Dealing With The Death Of My Brother (And Failing)

Just this month, my brother Atul Chitnis died – painfully.  When that happened, I thought I would never live it down. Today, a couple of weekends after his struggle ended in death, I have time to reflect on this and I’m not sure whether to be proud of or be disgusted with myself.


You know, it’s funny – we can get over the death of a family member. I’m not sure how this uncanny ability stacks up in terms of moral brownie points, or how our illusions of family solidarity manage it. But we can do it.

There was a time in my life when I was trained to observe my own thoughts and feelings mercilessly. Delusion and self-deception were no options at all – my job was to acknowledge my emotions, accept responsibility for them, and deal with them in some way.

Back then, there were good reasons having to undergo such emotional survival drills, and I am – even today –  thankful for what I learned.  However, this training has the depressing quality of surfacing at the most inconvenient times. Whenever I think I have successfully rationalized myself out of a psychological tight spot, I land up in the dock once more.

Atul and me - Bangalore 2004

Because I was unable to distract myself with work, tax problems and housekeeping today, I was forced to admit certain inconsistencies in my psyche – my brother, Atul Chitnis, was more to me than flesh and blood. I cannot escape the fact that I am trying desperately to forget he ever walked this Earth.

  • I tell myself that he had the option of taking better care of himself, and didn’t.
  • I tell myself that he was too demanding, requiring of me qualities that I do not have but SHOULD have had because I come from a bloodline of high achievement.
  • I tell myself that there is no burden of continued grieving one me because I did a LOT of grieving after his death, and at his memorial service.
  • I tell myself that I did what I could to keep him among us, but the end result was not in my hands.
  • I tell myself that the living cannot and must not suffer on the account of those who died. Life must go on, I tell myself. In fact, all around me I see death denials – death is something that happens to others and not to us.
  • I tell myself that he is in a better place, with no evidence at all of such a place existing in the first place.


Atul Chitnis was a man who dismissed everything but proven facts. I – not because I am his brother, but because I think this is a good premise – accept this as valid. On the basis of this premise, I have absolutely no assurance that Atul continues to exist on some ethereal plane. There are very good chances that he is gone for good.

The questions I ask myself today are:

  • Did I respect him enough for being what he was – as my brother, and an acknowledged thought leader in his chosen field – while he drew physical breath?
  • Did I allow my personal issues to interfere with my family loyalty?
  • Did I think it was too expensive to visit him as much as he wanted me to?
  • Could I (and can I now) accept and love him for what he was?

Today, when my mind has nothing else to distract itself with, the answers it produces for these questions do not flatter me at all. Today, I mourn for my brother because he was my brother, not because we did not meet each others’ expectations. Today, I am torn because I  could have been a better brother to him….

5 thoughts on “Dealing With The Death Of My Brother (And Failing)

  1. Dear Arun,

    Death is a strange bedfellow, that accompanies us in our journey of Life !

    Some people are fortunate to experience it when they are fully grown up and blossomed as Humans, others not so blessed, encounter Death as their journey man very early in the lives.

    I understand your pain as I have spent 30 years with the same questions you have on my brothers passing. I empathise with you because I have seen my family wiped out by a cruel blow of a terrorist act for over 27 years… and I too had these ghastly questions.

    Death has been my companion for over 30 years, losing as i have a Brother, then a sister, then a father, then a mother (all before reaching 18) ! and then a best friend, a cousin sister & brother and grandmother.

    These questions and hollowness will not pass with time, (contrary to what people say) they will only multiply and not diminish, but the truth of it is that Somewhere up above Atul is watching, Atul IS in a better place and Atul will take care of your troubles.
    Yes he will realise that you now feel the guilt of not having appreciated him enough as a brother, or that you did’nt visit him enough – but the fact is that He knows that You Did , and he was happy ; and the sooner you realise that , the sooner you will find peace.

    It took me more than 27 years and I still feel the deep pain each year on the 23rd June when my spirit was extinguished ; but what happened in each intervening event after that was even more remarkable and convinced me that My Dad indeed realised I missed him ; my Brother knew how much I loved him and wanted to share our youth together and each year when I silently celebrate my baby sisters birthday, I know she smiles down on me.

    They have silently watched over me since the 1980′s , just as Death has been my constant companion since then walking step by measured step with me, and I am so much richer for the experience.

    Whenever I have been down or troubled or facing a grave crisis they have blessed me with a vision to see clearly, or shown me a path to go down, or even better still I have been reminded that there is a purpose in life for which I have been left behind, and I will be dishonouring their sacrifices and passing if I do not fulfil their unfinished tasks.

    I live each day with that strength and I try and inculcate these values in my kids too..

    Have faith, all will be well, God bless !

  2. Our condolences n prayers Arun..I guess we all at some points in our lives have to go through the heartbreak n sorrow of losing a loved one..I lost my Dad at 18..those were tough times since He was the main Bread Earner n we (My bros n sisters..8 of Army)were still studying..Then my elder sis passed away in 91 in an air crash..lost another sis in 2011…I still do miss them ..but console myself with memories of the happy times we had together..N I beleive that they R out there somewhere amongst the Stars “watching my Back”….Hope U manage to come 2 terms w Ur grief..takes time I know..Just remember the good times U had 2gether..

  3. Dear Arun,
    Fact is that Atul is no more… and that you will grieve because that is what we do at the loss of someone dear. There are times we feel we could have done better and that the choices they made were different… more complacent. There are also times we blame ourselves and wish things would turn out otherwise… but my friend, we are all destined for the ultimate and nothing is gonna change that.
    At this point you MUST recall all the good times you’ll have had and the blessings that carried him to what he was.
    Be strong, think positive and thank the almighty that you had a chance to have a brother most of us strive to deserve. And remember… time heals all, but do take your time to grieve, because Atul deserves and acknowledges that!

  4. Today I get this message through this month P C Quest. I can’t explain my feelings. Prior to 1997 read regular his column in P C Quest. My city Bikaner (Rajasthan) has only one shop kept P C Quest some time I miss than diced to subscribe. In 1997 I meet him personally in Kishore G house than after meet in Bangulure in one exhibition. I am trying to setup here one class room center on all technical subject individual in well detail with all respect of practical & theoretical including all means like still visual adds & videos. My mother expired on 1 Sept 2012 after his one year pass I am having a serious desire on all above & a hidden thought to consult first to him today that was crushed. Next person at this time no one GOD knows how I will give a practically function to all that.

    I will write more about me but my duty to remember all family members please give my condolence to all seniors all love to younger.

    I always pray to GOD give ample power to bear this said news & keep her soul in peace.

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