Six hours ago, I knew nothing about how to cremate a loved one in the US. Now, I can write a how-to manual on how to find a funeral home, their add-on services, witness viewing, Hindu priest fees and international transit permit for the ashes of the departed. I know the price of the caskets and the urns in which you receive the ashes. I also know that the State of California can take up to a few days to process the cremation permit. And you have no choice but to wait until the permit is processed.

My friend’s mother passed away today afternoon. My prayers for my friend’s physical and emotional sanity and her Mom’s peaceful departure, were answered. Rather too quickly.

I did not get a chance to visit her Mom before she passed away. I was too scared. But I could not keep myself from staying away when my friend needed help. So I embraced my fears and went to the hospital as she and her family were processing the exit paper work. It was better to be with them, than to be anxious about them. I looked at their faces and wondered how mentally and physically exhausted they were. And yet, how cheerfully they handled the entire process.

Together we found a few funeral homes, picked one, picked a casket, an urn, a saree for Aunty, and a date for the cremation. She will look beautiful in the mustard and red saree tomorrow. Might as well. It is how we will all remember her.

When I came home tonight I told Agam about the ironic situation I am in. I did not partake in my father’s funeral. Everything was done by the time I landed. I went to collect the ashes the morning I arrived in Delhi. I don’t even know what he was wearing when he was cremated. I also don’t know if the priest gave a choice of wood for his pyre. And here I am lost in the details of a friend’s Mom’s funeral.

A lot happened in the last few hours. A lot to process. But here’s the summary –

When you die, you are put inside a box – cardboard or wood, depends on how much your kin loves you. It is almost like being in a shoe box. And this box is put inside an incinerator. Your kin presses some buttons to start the cremation. They don’t see the fire. What comes out after a few hours of burning is ashes that are given to your kin in an urn.

What’s in that urn? The dust, the stardust that makes us. It makes this universe. I am stardust.

My thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my ego, my truth, my belief, my principles and values, my dreams, my aspirations, my goals, my desires, my opinions, my views, my needs and my relationships are all burnt to dust.

‘I’ am erased. “My” ceases to exist.

And yet when I am alive, ‘I’ define ‘my’ life’s purpose with these things that combust to dust in no time.

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