Living lessons from my brother Ramu’s childhood death

I was suffering for baselessly because I was ‘expecting’ him to live into old age. Once I realized this, I was grateful for his presence among us for 10 long years.

In the year 1965, almost 50 years back, I was in a place far away from home, in my first job, yet unmarried. One day, I got a 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 the second youngest. He was exceptionally good in behavior, studies, and helping mother at home. I remember him sewing on the machine and helping in domestic chores.

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

Later, we learned from his friends that sometime before the incident, my brother got into the water along with them though he did not know swimming. When my father heard this, he thrashed him and warned him to never to go near that lake. His friends also said 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 versions of future written on each of them. My brother paid that man, the trained parrot was let out of the cage and it picked up one of the cards spread out before the cage. The card picked for my brother was read out by the parrot keeper. It contained among other things, that he had risk of death from water. This was perhaps working in his young mind and made him to seek out the danger from water, as forecast in the parrot card. Alternatively, he was predestined to die at 10 years and this incident was a pretense.

Coming back to my constant agony over his death, on the third day, I heard a silent voice in my mind. The voice questioned me ‘Why do you blame God for your brother’s death as a child? Did HE promise you that your darling brother Ramu would live into old age? If God or anyone made such a promise to you, you can blame that entity for breaking the promise. If no one promised, you have no business to blame anyone or even raise that question. I was stumped by the irrefutable truth behind the counter question.

All the restless questioning in my mind stopped suddenly. My mind was forced into silence. There was some peace in my mind, after all the torture over the last 2 days.

After some time, a supplementary thought arose in my mind. It is said in some spiritual texts that this world is like a stage. We are all the actors. Some are old actors, some middle aged and some child actors. As one actor completes his (or her) assigned role, he goes backstage. Some actors never return to the stage after their last act. My brother Ramu was assigned a child actor’s role. He played it very well for 10 years and went backstage, never to reappear. What am I complaining about? On the other hand, should I not be happy that he played his assigned role superbly and gave us the pleasure of his company for 10 long years. In spite of all above self explanations, I was still suffering for the loss of my dear brother.

After a few more days, another wave of a thought arose in my mind. Why was I suffering? A thought came in response. I am suffering because of my own incorrect expectation about his life term. If I was aware about the uncertainty of my brother’s life and accepted the very real possibility that he may die any time, I would not have suffered beyond the practical loss of a very dear person. If I totally absorb 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 any one. He could have died any moment but we are lucky that he lived 10 full years, giving us the pleasure of his company.’ I was surprised at the complete turn around in my attitude: from blaming God for taking him away at 10 to thanking God for giving us his presence for 10 years.

After the above 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.

Later, when faced with some disappointments in life, another offshoot of a thought arose. If there is zero certainty about the full disc called life, how can there be any degree of certainty about a segment of life, like: education, employment, marriage, children, … so on? If the existence of the disk itself is uncertain, any segment of it is bound to be uncertain. If I could be at peace about my brother’s childhood death, I might as well be at peace about the other unhappy incidents in my own life or that of any other person. Once I accept the basic uncertainty, I can deal with it.

The uncertainty about every aspect of life need not paralyze me into inaction. The probability of succeeding in achieving my goals is as real as that of failing. No one knows the percentages of the two probabilities. We tend to blow up the probability of failure because of the negative mode in which we were brought up as children. It is foolish to not try with all my mind and heart and miss my potential for some degree of success. Such a healthy attitude would enable me put in my best efforts. Whatever I achieve becomes a gift, small or big, to be accepted gratefully.


  • 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 she 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 dramatically.

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