The Pyre of Yesterday - A Diary

As I embark on this my second trip to India, I have decided to keep a diary of my travels. The words that I record here are my attempt to capture the essence of each day before it is reduced to ash on the pyre of yesterday. And so I gather what remains illuminated in the dying embers, before it becomes mere dust. Sifting through hot ash with my bare hands, I bring forth what may come.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Home Coming

On January 24th, 2011 I flew to Kingston Jamaica, to take my mother to her final resting place. Her body transported on the same day, was encased in a steel box, and placed in the cargo bay of  the plane. She had stowed away to a secret destination to which none could follow.  With my forehead pressed against the tiny window pane, I searched for her amongst the shifting clouds that dissolved into vapor even before I could distinguish their form.  The quest held little hope of  fulfilment, and yet it gave me solace.

The blue and white sky shimmered under the blazing sun, as I alighted from the plane.   Shards of golden light pierced the dark cloud that engulfed me and a suffocating heat rose up from the tarmac. Each told a lie. There was no joy to be had here. Nor could I yet imagine a time when I would again hear the sound of laughter, my own.  The taxi sped along the highway, and I  looked out across the landscape of this, my mother's resting place.  The first thing that impressed itself upon me was the tall peaks of the verdant green hills rising out of the horizon; their numbers too numerous to count.  On both sides of me lie the ocean. It's turquoise blue water lapped hungrily at the stretch of black tarmac that could be swallowed up at any moment.  Taking refuge in fantasy, I drowned in the swell of the turquoise sea.

Blue faded to grey as we entered the outskirts of the city and the landscape began to fill with small concrete structures.  I lost interest in my surroundings and sank into the solitude of darkness; concealed  behind the veil of closed eye lids. A false slumber that allowed me to shut out the world and its unwanted intrusion.  We arrived at the family home to be greeted by relatives.  Everyone spoke in hushed tones, so as not to disturb the air about them; tearing the thin curtain of barely contained grief.   The stench of death clung to us all.  We politely sipped tea from ornate china cups and exchanged inane pleasantries.  Incomprehensible Morse code, articulated by the mourning, who find themselves rudely deposited in barren landscape.

The day of the funeral arrived. The pews were filled with relatives and friends who had come to bid farewell.  Somberly attired in a shroud of grey, I walked to the podium from where I read the poem Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou.  This her favorite poem, spoke to her own qualities of strength, tenacity and mystery.  She was in life and yet remains that which transcends mere words.   The futility of speech writes itself even now in these passages.  

At the close of the service we drove in a processional to the burial ground  where mum was in turned.  Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I watched on as the grave diggers lowered her still body into the red earth. The finality of death was irrefutable; standing on the razor sharp edge of realization, I at last succumbed to tears; damned behind a wall of unexpressed emotions.  The journey home had begun in earnest for each of us in our turn.  There were no signposts along the long road back, and I slipped into a deepening sense of dislocation.

Nothing had prepared me for the loss of a parent and yet it is as inevitable as my own death.   There would forever remain a pocket of emptiness within my being.  The apocalyptic currents of grief had created a seismic shift, and I struggled to piece together the shattered fragments of my life. Nothing made sense and when asked, I was unable to access the cache of memory that contained remembrances of my trip to India.  That death is an enigma is an unassailable truth. I therefore make no attempt to ascribe meaning to the events leading to my mother's passing.  I have only to come to a place of acceptance, even as she comes home to a final resting place.

By default, the task of remaining with my father falls to me, as I have no binding relationships.  Spending time alone with dad has brought us to a new place of intimacy. A silent and sometimes sober man, he and I find ourselves chattering about the inane events that give substance to our days, covering up the loss and the grief that haunts us.  There is a hollowness to the sound of our voices, that each of us ignores.  I am uncertain as to how my father will navigate this uncharted territory and know only that I will be there to catch him if he should stumble and fall.