Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Loss

Hundreds of white herons roost in trees in Petulu (a small village outside Ubud) every night around sunset. No one is quite sure why but there have been many stories created to try to explain it.

I regret to say that my last post proved to be a little prescient. As I was walking out of my homestay around 5pm to meet some friends for dinner I noticed that a group of women were sitting around the family compound folding banana leaves for offerings. Thinking there must be a celebration that they were preparing for, I asked Made what everyone was doing. He told me that his father had died today.

His father was a man who had been sick for several months. He couldn’t move easily and the few interactions I had with him took place when he was sitting outside his house in the family compound to bathe with the assistance of his daughters-in-law. We never said more than good morning to each other.

I know I had just written this post about names and death and sadness and how, in Bali, death isn’t an occasion to be mournful. This all flew out of my mind when Made told me and my face must have changed because HE immediately began reassuring ME that it was okay his father had died. I wasn’t sure what to do and all I knew was to say I’m sorry and give him a hug. People don’t really hug here. And they don’t say they’re sorry about death. But I realized today that even though death is considered to be something more natural and is accepted, it can still be sad.

I quickly left the homestay feeling at a loss for what to do and trying to give the family some privacy. When I got back around 9:30, the family compound was full. As I write this from the balcony outside my room, I’m overlooking about eighty men and women sitting below. They are drinking tea and eating cake and playing cards. Some of them are gambling. Some of them are texting. Some of them are nursing babies.

They’ll be up all night. The cremation will take place tomorrow. For three days after, things will continue like this. Friends and family will come spend the night in the family compound and stay up, talking and playing cards before, at the end of that time, things return to normal. Or as normal as they can be.

I cannot quite believe my eyes as I see all the figures in the dark down there and hear the crickets and the laughter and the sound of cards being slapped down on wood tables. I cannot quite believe how, mere hours after this man died, his house is literally full of people to help remember him. These people are giving up work and school and their own beds to be here through the night so that no one is in this alone. What an amazing send off they are giving him.

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