Here is the full context:

I let them figure it out between themselves. It seems easier this way. I stay quiet hoping they’ll fall asleep. I lie there in the dark churning and tying all the loose ends across the generations, these twisted strands of DNA like the red mauli string on my wrist from the puja we did for my father in India on the 10th day of his death, the thread going around and around like the love we carry for each other, even when we don’t, even when it’s not spoken.

My question is: What did she exactly do while lying in the dark beside her children? and what is the relationship between the marked sentence and the sentence after? Thanks

the reference is: Why we need to discuss a death in the family with the children | Aeon Essays

  • I'm not sure the text is particularly coherent. She starts off by saying she left the others to figure things out, but apparently she "tossed and turned" ("churned") when she went to bed herself. The reference to "tying all the loose ends across the generations" and the highly metaphorical reference to "twisted strands of DNA" don't really work at all for me, but I think she's trying to make some hopelessly overstrained figurative link between "literal" strands of DNA and family ties (particularly, across generations). Treat it as "poetry", and don't try to deconstruct it. Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 17:56
  • I think churning here refers to the mind: her mind was churning; her thoughts were churning. It is not physical.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 1, 2021 at 19:15
  • Wow. I understand why you're confused. I get what she was trying to get at, but it's very poorly written. I really can't add to what @FumbleFingers has done here. Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 2:15

1 Answer 1


It is full of metaphor, and some depends on your interpretation, which is a matter for literary analysis, not English learning.

"Churning" is rapid mixing. Here it seems to be used to mean "repeatedly rolling over" in the way that someone who can't sleep will roll over in bed.

A "loose end" is a matter that is unfinished, and "tying a loose end" is dealing with the unfinished matter. These "loose ends" are from things that have lasted several generations: from grandfather, to father to son.

Then she thinks about how one generation inherits from the previous one. It inherits problems, but also more literally it inherits DNA, and she likens this in a simile to the red thread used in Hindu prayers.

She further likens this thread going round and round as being "like love" Because it joins the family together.

So lots of figurative writing. Loose threads are like DNA which is like Red mauli thread which is like love. It is a long list of allusions.

Part of the style is to give the feeling of someone whose mind is wandering as they lie in bed and unable to sleep. It is not meant to be particularly coherent because the character is tired.

  • I'd never have thought of the point raised in your final paragraph, but it's certainly a good one. Perhaps OP's cited writer is simply "too clever" for the likes of me! :) Commented Aug 2, 2021 at 10:55

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