectation of caring and kind behavior from him was a major cause for her distress. She accepted that she could not change his behavior and should stop expecting him to change his behavior. Instead, she had to change the way she responded to his abusive behavior.  In the next class she reported that this change in her attitude reduced her distress drastically.

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