Farewell to her

One of my favourite authors and poets writes about greeting the myriad of ‘heres’ that we find ourself in as life stirs, surprises, pulsates, plays, and perishes. So it is with these words that I pause to acknowledge the here that is now and the here that has been, and begin.

“It has taken years to continue to live into the truth that if I believe we are from God and for God, then we are from Goodness and for Goodness. To greet sorrow today does not mean that sorrow will be there tomorrow. Happiness comes too, and grief, and tiredness, disappointment, surprise and energy. Chaos and fulfilment will be named as well as delight and despair. This is the truth of being here, wherever here is today. It may not be permanent but it is here. I will probably leave here, and I will probably return. To deny here is to harrow the heart. Hello to here.” – Pádraig Ó Tuama, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in this World.

Observing dying and death is never easy. Even while cradling a deep-rooted faith that redemption will one day reverberate throughout creation, death is still difficult. To refute this is to rob oneself of the precious gift that is found in raw and honest grief. Watching a sister, friend and artisan courageously fight death unforeseen, is crushing.

 To deny here is to harrow the heart.

We sat by Sangita’s bedside the night following Christmas, after she had been urgently admitted to hospital for a condition that had only recently become apparent. Resolutely fighting against and then, subsequently greeting her death, there were many ‘heres’ that the Loyal Workshop family graciously greeted despite praying many of them wouldn’t eventuate. As our sister lay in the government hospital’s emergency room, here was frustrating, slow, overcrowded and under-resourced. Here was stroking her head, speaking peace over her, and showing solidarity to her. Here was taking turns pumping her respirator through the night until our hands became sore. Here was searching for medications city-wide in a taxi before dawn. Here was petitioning for a bed in the CCU and wondering if it would be granted. Here was sitting outside old hospital buildings in the evening air, sipping cha with the rest of the Loyal family as we waited for news. In many ways, here was where no one wanted to be, but it was where we were and where we stayed with our sister.

It may not be permanent but it is here.

A day and a half after Sangita’s hospital admission, our friend and fighter died. As the death registry officers argued whether to record her age as 33 or 34, I repeatedly swallowed the rock in my throat. Here was our sister, Sangita, who was 33 years old and seven months. Here was the tragic death of a sharp, quick-witted woman who loved to draw and laugh at her own jokes. Here was an exceptional leather-worker who had her name on beautiful satchels the world over. Here was a woman who, in coming to work at Loyal, dreamed of returning to her home country and working at a freedom business there. Here was a woman whose dream was imminently close to fruition, whose personal exodus was so near that freedom songs were already beginning to be sung across the border. Here was Sangita, a woman who had an ease about her, and yet whose death was not easy.

We are from Goodness and for Goodness.

Sangita, you were from Goodness and for Goodness.

Navigating the grief of losing a friend, a sister, a fighter, and an artisan is difficult when it feels unjust. When the poor seem to lose out yet again and the marginalised seem to draw the short straw, not because of fate but because of a system poised against them. I guess that is one of the constant ‘heres’ of this neighbourhood that we battle. Maybe it is one of the ‘heres’ that will remain until redemption one day reverberates throughout these streets. As per custom, the Loyal family, along with Sangita’s brother, husband, and a handful of neighbours and friends, farewelled her physically at the local ghat the same day she died. Throughout the day, here meant free-flowing tears and questions and presence and reflection and silence and deep breaths and song. Our deep desire is that our sister was uplifted and dignified in her farewell; that her culture was honoured; that faith, hope and love were made known; and that both she and her mukti have now found their home together.

Chaos and fulfilment will be named as well as delight and despair.

Tragedy should never be overlooked or minimised. We are thankful that in the midst of this life-altering event however, there have been a handful of graces. Namely, the workshop has pulled together in this shared experience of losing Sangita. They have greeted and grasped the here of their friend’s dying and death with honesty, courage, and communal strength. Where there has been the potential for unpeace, there has in fact been peace. Where there has been loss, there continues to be so because that is only natural. Where Sangita used to sit and stitch on our workshop floor, she does no longer.

Hello to here. Farewell to her.