A Graduate School classmate passed away from cancer last week, and I attended his funeral. My first funeral for a friend, a contemporary, not an older relative.
He knew it was bad, and over 18 months, there were good times and bad times. He was sent home from the hospital at the end, and after a few days at home, passed away with his family around him. His family, friends and colleagues, all came to pay their last respects. As I sat on the carpet, listening to the Sikh priest sing the funeral hymns, a mix of thoughts ran through me.
First, what my funeral would be like. The future is totally unknown, except for the singular known fact that I will die. Depending on the circumstances, there will be a funeral.
Second, death is so different if expected due to cancer, versus a sudden passing due to an accident. When expected, along with the sadness, there seemed to be acceptance. I can imagine dazed expressions if death came unexpectedly.
Third, what happens when we die? If form is emptiness, and emptiness is form, the essence unchanging, what happens to the person? Like water that turns into ice or steam, have they just changed into a different form? Their memories continue with us, and perhaps if we practice deeply enough, we can see them in the world around us.
Fourth, the family left behind thinking of their futures. The children missing the guidance and support of their Dad. A wife missing the smell and warmth of her husband. A parent distraught at the passing of child. Over days and nights, objects that remind us of a person who is no longer with us. It is so hard to be in the present moment, to not revisit past memories, or think of what the departed would say in future situations.
Fifth, how this situation is so unusual. For time immemorial, death was a constant companion for everyone. Whether by disease, war, accident, or old age, the distribution of age at death was very different, with many deaths at earlier ages. Even a journey may have meant that one would never see a loved one again. How stressful and uncertain life must have been in the past!
I sat and listened to the music, lost in these thoughts and in memories of my friend, and I wished him goodbye.