Left for the Wolves

My mom told me my grandma’s shocking afterdeath request a few weeks after my grandma died. To be honest, I don’t think anything could have prepared me for the way my grandma perceived death. When my mom started telling me about it, I assumed she would tell me about how afraid my grandmother was, how she begged for someone to save her, to keep her alive when she realized she didn’t have many days left.

But then my mom told me what my grandma said.

My grandma grew up in traditional India, not allowed to get an education because of her gender, always taking care of her family, poster-child of traditional India. So when my mom told me what my grandma requested, to say I was shocked was an understatement. I hadn’t heard this request from anyone before, let alone a traditional Indian woman. You see, it’s a part of Hindu culture for families to burn the bodies of their loved ones when they pass. You set their spirit free, let their souls float away with their ashes. But my Grandma didn’t want that.

She didn’t want us to burn her body.

She wanted us to cut up her body and scatter the parts in a forest, so the wolves had food to eat. Realizing that this was quite a lot to ask from people who loved her, she said the alternative was donating her body to a research lab.

We went with the latter.

But I couldn’t forget her initial request. I couldn’t ignore the weight of her words. For a while, I was angry that the woman I idolized saw herself as just a body. That she was so willing – so ready – to give away her legs that my mother would massage, her arms that I would hug, her feet that would steal my socks, her hands that held me as a baby and held my hands as I grew up. I was angry that she would give it all away so easily.

The whole stereotypical “old people are wise” thing seemed too simple to be applied to my grandma. Her worldview was unlike any I had heard of before, and that became the focus of my attention as her life began slipping away. She saw herself and all people for what we truly are: animals. In this world, we tend to forget that we are just another species too. We have existed on this earth for a fraction of the time that other species have. She not only acknowledged that, but also embraced it. Each day, I was vaguely aware of the fact that one of the strongest, most inspirational people in my life would be gone soon. I refused to address it, however, until my mom told me of my grandma’s afterlife wishes.

Her request caused me to look at life differently, at living and dying and what that really means. My grandma is easily one of the people I hold closest to my heart, and I am sure that I was the same for her. At the end of the day, however, she was just a body. I am just a body. All of us, we are all just bodies.

And while some bodies are more special to us, the physical embodiment of the person leaving does not mean that the person is gone forever.

My grandma’s disregard for her body after her death made me realize that her dying meant absolutely nothing except for her body running out of power. She saw her life as an allotted amount of time she would get to spend in her body. And once the time was up, her body would shut down. With that mindset, it makes sense that she gives her body back to the very earth that birthed her.

Understanding my grandmother’s wishes and her worldview helped me along the process of losing someone I love. I saw her accepting her end; I saw her ready to give her body back to the earth after living a full life. Her request turned my loss into a gift for animals, for the planet. And now, I live my life the same way. I see myself as a body. While I’m here, I will do as much as I can with this body, with this life. But when it ends? Well, that’s just my body shutting down. But a shut-down body is not useless, and I will fulfill my final duty to this earth by allowing other bodies to benefit from mine.

And honestly? I know that most people say they hope their loved ones know that they were loved before the passed. But I think – I know – my grandma knows that. More than anything, I want my grandma to know that I understand. I understand why she was ready to let her body go, why she asked her family – the people she trusted the most – to loosen their attachment to her body. I want her to know that not only do I understand, but I also agree. And in the future, when I pass, I will also ask my family (sorry in advance) to cut up my body and scatter the parts in a forest, so the wolves had food to eat.

My grandma changed my life. And with her last days, her last breath, her last request, she taught me more about life than any other experience had.