NAMAH Journal
Moving Forward
New Issue
About us
Peer Review
Contact us
Publication Ethics
Other Publications
Print version

Namah Journal


Of Death and Grief

Ashok Kumar Bhatia


No one teaches us how to handle the angst and grief we experience when someone close to us dies. Or, how to console someone who is grieving without hurting the person even more. Gradually, life itself educates us on the challenges of responding to such situations appropriately. Our responses are as unique as we ourselves are. This article endeavours to discuss this crucial aspect of our lives in a generic manner. It dispels some myths regarding handling grief. It also highlights the importance of expressing gratitude towards those who are close to us and are still around.

In the Yakṣa Praśna episode of the Mahābhārata, Yudhiṣṭira is asked many questions. One of these is:

“What is the greatest wonder in the world?”
To which Yudhiṣṭira replies:

“Every day, men see creatures depart to Yama’s abode and yet, those who remain, seek to live for ever. This verily is the greatest wonder (1).”

Death and taxes are both inevitable in life. But the sting of death is far deadlier than that of taxes. There is an irrevocability associated with it. When a loved one passes away, the physical form with which we associated ourselves for a long time simply vanishes. What is left behind is a void which is near impossible to fill.

The sting hurts us even more when the death is untimely. The passing away of a young person, who is yet to drink deep from the joyful rivulet of life, leaves us with a regretful feeling of deprivation. Shock, trauma, and depression follow. Our senses get numb. Nothing makes any sense anymore. A sense of disbelief envelopes us. Words of sympathy and condolences pour in, but these do not register. For some time, we act like zombies, moving about and doing things as we are advised by others to do. Lessons from the Bhagavadgitā which tell us that the soul is immortal do not make any sense.

Feelings of guilt plague us. We regret not having done something more to save the person. We find it difficult to handle the anger we feel towards ourselves. Forgiving ourselves becomes an impossible task. We look up to the heavens and blame our favourite god for having been so cruel to us.

Losing a spouse is especially traumatic. I realised this myself when I lost my wife in 2018. Gradually, the reality of having lost a trusted companion, a bitter critic and a true friend dawned upon me.

Two Persons who left us during 2022

Richa Bhatia (1970-2022) was Principal Scientist at the National Institute of High Security Animal Diseases (NIHSAD). Besides being an eminent scientist, she was a loving daughter, a devoted wife, and a caring and affectionate mother. She was not only a member of the selection committee of the International Federation of Biosafety Associations for their much-coveted Biosafety Hero Awards; she had also won many awards herself at national as well as international level. She was the Secretary of The Society for Biosafety, India, and a member of the Executive-Council of the Asia Pacific Biosafety Association. She had published many research papers. A recognised badminton player, she was also passionate about gardening, dancing, and singing. We lost her within a few months of 2022 to an aggressive form of cancer which was detected very late.

Pavan Bhatia (1963-2022) was a self-made person, a first-generation entrepreneur par excellence. Someone who expanded his business by sheer dint of a lofty vision, hard work, perseverance, and a knack of identifying, nurturing, and deploying human talent. He played all the roles of his life to perfection, whether as a son, an elder brother, a husband, a father, and a grandfather. Above all, he was a fine and helpful human being who would go out of his way to help the needy. With his passing away, we lost someone with excellent management skills. Premier management institutes would greatly benefit by publishing a case study on the business strategy which shaped his business and took it to dizzying heights. We lost him to a sudden cardiac arrest within the span of a few hours on a fateful day in December 2022.

“The five aspects of grief”

In 1969, the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross introduced what became known as the “five stages of grief (2)”. These stages of grief were based on her studies on the feelings of patients facing terminal illness, but many people have generalised them to other types of negative life changes and losses, such as the death of a loved one or a break-up.

The five stages of grief, which I would prefer to refer to as aspects:
Denial: “This can’t be happening to me.”
Anger: “Why is this happening? Who is to blame?”
Bargaining: “Make this not happen, and in return I will ____.”
Depression: “I’m too sad to do anything.”
Acceptance: “I’m at peace with what happened.”

The reason I prefer to call these as aspects of grief rather than its stages is that these stages are not linear in nature, each following the preceding one over time. In my opinion, grief is cyclical or spiral in nature. Something happens, memories come flooding back, and we feel we are back to square one. But yes, the spiral does propel us forward, taking us gradually away from its epicentre.

Often, grief is like a sinusoidal curve of which the amplitude keeps decreasing over time, as the mundane concerns of life come back plaguing us soon enough. However, it is a curve which goes down in an exponential manner, never quite reaching a zero baseline. The emptiness within may never go away, but we learn to accept it and move on in life. The timespan of recovery is as individually unique as is each one of us.

Handling grief

Remaining surrounded by loved ones
In the initial phase, we tend to withdraw ourselves into a shell. Despite being surrounded by our loved ones, the feeling of loneliness and a vacuum inside persists.

Turn to friends and family members. Now is the time to lean on the people who care about us, even if we take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Rather than avoiding them, draw friends and loved ones close and spend time together face-to-face. Physical hugs go a long way in the process of recovery.

Accepting the assistance offered
Often, people want to help but do not know how. We may have to be open and tell them what we need – whether it’s a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or just someone to hang out with. If you feel you do not have anyone you can regularly connect with in person, it’s never too late to build new friendships.

The Challenge of comforting others
We would do well to accept that many people feel awkward when trying to comfort us when we are grieving. Grief can be a confusing, sometimes even a frightening emotion for many people, especially if they have not experienced a similar loss themselves. They may feel unsure about how to comfort us and could be wary of saying or doing the wrong things.

Sharing sorrow and getting busy
Sharing our sorrow with others who have experienced similar losses can help. What works best, however, is to get doubly busy with our occupation and start devoting more time to what we love doing.

Faith can help
As luck would have it, our physical body carries no guarantee. Perhaps, we can draw some comfort from our faith. If we follow a religious tradition, we may find that its mourning rituals may provide some comfort. Spiritual activities that are meaningful to us — such as praying, meditating, or going to religious places — can offer solace.

Lord Krishna speaks of reincarnation in the Bhagavadgitā, likening death to the way we change into a new set of clothes, discarding the old ones.

Fulfilling pious intentions
Most of us have a bucket-list of things we always wished to do in our life. It helps to start fulfilling such pious intentions sooner than later. It could be trips to places that we always wished to visit, a book that we always thought we could read, or write one of our own, few songs we could croon, close friends we wanted to visit or movies that we wished to see, etc.

Imparting meaning to our suffering
Grief can beget meaning. It provides us an opportunity to reflect on what matters most to us. We could end up taking a social initiative which may, in some way, end up doing good to others. Suffering is virtually a stepping-stone to spiritual uplift.

On to pleasant memories

The good news is that the feeling of inner loneliness does get diminished over time. Our souls are forever seeking happiness within. Over time, memories which would have made us cry closer to the event, will turn into pleasant ones. We remember the departed person with fondness. We keep in mind the values followed by the departed soul. We adapt to the new reality.

Making a departed soul happy

The Mother of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram, Pondicherry, India, when asked what one must do “to make the soul happy so that it reincarnates in good conditions” answered, “Have no sorrow and remain very peaceful and quiet, while keeping an affectionate remembrance of the one who has departed (3).”

Some myths and misconceptions

Myth: The pain will go away faster if we ignore it.
Fact: Trying to ignore our pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing, it is necessary to face our grief and actively deal with it.

Myth: It’s important to ‘be strong’ in the face of loss.
Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying does not mean we are weak. We do not need to put on a brave front. Showing our true feelings can help us and those around us.

Myth: Not crying implies we are not sorry about the loss.
Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it is not the only one. Those who do not cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

Myth: Grieving should last about a year.
Fact: There is no specific time-frame for grieving. How long it takes differs from person to person.

Myth: Moving on with our life means forgetting about our loss.
Fact: Moving on means we have accepted our loss. This is not the same as forgetting. We can move on with our life and try to be happy. The memory of someone we lost will always be an important part of us. In fact, as we move through life, these memories can become more and more integral to defining the people we are.

What to avoid while comforting those who are grieving

1. Aggressively seeking details as to how it happened. Allowing the grieving person to open up on his/her own makes better sense.
2. Right after the death, asking the affected person details about their immediate or future plans. Or, commenting on how things may shape up in the family in the times to come.
3. Discussing financial details of any kind.
4. Loose talk while being at of any of the rituals or at any social gathering to mourn a death.
5. Talking about health-related precautions being taken by one, thereby implying that the responsibility of the sudden demise somehow lies on the deceased person or his/her family.

A transformative event

In his epic poem Savitri, Sri Aurobindo, the renowned Indian seer, presents the end of a person’s life as a transformative event, a passage, or a door through which one passes towards a greater life. Essentially, the poem recounts the saga of human victory over ignorance and conquest of death.

Thus, on the racing tracks of Life, Death is but a pitstop. One gives up one’s creaking old jalopy. In exchange, one gets a shimmering new vehicle. One then zooms off to a newer horizon, the engine firing on all six cylinders. With each pit stop, one evolves further.

Conveying positive vibes to those who are still around

If I ever run into Yaksha and he asks me as to what the next most surprising thing in life is, I would surely respond as follows:

“All of us realise that those we love are not going to be around all the time. Yet, we consciously end up praising a person only when he/she is no longer alive. During their lifetime, most of the time, we take them for granted and spend quite some time censuring, condemning, criticising, and ridiculing them.”

Think of those around us. When was the last time we conveyed our genuine appreciation, praise and gratitude to them for their importance in our life? Is it not better to do so when the person we love is still around and can appreciate it?!


1. Rajagopalachari C. Mahābārata. 42nd ed. New Delhi: Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan; 2001, p. 182.

2. [Online] Available from:[Accessed 19th April 2023].

3. The Mother. The Collected Works of the Mother, Volume 15. Cent ed. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram Trust; 1980’ p. 132.

Related post 02/14/the-death-of-death-at-the-hands-of-p-g-wodehouse

Ashok Kumar Bhatia is a regular blogger, author and content creator on such subjects as management, spirituality, Indian scriptures, movies, P. G. Wodehouse, values and ethics.

Share with us (Comments,contributions,opinions)

When reproducing this feature, please credit NAMAH,and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.

body mind and spirit




Elisabeth Kübler-Ross





Accepting loss