A Long Shadow

By the end of the day; ready to rest, relax, sit for a bit and then turn in. These summer nights the light doesn’t fade from the sky until nearly 10.00 pm. With skylights I can watch the grey/blue turn to navy blue, some nights the stars shine in. There is something about an attic room that can’t be matched, and at the moment my room is at the top of the house. Ah, attics! When the light has faded and all is still I’ve been inclined, these past days, to stay with the stars. If not the stars then deep sleep into the morning has become my habit.

I’ve been thinking about documenting what happens when a Buddhist dies. Specifically what happens to the body; the practicalities around disposal and the ceremonies we do in my particular Buddhist tradition to do that with due dignity. And I’ll hopefully get down to that now I’m rested and settled.

There is no doubt about it a sudden death is a shock to the system, what ever the circumstances of the death happen to have been. The shock, rather like an echo, reverberates for quite some time. Even after the last strains have faded, which to a large extent they have for me, there still remains a certain something. A long shadow perhaps, cast by a presence no longer there.

Edera continues to write for Little House, at the moment documenting the days leading up to her husband’s death. Some days she takes a break and writes about this day. I know already that these past weeks, as we sift and sort our way through our days together, will leave a deep impression on both of us. One grows close in adversity.

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13 thoughts on “A Long Shadow”

  1. Thank you for this. It touched me very directly, I guess because of our parallel experiences just at the moment. Of course, the intensity of this sadness of ours will pass in time, and some will stay with us forever, as we both know. And of course also it points us to thoughts of our own deaths and our own funerals. Any thoughts you share on ‘the process’ will be more than welcome. Many of us must feel we need to leave our families with some help as to what we would have liked done, and also leave them the freedom to do what will be most helpful to them, the ones who live on. Oh dear, this is all rather powerful. I sit in my own attic and watch the sky and am glad to be soothed by it. With bows.

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Chris. I will start writing…. Yes, this is all rather powerful…but what is it? A question to ponder, a question to let out of the skylight!

  3. If you write about the process of death could you mention embalming please? It’s something I don’t know a lot about – just have the idea it’s not necessarily helpful for the person who has died?

  4. I ponder. Perhaps it is quite simply attachment. We are told attachment leads to pain, and is of course part of being human. ‘Here born, we clutch at things.’ We don’t seem to be able to avoid it – and should we even try? Not round, but through. Can we mitigate the pain by focusing on letting go? It seems such a hard task, but I guess as always it is ‘one step at a time.’

  5. Is letting go simply a deep recognition of impermanence? And from that flows acceptance – and the letting go simply comes out of that acceptance. You don’t need to feel good about it though. Pain is pain, no getting away from it, and it fades.

  6. Thank you so much for that, Reverend Mugo. I’ve found those words of yours very helpful indeed. In gratitude and with bows.

  7. that you find the words helpful because you actually _know_ what they mean? And I am glad that they are helpful too.

  8. You have been there. Right? Might I venture to say that the deep connection you point to is VERY deep, and doesn’t go away – if one allows it to simply be. This is subtle though, as you know.

  9. I am also in an attic room now, my daughter has my old double room as with her illness she has a lot of equipment to find room for, my granddaughter nearly three couldn’t safely be put up there so I get to have the top of the house. Out of my velux window I look out over a cemetery, 38 acres, listed as a land fill site in my house deeds! From my window I can see many beautiful mature trees, some very special as this cemetery was planted up by a very well known nursery man around 1866. It is also home to many urban foxes whose barking calls wake me at times. Also in view are very old grave stones and a very well maintained war memorial. Now this might sound morbid and some folks wouldn’t like this at all but as well as a resting place for the dead it is an open space very much used by the surrounding community. Many local children have learnt to ride their bikes around the safe quiet paths,there are lots of seats to sit and rest in both sun and shade. Some families even picnic on the open grassy areas and I think this is great as the cemetery is part of the life going on. I feel that this is the same in our lives the people who we knew and loved dearly and who have died are part of us, part of our history, have helped shape who and what we are. One of the graves is of a young and clever doctor who helped my daughter through a very difficult pregnancy and because of him my grand daughter is alive and well today. He died of a heart attack whilst playing tennis, but when we go by we say “Hi” and I show him Sophie and give thanks for his all too short life. A lot of people and animals who I have loved have died and as one gets older this is going to increase, the pain the literal physical pain of loss does ease, the empty space that they once occupied can never be filled. My turn will come but meantime lets live, lets remember, lets laugh, lets cry, lets enjoy the view from the rooftops.
    In Gassho and remembering the help and comfort you and the sangha gave me when it was my turn to grieve.
    Adrienne Pitman

  10. Dear Adrienne,
    What a lovely piece of writing. I’m glad you are in an attic room too. I can see the pennines if I stick my head out of the window. We have seen a lot together one way and another, Bob and my father passing away. Time and distance does not change anything. And still we, each in our own way, are seeing a lot. You with a three year old grandchild – how time does pass. Eternally grateful to you Adrienne.

  11. I think they do that more in America than here in the UK. Don’t sound like a great thing, do it? I’ve an article I am going to link to about a movement in America to take charge after somebody dies and not hand over everything to the funeral directors. Good as they often are the business of caring for bodies after death has become big business. And anyway why stop caring for somebody simply because the life has gone out of them? We’d want to have them home in the front room and be able to stop and sit with a cup of tea and just be still. And invite in friends to do the same. That’s what I did with my mother. My dad went up to Throssel, he was in his coffin with the lid off and monks popped in to see him, some to stay for a bit and sit.

  12. Both my parents specified they wanted to be put in a cheap box & taken to the first available slot at the crematorium by themselves with ‘no fuss’. With my mother I sat with the plan after she died fully intending to go & witness her burning (you can ask the staff at the crem & I am told they will let you) if I felt she needed it but she didn’t seem to. My dad was adamant so that was what happened. I felt a bit sad when a Sikh lady I know said her faith would never let a family member go alone – but that was what they both wanted so…….

    Somewhere in my memory – it may have come from a talk given by a funeral director as part of Cruse bereavement counselling training – I have it that you need to specify ‘no embalming’ if you feel strongly about it.

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