Nine years ago today, my nephew died at the age of 20. It was the day of the terrible earthquake in Gujarat, western India, so we were among thousands of families who lost loved ones that day. But death is very personal and each family - and each individual - has to make sense of their loss in their own ways.
This is what I myself have discovered over the past nine years: life doesn't end with death, it carries on in some way we don't quite understand. Death is truly a transition - to some other way of being.
How do I know this? Because I feel Aftab's presence all the time, not in the recesses of my memory, but in this moment, as he is now. I can't describe exactly how he is now because I feel his presence in a way I am not used to and do not fully understand. I cannot stretch out my hand and touch him. I don't hear his voice or see his face. But I do feel his energy and occasionally I have a conversation with him without words, and once I have clearly received a message from him about a person close to both of us after she had passed on (basically to say that she was happy and well in spirit).
And no, I don't think about Aftab constantly or ask him to send me messages or anything like that. We just seem to make contact once in a while, perhaps when we are both thinking of each other, or when there is a special occasion (like today), or something to convey (like the message about our common friend). On a more "ongoing" basis, I feel very connected to Aftab - but not in the same way as I feel connected to family and friends who are still living on this side (on my side of the divider that is death).
In some way I know I am connected to him forever. This is not a thought in my mind, but knowledge in the depth of my heart, in my qalb, my inner-most heart, as a Sufi might put it. And somehow I feel that we are both connected to God too - perhaps it is God, or God energy, that connects us.
And now, without the complications of this-side-of-life, without right and wrong, without the need to influence each other in any way or change each other's attitudes - the only feeling that remains is love. And that love is by definition unconditional - since we're not trying to change each other in any way, not judging each other, don't want anything from each other.
There is little or no connection through the five senses that are the usual gateways to interaction in life - touching, seeing etc. That leaves only the heart and soul to make the connection, so I guess that's where the connection is made. If I try to evaluate this connection in the usual way - can we go out together for coffee or phone each other for a chat? - I guess I would say it is a less "sensory" or less "concrete" contact. But, without conditions and obviously not ending with death, it seems to me to be a more abiding connection.
This understanding - which has come to me gradually over the past nine years and which is still only a very limited understanding - has nevertheless brought a sense of abiding peace through the ability to accept Aftab's death and indeed all death. I do still miss the "human" contact with Aftab sometimes - but more often, I feel a sense of joy in the deep, loving connection I enjoy with him.
Quoting an old Irish blessing, I say to Aftab: "...until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of his hand."
And I feel I have a new understanding of this short verse from one of Kahlil Gibran's poems:
You were born togther, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.