I miss Ruth so much. There was this one person on this earth who understood me well, all aspects of me. In the terms of this culture, she was my “soul-mate.” No matter how odd my actions and thoughts were, she would listen—and understand. But that person is no more.
In my grief, I’ve thought much about dying—here and now. If there was a clean way to die and leave my daughter settled, I would do it. I still think that. But if I say this out loud (at least in this modern culture), I am sure others would look warily at my “suicidal tendencies.”
The folks formulating the DSM-V are ready to push grief, i.e. bereavement—a natural response to a major loss– into the category of “disorder.” And most assuredly, the fact that I want to willingly die now (suicide or otherwise) would push the diagnosis of my stage into a “strong disorder needing intervention.” But really, who is to say that not wanting to live any more is a disorder? What gives a group the right to label this tendency as a clear disorder?
In India of the past, there was “sati”– a ritual of a spouse dying along with his or her spouse. Modern culture has labeled this practice barbaric and inhumane– without understanding the initial thrust behind the practice. Okay, killing someone against their will is suspect. And limiting it to female participation– how it is often presented today– may also be suspect. But I wonder if those aberrations appeared way after the first pure impulse in a village was enacted. Sometimes we use those aberrations to belittle a practice or way of living we don’t understand. Consider their worldview. The original “sati” was voluntary, and the society allowed the spouse– both male and female, I might add- to die along with their spouse. That practice understood that the connection between spouses was stronger than this life, and understood that the meaning of this present life becomes deficient after that death. They paved a clean way for souls to be together, so that departing this life can be clean and trouble-free.
My life has been so closely tied to Ruth—the saying that she is “my other half” is not only metaphorical but emotionally and psychically real. When that half is gone, the reason to be alive is gone. Western society, and my friends within it, have already talked to me about “moving on,” “reinventing a new self,” “pave a new path.” But what if the entire future is meaningless, purposeless. The Indian-Hindi world view of the past saw something in this spousal connection. Right now, I understand emotionally why that ritual came to be. Note that it wasn’t an individual wanting to end life, but a communal understanding of connection. Barring the fact that some may not have wanted to participate in the ritual (looking at it from an individualistic view), there were probably many others where the ritual of moving on to the other world with your spouse was a means of comfort—and grace.
I don’t live in that world, and some friends would probably be thankful for that. But in many ways, I wish I did. I wish there was a society that would understand and allow “moving on” by dying. It seems more of a natural progression than any other path. But I am trapped in this modern world, and although I would have wished to, passing on is not easy or uncomplicated any more, both for me and for my loved ones who are still alive. This pain must now be borne in this lifetime, for years to come– without Ruth nearby for support.