In Buddhist philosophy, it is constantly reminded that “Life is uncertain, but death is”. To remind myself that I am mortal and will perish one day, I go to funerals. This might sound off-putting to some but every time I am at the ghat or any other funeral home, it just reminds me how fragile life is, that one day we are full of anger and ego and the next day we are gone.
Last week, I attended the funeral of a close friend’s dad. Since 2020 January, every time someone is admitted to hospital, we ask if it is covid. For some reason, we find solace when it is not. It is the trauma we all are suffering due to the pandemic. My friend had this weird satisfaction that his father died of a regular pneumonia and not of covid, as the family would now be able to do the final rituals personally.
A loss is a loss and no one but the family can feel it. We might feel similar emotions but the absence of that one particular person in their lives is forever irreplaceable. Sometimes the suffering during the last days are prolonged, giving the family time to cope. But a lot of times, it just comes as a shock. Such losses take more time to heal.
And each time I go to the ghat for a funeral, the demised person is different but I see few similar characters. I believe these items exist in every family, this set of few people who have to guide the family with the rituals. They keep pestering with the do’s and the don’ts. They somehow make the family believe that if they do not do the right thing—that is according to the “guru” or the way the rituals are traditionally done—the deceased will not find their way to nirvana.
It makes me question, what is the right way? I understand there are family rituals that need to be followed. I say family rituals as I have seen them done differently, from family to family, even if they come from the same religion. So again, what is the right way?
Here, I wish to give an example of my own family. I appreciate the presence of a particular uncle, who probably has not missed any of the family funerals until now. He is always there and I respect his dedication. That said, somehow he expects the funeral to run according to him. He keeps on breathing down the neck of the family, especially the son who is doing the rituals. Think of it, he has lost his father or mother, he is traumatized, he is grieving, he has so many things already going in his head due to the loss—and there is this immense pressure to do the rituals right.
That makes me think, maybe hundreds of years ago someone rebelled and did not listen, which changed some rituals in the family. That is why even when we are from the same religion, some of our rituals are different. Maybe it is time we should let the core family decide how they want to do the final rites. Perhaps we can just stand quietly in the corner and make them feel the support and not talk at all. Silence is a response and support at the same time.
Psychologically, many have this notion that the final rituals need to be done properly or else the soul will not find its way and those like this uncle gather a few more like-minded people just to make it worse for the grieving family. I think we should let the family do things the way they wish to do. There is no right or wrong way, as they already have lost a big chunk of their lives. Giving them a little peace and space is what we need to do.
Another thing that pinches me a lot is the language we use. When we are alive, we are called by names. But once we are dead we suddenly become las, a dead body. The term people insensitively use. “Who is bringing the las?”, “Can someone cover the las with abir?” Maybe I am too sensitive but it is high time we curated another way of speaking at these places. The deceased still has a name and the named soul lived in that body until today.
Funerals are already an awkward place, always under confused clouds. Even when we feel we are part of the family, it is important not to burden the family with our opinions. Our presence is enough for them to understand we are there, our priceless opinions can wait.