“Death Makes Angels Of Us All…” ……. Jim Morrison
My father died two years ago, plus a few months, and my uncle died about ten days ago.
In the Hindu tradition, they were both cremated.
My uncle went through an electric cremation, and my father went through the traditional one, in the wood fire. The electric one is considered to be more environment friendly. However, having said that, I felt that there was, for me, a different reaction to both processes, in how I responded to the death.
I will also dsicount the fact that, as a son, I will be more emotionally affected by my father’s death than I will be my uncle’s death.
In an electric cremation, after the ceremony is performed and the prayers offered, the body is pushed into the furnace, and once the furnace door is closed, you leave. There is nothing more to do.
I accompanied my cousin that afternoon, to collect the bones and ashes. One of the crematorium workers brought them to us, washed them, and drained the water into a drain. As in all cremations I have attended, when I saw the bones, I thought to myself, is this what we come to in the end? Bones, ashes and memories? Memories that live until those who remember the dead, die themselves. Then, memory dies and only the effects of the deeds live on in the living.
When my father was cremated, we stood around during the cremation. I pushed a hole into my father’s skull using a pole, and then flung the pole over his body. This is said to release the soul, and also prevents the brains from smashing through the skull.
I went the next morning to collect the bones. This time around, I had to get into the cremation pit, barefoot. It was still hot, and while the priest doused the embers, I hopped a bit, as the heat burnt it’s way through my soles. With the help of the priest, I collected the bones, and then he washed them.
In both cases, the bones were put into an urn, before being released into the rivers. Rivers carry with them, the memories of the past, and those who have gone before us. When we defile rivers, not only do we defile nature, but we also defile the memories of our ancestors, and our connections with our heritage.
My experience of the ceremony was very tactile. I could feel the memories of my father’s life in the bones that I collected from the cremation ground. This stays with me even today, and while I encourage the march of technology, I think we need to be in touch with our essential spirit and nature.
Do we, as people, lose touch with the spirits that surround us in the onward march of technology?
Perhaps, that is something that we need to think about as we progress from being ‘savages’ of the past, to being the technologically aware citizens of the future.
How will we stay in touch with ourselves?