[CAUTION-This post deals with a personal loss and may be considered macabre to some]
My mom passed away suddenly two-weeks ago. This post doesn’t begin to articulate those feelings, nor will it live up to her incredible life. She was devote Hindu and in Hinduism, traditionally there 13 days of mourning while her soul takes the cyclical journal to the afterlife. On the 14th day and for another 26 days, the family is to mourn. I still don’t quite know if I believe in reincarnation, but the notion that you are reborn and made flesh again has been in some New Age circles appropriated as a good thing or the transmigration of the soul, which it is not (not in Hindu or Buddhist tradition anyway). The funeral rites are to prepare the soul for the journey of enlightment, breaking free from the wheel of life (picture above).
The experience of a traditional Hindu funeral rites (Antiyesti) was quite public, and something that was both enlightening and cathartic. I had never been to or participated in Hindu funeral rites, and while doing one in the small rural town of Clarion (the only funeral home in the area that did cremation) was surreal (the cremation furnace was in what looked like a shabby garage), the ritual while new to me, seemed by design, a means necessary to create a level of detachment from grieving and the physical vessel as a means of providing closure. Whether these rites represent the high acts for divine passage, I don’t know.
I learned later that my mother’s sari was red because an unmarried woman or a woman whose husband is still alive wears either red or yellow. If the woman is a widow, she wears white. I learned that each Hindu service varies based on the specifics of the person’s life (how many children, the gender of the children, their age, and the circumstances of their caste and of their passing). The sons carry on the tradition of Shradh. I learned that traditionally, the body is entirely covered in colorful flowers from a time when cremation were open fires. I know describing this will sound strange and grim to some. It was strange to me. And yet I can no more pass judgement on rituals of one religion (communal wafers and wine) over another (ghee and rose water). Every culture says good-bye a little differently. This was the good-bye she wanted, and it felt right to me.
I miss my mom. She was a bright and beautiful, strong-willed woman whose name was Sanskrit for ‘Smile.’ She touched the lives of everyone she encountered. She was a painter, a doctor, and accountant, and a business woman. She had a great laugh and we all competed to get it out of her. She had a great smile. Good bye, momma.