Life. Death.Living. Dead. Are these words with opposite meaning? Are these conditions end points on the same line? Are they different expressions of a human experience? In March of this year National Geographic published an article about the cultural attitudes towards death in a village in Indonesia. It stated that ” For Torajans, death isn’t the abrupt, final, severing event of the West. Instead, death is just one step in the long,gradually unfolding process.” The bodies of loved ones are often preserved for months or years with the loved one remaining part of the family. People continue to talk and bring food to the deceased. A month after reading this piece my own mother passed away. How would I deal with her passing? How would I embrace her spirit? Would I view her as a deceased body, a part of the past? Or would I keep her alive and present like the warmth of the sun or the gentle breeze of spring? As a daughter, to know my mother is to know myself. The more I evaluate and honor my mother the more I understand where I came from and where I am going. My life did not begin on the day I was born. My mother’s life did not end on the day she died.
” I don’t know when the right time will be to bury Ma’s ashes” my father says to me. He has my mother’s ashes in a beautiful urn my sister picked out. The urn is red and elegant and fits in nicely with the Asian theme in the guest room. My father goes into the tranquil room, touches the urn, says a prayer. He tells me he feels close to her. This is his nightly ritual. Each morning he says good morning to the framed picture he keeps on the dining room table. He loves her smile. ” I expect her to laugh or to say something to me.” He laughs and shakes his head. I know he thinks he is half crazy for thinking this way. I think it’s beautiful. I tell him of my own ritual. I look out the window each morning. I see the shrine of Mother Mary, the bird houses, the wind spinner, the trees, nature abounding. “Good morning, Ma!” I know she is there in spirit with the birds in the cool shade. My father tells me he doesn’t feel she is really gone. He tells me how he can’t be sad or sit around crying. ” I can’t believe I was married to the most beautiful woman for 64 years.” My father’s love of life and gratitude lift my spirit.
Last week was my mother’s birthday. We went out for lunch. We walked by the water. We, as always, talked about my mother. We laughed. We reminisced. I left a cupcake by my mother’s framed photograph. “Don’t forget to sing happy birthday to Ma” I reminded him. Like the Torajans, we continue to celebrate, to commemorate, to hold dear those we love. Whatever has a beginning has an end. Whatever has no beginning has no end.