I’ve attended on a number of people who have been close to death or who have died and for whom I’ve cared for. Cared for their bodies and supported their friends and relatives. Grieving along with them. I’ve recited comforting words and performed ceremonies. There have been memorials, private and public funerals, ceremonies at a crematorium, the scattering and interment of ashes. There’s no claim here to being an expert though, I don’t feel like I’m a professional doing a job. No, each time I’ve attended or been involved around a death, as now, Zen Master Dogen’s words which come at the beginning of the Shushogi are with me. We sometimes read this paragraph at the start of a memorial. It points to faith, to practice and to sitting still in the midst of impermanence.
The most important question for all Buddhists is how to understand birth and death completely for then, should you be able to find the Buddha within birth and death, they both vanish. All you have to do is realise that birth and death, as such, should not be avoided and they will cease to exist for then, if you can understand that birth and death are Nirvana itself, there is not only no necessity to avoid them but also nothing to search for that is called Nirvana.
I buried both of my parents. The practicalities around the time of their death were different however when ever I could I tried to deal with everything personally rather than relying on the service of a funeral director. They both rode up the M6 to Throssel in the back of the monastery Volvo for example. In a coffin of course.
There is a movement towards home after-death care in America where people deal with their own dead. This article speaks of this. The Surprising Satisfactions of a Home Funeral – Smithsonian Magazine, March 2009.
While writing this post I remembered the following which brought on a smile: Once, early in my twenties, I remember racing around a P. & O. Liner grabbing bunches of flowers from public spaces. As the ship passed through Sydney Harbour Heads my employer threw the flowers overboard! (We were ships crew employed as photographers, but that’s another story). Ashes had been scattered at the ‘Heads’ on a previous voyage, the flowers were an act of remembrance. Obviously repeated at opportune times.
As Adrienne P. says at the end of her lovely piece of writing in the comment section of this post: …..lets live, lets remember, lets laugh, lets cry, lets enjoy the view from the rooftops.
Many thanks to Rebecca for the hint on the new approach to after-death care and to Adrienne and her comment.