Vinoth Ramachandra

Death, Thou Shalt Die

Posted on: September 6, 2009

My father died last week. Death was a merciful release, as he had been afflicted with severe dementia for four years. He died at home quickly and painlessly with my mother , one of my sisters and myself at his bedside. Although we had been experiencing a prolonged bereavement over the past few years, his final passing away was still a sad moment for all of us.

We laid out my father’s body in an open casket at my parents home, as is the local custom, and  we received a steady stream of people from all faiths and all walks of life coming to pay their respects. My father had touched many lives, both as a government surgeon and a teacher (at the North Colombo Medical College). I had the privilege of giving the eulogy at a thanksgiving service just before taking the body to the cemetery for burial. I give below an extract from what I shared at that service.

I shall remember my father not for his achievements but for his character. Especially his simplicity and his integrity. He shunned all luxury and ostentation, pomp and humbug. He refused to kowtow to politicians. As a government surgeon he would travel on public buses and trains from the various stations where he worked. Indeed his refusal to do private practice but to remain in government service, despite all its frustrations was due, I believe, to his sense of responsibility towards the so-called “common people” as opposed to the rich elites of our land. This simplicity was part of his integrity. He did not wear masks, but was in public what he was in private, speaking his mind in a way that sometimes won him enemies. He was utterly incorruptible. Whatever he was assigned to do, he did so meticulously and responsibly. Such integrity is rare in the medical profession today as well as in our wider society.

However, whenever I gazed at my father’s gradually shrinking and wizened frame, and grieved the loss of his fine mind, I would also think, “One day, he is going to be a  glorious and radiant creature!” For as Christians, we don’t simply look back nostalgically to what people once were. We also look towards what they will  become one day.

The great philosopher of medieval Europe, Thomas Aquinas, once defined human beings as “animals with an orientation towards friendship with God and friendship with one another”. Yes, we are animals, part of a wider animal kingdom, and the perishable animal remains that lie in my father’s casket remind us of that fact. We didn’t, as human beings, drop from heaven. But we are also more than animals. We are that mysterious entity we call persons. We live our animal lives in a personal way.

My personhood is what demands that I be recognized as a someone and not something. And that every single human being is to be treated as a someone and not as a something. Our personal identities are formed through relationships- with God and with one another in the human family. And though our frail bodies perish at death, our personal identity- everything that has made me uniquely me and not you- continues in God. And God has pledged, and given us a foretaste of that in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that our personal identities will be re-embodied, “re-expressed” if you like, in new bodies in which will all that was true and good and just and beautiful in our lives will be re-focused and contribute to the life of a renewed world.

So we should not wait till the end of our days to realise that what is truly worth pursuing in life are our friendships with God and with others. The reality and depth of these relationships are what define us, not our cars, houses or bank balances. And they are infinitely more precious, because more outlasting, than status or money or power.

11 Responses to "Death, Thou Shalt Die"

Thank you for sharing this wonderful story with us. I was there when you were the main speaker at the National Conference organized by Perkantas back in 2003 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.
After 6 years of graduation, I saw some Christian graduates who were very zealous in student ministry when they were in college now were so obssessed with material possession, and kinda loose the passion to serve others. Do you have any opinion how it may happened?

Thank you for this good word, a memento of what a holy life can be, and a reminder that the ending is truly a beginning. God’s nearness to you and your family at this sad time.

Vinoth, I/we are truly sorry to hear about the passing away of ur dad. Our condolences. My comp had crashed and I came to know of it (the blog) only today from Sao@jnu. I’d gone there to attend a lecture on the Philosophy of Science by Dhruv Raina.

Thank you also for the sobering reflection/reminder.

Our condolences, Vinoth. Thank you for sharing this. You rarely shared about your parents. I shall always keep in mind “I shall remember my father not for his achievements but for his character.”

I’m truly sorry to hear about the passing away of your father. Please accept my deepest condolences. Thank you for the story you have shared, it reminds me to keep humble in pursuit of simplicity and integrity.

“Death was a merciful release”. That’s quite true as I see patients suffering from severe chronic diseases. Many of them wish they’d just be aloud to ‘rest’. But the families would go to all extends to prolong the life of their loved one even for some few months. In the process, many familes sell their assets and have to pay debts for years. We see many such cases who come to Delhi for treatment. How far we should go for treatment of our sick family members becomes quite an issue, especially when the medical experts do not think of the social and economic condtions of the families.

My condolences to your family. However, it’s also a relief to know how your dad lived and that he passed away ‘quickly and painlessly’ with family at his side.

So sorry to hear of his passing – but we praise God with you for your dad’s life. How wonderful that he could stick with government work, to help the poor in Sri lanka, and did it honestly and meticulously. May many follow his footsteps.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the sad occasion of your father’s homegoing. How comforting it is for us to know that we don’t cease to exist with our physical deaths but that the resurrection of Jesus gives us the hope that we will share in His resurrection glory. Our condolences to you both, your mother and others in the family. We too rejoice over your father’s life – his integrity and honesty – such a crying need for countries like ours. May God comfort you and conyinue to use you all as a family for His glorious purposes on earth.

Satish, Delhi

Lovely to read this, especially after watching a program on the television last night which purported to ‘prove’ that personal identity is nothing but a brain state. As a former lecturer in Psychology I rejoice to see the intricate and marvelous ways that brain works, but never found a satisfactory materialistic answer to the existence of a soul. Praise God there is more to life (and death) than the body!

Vinoth, thanks for share it. Today after some many years I gave my grandfather medicine. I am to old now, but I have this day to give his medicine to him. To God Be Glory.

Simply put, thank you for sharing your father’s story with us, Mr. Ramachandra. I also thank you (and the likes of N.T. Wright) for eloquently expressing the hope Christianity has beyond our finite existence on this earth, while also emphasising the good of doing good now.

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September 2009
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