Watch the video to hear what Anu Aga has to say about death and bereavement.
A topic that many are interested in but few talk about, especially in India. While some are ready to plan their own funeral, make their will, or have even performed their own shraadh, the majority still view death as something which should not be spoken about.
Death is a part of the life cycle. This is something that most of us internalize and try to forget. However, death is inevitable. And with death comes grief and often, guilt.
Anu Aga is a person who has come face-to-face with death. She has experienced it at devastatingly close quarters. Yet, instead of being defeated by it, she has emerged stronger. At 77, she is still actively involved in social work and is often invited as an esteemed speaker on famous community platforms like TEDx and Rotary Clubs.
HappyAging met this amazing personality to start a dialogue about death. She shared her perspective about how death can be debilitating and how we can deal with the grief and guilt that follow the death of a close one.
Anu Aga – An Inspiration
77-year-old Anu Aga is a social worker by training and a businesswoman by accident. She was nominated as a chairperson to Thermax, her father’s company. It was being handled by her husband until his unfortunate and untimely death in 1996. She helmed the company from 1996 to 2004, after which she retired and took up social work again.
Anu Aga featured in the Forbes list as one of the 40 Richest Indians by net worth. She was also awarded the Mumbai Women of the Decade Achievers Award by ALL Ladies League. She has served as a Member of Parliament of the Rajya Sabha from 2012 to 2018.
However, she considers Teach for India, an education initiative she is the co-founder and Board Member of, to be one of her greatest achievements. Teach for India attempts to teach the underprivileged children across the country and bridge the educational inequity.
Anu Aga was awarded the Padma Shri in 2010 for Social Work.
Anu Aga’s Encounters with Death
Anu Aga was a typical woman, terrified of death. In fact, if death was mentioned in a sentence, she would touch wood for good luck.
But she encountered death closely in a very small time span. Her husband, Rohinton Aga, who was then the chairperson of Thermax, died of a stroke in 1996 when he was just in his 60s. Within 14 months, she lost her son in a car accident at the very young age of 25.
The thing that terrified her most was now a part of her reality. She was devastated, but she picked up the cords of her life and carried on. Two days after her husband’s death, Ms. Aga was nominated as the chairperson of Thermax. Though she was unsure of taking up new responsibilities, she took up the challenge, turned around the company’s fortunes, and made Thermax a name to be reckoned with.
“How can it be a tragedy
when it is just a part of life?”
Her life is an example of how one can move forward even after losing their close ones. It shows that a lot can be achieved if we take this loss in our stride and come out stronger.
She interestingly points out that death comes to all irrespective of the stage of life. What is missing is the acceptance of death as the natural part of life. Yet, we attach negative words like “tragedy” to death. Ms. Aga says, “How can it be a tragedy when, in fact, it is just a part of life?”
Coping with Death
Anu Aga says that she read many books on death after her husband passed away. However, she adds, “They provided only intellectual support. I still missed my husband!”
She turned to the Vipassana meditation technique for seeking solace. Vipassana meditation involves spending a certain time at the Vipassana centre where you cannot talk with anyone else and cannot read. This forced Ms. Aga to turn inwards and introspect. Such introspection made her realize the inevitability of death and helped her move on in life.
Even now, after so many years, Ms. Aga meditates daily. “Meditation is a must for me to find inner peace,” she says. She also believes that talking about death is a way of preparing yourself for it.
“Let us have the humility to know that death is larger than all of us”
The first step is acceptance and once you accept death as a part of life, you will be much more prepared for the grief and guilt that the death of a close one brings along. “Death is inevitable!” Ms. Aga says. “All of us are going to die, we just don’t know when and how.”
Anu Aga also adds that though we can talk about death all we want, we could still experience grief when faced with it. “Let us have the humility to know that death is larger than all of us and you can never be prepared,” she says.
Guilt as a Part of Bereavement
“Death touches us in ways we don’t recognize,” Ms. Aga says. “After someone dies, we often tend to think wishfully of things we could have done differently.”
The emotion of guilt that usually accompanies the death of a close one can affect us in ways we cannot predict. Our close relatives do remain sympathetic for a while. Later, they move on to their own commitments and routines, leaving us to handle our own grief.
“After someone dies, we often tend to think wishfully of things we could have done differently.”
Yet, many older adults find solace in talking about their loved ones who have passed. They miss them in daily activities. They also tend to experience the guilt of not having done enough for the person. In some cases, they hold onto things that they could have said/done differently. All these older adults want is a listening ear and non-judgmental opinions.
Talking about Death in Indian Society
Death as a topic has always been swept under the carpet in India. Talking about death is considered to be a bad omen and everyone tries to avoid it. Right from one’s early age, we create alternate reasons for death and the afterlife.
However, this makes it more difficult for one to cope when faced with death. As rightly pointed out by Anu Aga, we would be facing a loss of our loved ones sooner or later in life and all we can do as a society is to make it easier for families to handle it. Let us not shy away from talking about the most inevitable. Let us accept the emotions of grief and sorrow and normalize it for society.
A good support system around a recently bereaved person can go a long way in making life better for them. Lifestyle changes like meditation and yoga can also help the bereaved give time to themselves to inspect their feelings and overcome grief.
Have you come across death at close quarters? How did you deal with it?
Tell us your thoughts on how one should deal with death and grief in the comments below.
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