Posts Tagged ‘death’

About six months ago my husband told me about a Parsi funeral ritual that takes place in India. I had never heard of it.

Parsi is a Zoroastrian community. These folks from Greater Iran fled mostly to India centuries ago to avoid persecution and to retain their religious identity during the Muslim conquest of Persia. Zoroastrianism was the dominant religion before Islam.

That’s just a snippet of a history that could fill books.

Ain’t gonna lie. I was horrified when I heard about their funeral practice.

Sky burial.

Letting nature take its course. No burial. No cremation. Just exposure to the elements on an elevated area. Cutting up bits of the body for the vultures to feast.

Towers of Silence.

I was soon reading about different rituals. It appears that there are many reasons for this Sky burial. Tibetan Buddhists feel it is a generosity for the departed because it’s providing life source for other creatures and they respect all life. Some feel that the body is only a vessel. That fire and burial pollute the earth. Some view the dead body as impure.

Practicality, rather than religion, might have also played a role. The places where these rituals originated tended to be rocky with no source of timber.

India’s pretty cool in a lot of ways. It’s just so diverse and in many ways tolerant of other practices.

This ritual still takes place today.

But there is one small problem. Well, not really small.

The vulture population declined drastically. The birds (the cleaner uppers) were getting sick from eating the carrion of Indian livestock.

Hmmmm.

I learned more about vultures than I ever cared to imagine.

Since it’s India (Hindu) there are 500 million cattle and only 4% of that number is for human consumption. Cows are considered sacred so most people aren’t eating them.

That’s a bunch of cows.

So when cattle die the vultures are a welcome sight. A natural and efficient process.

But due to an anti-inflammatory drug which was being given to the cattle the vultures started dying in droves. Their system couldn’t take this particular drug.

By now I am not thinking about funeral practices at all because I am so fascinated by vultures!

Apparently vultures can make efficient, quick work of any animal carcass and due to their metabolism not suffer the effects of (or carry) any pathogens from their recent meal. Stops with them.

Wow! Truly cast iron stomachs. Except for when humans inject animals with a certain drug.

This decline in the vulture population has led to a host of problems for India.

Huge problems. It was a natural system. And when things break down….

In the 1980s there were 80 million vultures. Today several thousand. That’s unbelievable.

Vultures used to pick clean the carcasses in no time. Now the dead cows and other animals rot in village fields.

Contaminating the drinking water.

And if there are no vultures on the scene? Who takes their place in this pecking order? No pun intended. Who’s on deck?

Rats and wild dogs (India has 18 million wild dogs-seems like about a million on our street alone lol) are all too happy to step into the newly opened positions. But they, unlike vultures, do carry things like rabies, anthrax and plague. And pass it on to us. The humans. Yikes!

Back to the Parsi death rituals. They are still performed but not with the same frequency due to the decrease in the vulture population. Some people are opting for cremation. Those who choose the “old way” will be doing so with the assistance of solar reflectors to move things along. Remember when you were a kid with a magnifying glass trying to use the sun’s reflection to burn a piece of paper. Yeah, that. Same.

I never knew anything about the Towers of Silence. And I did not know much about vultures except maybe seeing them as a menacing backdrop in cute Disney movies. Or observing a turkey vulture munching on roadkill that one time in Lake Tahoe while we whizzed by it.

Pretty amazing to think about it. One small bit of human tinkering can upset a system that has been working just fine. Maybe from the beginning of time. Compromising the health of a nation. And in the process eradicating rituals that have been around for centuries and centuries.

First I was horrified to hear of the Parsi practice. Then I moved on to understanding and sort of appreciating it. I remain sad about the Indian vulture crisis and its effect on the nation.

Lastly, I’m feeling more than a little sympathetic for the Parsi community as they lose a grip on pieces of their tradition and identity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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We have all heard that there is no road map for grief. So it can be a difficult and tricky course for many to navigate.

Each of us is like a snowflake. Unique. Just like our grief is unique and how we deal with our loss.

I remember one of my aunts, after losing her husband, telling me that she just kept herself busy, busy and busy. In hindsight she thinks maybe she kept herself too busy.

Another aunt was told to travel after the loss of her spouse. And she did. Accepted every invitation.

Just two examples among many.

Everyone takes a different course to find their way through grief and find their way back again. To discover their new normal.

Life is never the same when we lose a loved one. That is a fact.

The same aunt who was “too busy” wrote those exact words to me in a letter after my uncle Stiophan died.

“Life will never be the same.”

And it wasn’t. But that didn’t mean that life couldn’t be good for her again.

A friend, Donna B., had shared a website this morning on Facebook and I thought it was interesting. Shows another way of dealing with grief.

The owner of the website lost her mother, who was in her fifties, to early onset Alzheimer’s. Her aunt stepped in as surrogate mom but she, too, would soon fall victim to the same disease and be gone within a year.

Here is her website.

https://griefbiscuit.com/

I thought I would share it with you. Who knows? Maybe it will help someone through the upcoming holidays. Or the next six months. The year.

There are also some tips and tools on the site designed to help those who are grieving. I particularly liked, “Be the Sherpa.”

Wishing peace and comfort to all of those who are suffering this holiday season. Now and in the new year.

 

 

 

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When I visit Rhode Island it’s usually for the summer and a haircut/coloring always ends up being a thing. To be honest the thing is actually coloring more than the cut.

I always call the East Side stylist, M., who I’ve known for more than thirty years. I’ll just call her M. since I view going to a trusted salon and swapping life experiences as sort of a sacred thing. Like bookclub.

Anyway, my husband found her when he was a college student. When we married I hopped on board.

So we go way back. Probably still have the present M. sent when my first daughter was born.

M. always fits me in during my summer holidays.

Rhode Island is a small place. My father knew her parents from the Irish circles. We knew some of the same people.

Every time I visit she’s got a mixed bag of clients.

I could meet an older woman going on a trip to Syria or a woman who says my cousin Francis roomed with her husband. Back in the day.

Love it. Usually fun and light hearted. M. and I discuss books, restaurants, travel destinations, politics and family.

This summer day was also about politics, restaurants and family.

M. was talking about her sister. Probably because the previous week was the seventeenth anniversary of her sister’s death.

Her sister sounded so fabulous. A Rhode Island girl who was one of the leading art dealers in New York. A pioneer of the art scene in the East Village, Chelsea and Soho. Who Andy Warhol immortalized in a silk screen back in 1985.

But that is not why I’m writing this post.

I was sitting there with foil strips in my hair and my eyes filling up with tears.

Because this lady had cancer and died at the young age of forty-five.

M.’s sister decided that she wanted to die on Cape Cod and on a Friday. She did both.

This woman’s husband’s called M. the day before she died and said basically that she wasn’t doing great. Maybe something in her breathing. Maybe nothing but he just wanted to let them know.

M. says, ” Thank you.”

She thinks about it and says to herself, “I’m going to the Cape.”

It was midnight.

M. called all the family members.

They all made the decision to head to the Cape.

And that is when the tears dripped down my face.

I just had a vision of this family hopping into their cars for a trip that no one ever really wants to take. But wouldn’t have it any other way.

Surrounding their loved one as she transitioned out of this world.

The last people she saw were those who loved her most. Her husband and her family.

When we are born the first people we see are the ones who absolutely love us most.

If we are fortunate we pick up a few more as we journey through life. Siblings, partners, children or friends.

It’s only fitting that’s the way it should end.

With those who love us most.

 

 

 

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My Mac died in Malaysia but was revived once I brought it to the Providence Apple Store.

Just like Lazarus.

Sadly, it died again two weeks later. So I am at a loss.

But thanks to us being an Apple family my daughter is letting me use hers to write this post.

I write about life. And I write about death.

I am home now. Visiting Mom and family for the summer in Rhode Island.

Read three obituaries in the last week. I either knew the person or knew the family of the person. It’s a small state. The place where I spent my formative years.

If I read the obituaries in Dallas (lived there twelve years) I would not know the folks. Sure, there would be the odd, unexpected death of someone in the community that I would know. But it would not be the norm.

I lived in Southern California for quite a few years. Same. Wouldn’t know a soul in the obits.

But once you come back home. Well, that’s different.  You know everybody. Especially when you grew up in a state that has a population of one million.

Yes, I once was one in a million. #Truth.

I was attending the funeral of my best friend’s father-in-law yesterday. He was ninety years old. A lovely man who led a truly wonderful life. Nine children and twenty-four grandchildren. Also great grand children in the mix. A family man. A faith filled man. A community man.

I stood outside the Portuguese church waiting for the doors to open. I was told we couldn’t enter because there was another funeral taking place.

Standing with others who were also waiting to fill the pews for the next funeral Mass.

The doors of the church finally opened.

There was a hearse outside on the street with its doors open ready to receive the blessed remains.

I spied a teddy bear in the back of the hearse. But I was still not prepared for what I saw next.

The smallest coffin I have ever seen came out of the church doors. It only required four pall bearers. I almost gasped. My throat closed. I looked at another couple who was also waiting to go into the church. And I could only glance at them and whisper, “Oh, God!”

Watching the young mother broke my heart.

The mourners of the young child left and the mourners of the old man entered the church.

The whole stinking process is sad.

It made me think.

The loss of a beloved father. No matter how old.

But still. A feeling of gratefulness.

Because his death was one of the best scenarios.

He left this world.

After serving his country.

Meeting and marrying the love of his life.

Bringing eight fabulous sons and a daughter into the world.

Starting his own business.

Being a community member.

Involved in his parish.

Caring about others.

I left the funeral service with sadness because I understand what it means to lose a father.

But I also left with an appreciation of a life well lived. And I sort of felt okay.

Not everyone has the same opportunity. For whatever reason.

Bless us all.

 

 

 

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I was sifting through Facebook today and saw a notification. On a page I created for AT&T folks that worked in Providence.

Someone posted that a former colleague had died.

Fifty-five years old. That might seem old to a teenager. To most of us? Not so much. Doesn’t seem old to me at the ripe old age of fifty-one.

I was shocked. It seems like he just posted on Facebook a few days ago.

He did.

His name was John. I met him when we were in training at AT&T many moons ago.

I remember our training sessions and the following days and months. Dropping him off at his home that he shared with his wife at the time.

We reconnected in 2010. He was happy. Divorced. No kids. Living the life in New Hampshire.

Was even helping me try to find employment for my brother at Nokia some years ago.

Had a horrible year in which he lost his dad and sister. He inherited a lake house in New Hampshire and knew that is where he wanted to be.

I’m sharing a correspondence with him because I think it’s important.

Commuted from Bethlehem, PA and absolutly hated it. I lost my Dad in June 08 and my Sister in Aug 08 (horrible year) and inherited my familys Lake House on Ossipee Lake in NH. So I decided last summer while sitting on the porch overlooking that georgous site (the lake) that I could not just do two weeks a year there. I decided I was going to try to get back to New England

Sometimes we are sitting on a porch overlooking a gorgeous sight or site. But it might be something different that triggers a life change.

Hopefully, we know what we hate. And more importantly what we love.

John’s postings (once he figured it out) only proved that he made the right decision. He loved life in New Hampshire and his summers on the lake. Always positive postings.

Just a reminder that none of us know the moment we leave this world.

He died of a massive heart attack. With no warning or chance to say goodbye.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be reading this should realize we have moments and opportunities that many others do not.

The opportunity to change our lives. The moments to extend love and appreciation. And to say goodbye.

 

 

 

 

 

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I hadn’t realized, at the time of my father’s recent death, that my kids hadn’t ever been to a wake and funeral service before this.

So, yes, a blessing that we (they) haven’t had the experience of too much death. But very sad that the first service my children attended was that of their sweet and beloved grandfather.

My oldest one, Rory, confided to me before the wake that she had mixed feelings about our practices.

After it was all finished I asked her, “What are your feelings about the whole thing now?”

She said, “It was so amazing to be in one room with so many people that I loved.”

“And that all of those people in the room loved Papa.”

I think that, as exhausting as the process might be, we have something right.

It was a celebration of life, an opportunity for family to reunite and for so many others to pay their respects to our family.

Men, women and children. As one. As it should always be.

No mixed feelings in the end.

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I received a message yesterday from a childhood friend who had just heard about my father’s death. She was so terribly sorry for us.

This same friend lost her mom recently. Her dad died seventeen years ago. She said not a day passes that she does not think of him.

I was fully aware that most folks who came to pay their respects to my family knew exactly what we were feeling. I understood that these people who provided us comfort and solace have all suffered some loss in their own lives. Could have been losing parents, children, siblings or friends. Could have been tragic or welcomed.

It’s the condition of being human in this world for a very short time. Maybe we didn’t sign up for it but we are here and those are the terms of the contract.

It reminded me of a story my husband told many years ago.

A woman’s child died and she was utterly devastated. She approached the Buddha and begged him to bring her child back to life. He said he would be glad to help her. But only if she could bring back a mustard seed from a home that had not suffered from a death.

This grief stricken mother traveled, near and far, to find a home that had not been touched by loss. After many months, knocking on every door, she returned empty handed. She never found that house.

And then she found some peace.

This recent experience of losing my father reinforced the fact that even though my personal grief can be unique it will never be unshared. This will provide me with some measure of comfort during my own quest for peace.

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