Death in the Family

I’ve been blogging with the assumption that I could always find time to sit down for thirty minutes and blog, even if it meant copying a paragraph from a news story and adding some inane commentary. Even with the onslaught of budget deadlines that cannot be fudged (without the loss of flesh and blood), I can usually find the time to stack up posts for the week. Add in a death in the family, and my blogging goes on hold.

My aunt passed away at the beginning of what I’ll call the Ullambana week. I’ll have to write more about this later, to organize my thoughts about what I can remember having been told and having seen on this particular holiday. There are a number of Buddhist stories that deal with the topic of death, both related to this particular time of year and also to the individual process of death, becoming and rebirth. My mind is overwhelmed with the more mundane issues of reaching out to family and bringing people together.

My spare time has been consumed by phone calls and temple arrangements. I expected the phone calls to be the easiest part, but they’re actually the most difficult. Sometimes relatives are shocked, sometimes they cry. And then I cry. They ask questions, recount memories and talk about my aunt’s indomitable spirit. There are the occasional non-Buddhist religious messages (“I know she’s in heaven having a ball with my mom right now!”). There are awkward silences and awkward miscommunications (“Your mother’s sister or you father’s sister?”).

During all this time, I haven’t mused much about the Buddhist perspective on death and dying. Organizing a memorial event has consumed too much of my energy, and whatever energy I have left I’ve spent listening to relatives share a story or thought that they really need to tell someone. These customs and ceremonies are a great way for the family to let go of my aunt in a meaningful way. In one case, a relative shared a simple and uncontroversial story that he’d never before mentioned, and afterwards you could almost see the lines in his face dissolve away.

More on death and Buddhism later. For now, sleep and then a long drive north.

7 Replies to “Death in the Family”

  1. So sorry to hear of the death of your aunt. Blessings and peace to you and your family. May you grieve well, and celebrate her life even better.

    Bows,
    Nathan

  2. Kwan seum bosal for you and your family, Arun.

    I don’t know much about Buddhist practices surrounding the death of a family member, but I’m reminded of Brad Warner’s writing about his mother, who died after a long illness. Even though his other family members are not Buddhist, they all participated in his ways of honoring her (including reading sutras) after her death. I was touched by that.

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