Appa was a rock. I have no idea how he was able to maintain composure. But he did. He maintained it from the moment he heard the news to the moment we were called in to identify Rohan’s body. He maintained it moving forward, too. Appa was a rock, he would not be broken.
Rohan was the sweetest boy, and he was growing up to be an amazing man. His nineteen year old body lay there in front of us and I felt weak in the knees. Last I saw him he was so full of life and energy. Seeing his lifeless body brought me to the floor and I wept with Amma. Nothing made sense. You hear people saying life is precious, and there is no better exemplification of that than seeing the lifeless body of a loved one. “Yes, this is Rohan,” Appa told the medical examiner. Amma and I were in no condition to talk. We were praying that somehow none of this was real. That somehow we would find ourselves at home and find Rohan walking through the door to join us for dinner. I could not eat for days.
The days seemed so slow. I could feel every minute that passed by and it felt like each minute hung around for just a little longer. Each hour for some longer more. I could only think of Rohan with all this extended time. Any other motion or action I did happened in my own periphery. I lost all focus. Appa, on the other hand, seemed calm. I saw him reading the paper in the morning. What does the news matter now, I wondered. The losses of the world were nothing compared to the loss of Rohan’s smile.
Appa took on most of the responsibility for arranging the funeral. The casket, the flowers, and all the decor were at Appa’s direction. I helped where I could, but only in periphery. How did Appa maintain his focus? How could he continue to function? To me the world seemed shaken to its core. How could he walk with such calm and stability?
I could barely sleep the night before the funeral. The morning was worse. We awake each day and it’s the knowledge of the next steps that affects our mindset. Some say the ritual of a funeral helps with closure, others say that it just adds pain. Those are the steps that lay ahead for me. It’s the oddest thing, preparing for a funeral. I just wanted to walk in as I was the day before. But I went through all the actions just the same. I showered, dried my hair, applied make up, and picked out a dress. All with hollow motion. My mind could only focus on Rohan’s absence. I stared at the dress for the longest time before putting it on.
“Seema, you are so strong,” people would say. I was so broken on the inside that I could no longer make sense of what strength meant. Was it appearance or emotion? Is there a difference between displaying strength and having it? Perhaps it was relative? People were comparing me to Amma who would only stop crying when it interfered with her breathing. I’m not sure which of one us was really stronger. I envied Appa’s calm demeanor as he greeted the guests.
Letting go is the hardest thing. But what of someone who is already gone? What of someone who can never return? Why is that so hard?
The viewing continued. Amma sat beside the casket, still crying. I had taken over greeting the guests for Appa. I didn’t want to stray too far from Rohan. I wanted to see him smile just one last time. I greeted friends and acquaintances, people I had not spoken to in years. It was both overwhelming and reassuring to see so many people. It was reassuring to know that Rohan mattered to so many.
I heard yelling from the other room. I wondered if some of Rohan’s friends were causing a ruckus. Or maybe some auntie had said or heard something offensive. The yelling continued and I ran to see for myself. It was Appa. Appa was up in arms about something.
“Who the hell brought these balloons?” Appa yelled. “Why are there fucking balloons at my son’s funeral?”
I approached him slowly. “Appa?” I said, holding his hands and looking into his eyes.
His hands were trembling. His face red. His breath exhausted. “Appa?” I repeated.
I felt weak in the knees again. Appa and I fell to the floor.
We wept, with some odd strength.