Death and Demystification

I went to the cemetery today: a one-ride trip to the northern part of the city that is well-known for roasted pork and burial grounds and crematoriums. I have been to this area only once in my life, about two years ago, when we had to take Lola to her final resting place. Even then, I couldn’t understand the idea of burial rites as the final passage of a person’s life. And when they said in unison, “Lola is finally going to rest,” I thought mournfully to myself, “Finally?”

The sun was ablaze that day like it did today. The stale air felt like the Devil’s breath more than anything else. The establishments around the area seemed like stone candles burning restlessly in the inferno of the moment as if to burn away time. The pavements sizzled with fury as the vehicles marched wearily on the road, cursing carbon monoxide in the early air.

It was only ten in the morning but already, it felt like an eternal noon. We walked our way to the entrance of the cemetery, an arched sign hung overhead like a traditional Japanese gate—only what was on the other side of the arch was neither holy nor sacred, but only a dead and muted silence, carrying along a lifetime of names and memories of the people who have already passed away.

Upon entrance, we were greeted by luscious trees scattered almost strategically around the cemetery to provide a different kind of ambiance to the place, but mostly to shelter people’s bodies from the smoke and the sweltering sun.

There must be a reason why people call this cemetery a park. It is an interesting idea—the idea of a cemetery and a park put together as if to signify the fusion of death and leisure. I thought to myself maybe death is comfortable, easy. Maybe that is why they call it a resting place after all.

We walked around the cemetery in the heat of the day, fumbling for directions like lost phantoms and passing by a few strangers once in a while whose skins also reek of thirst and perspiration. I looked at the faces of those strangers and figured to myself what kind of expression they carry on their faces: not grief, not sadness, not pain. On their faces mark something like an image of acceptance, a passive resignation to the overwhelming forces of both life and death. I looked at them wanting to be like them, wanting to learn to be like them, wanting to abandon the resistance I feel in everything.

A few more rounds in the cemetery and all at once, the images of Lola’s burial day gathered in my memory like smoke. Two years ago, and I am visiting your bones for the first time today, convinced to myself that certain memories do not allow themselves to be pulverized as easily as death takes away a person’s body. Two years ago, I held a flower on your wake and watched as your motionless body lay asleep behind the glass coffin. I remembered how we roam the city streets on a midnight, knocking (and almost begging) for doctors to magically lift away whatever it was that made you cripple in pain. I remembered your one last gesture of faith: inside the ICU, surrounded by helpless professionals, surrounded by death, and how you waved and welcomed serenity from above the hospital ceiling, as your body—wrapped in cables and wires—slowly lost all its human movements.

Life was tough on you, but death so gentle, so kind.

When we reached Lola’s grave today, I was only struck by the staggering familiarity of her name inscribed beautifully on the tombstone:  a name with no person, an empty shell. I tried but couldn’t bring myself to say a prayer knowing deep in my soul that Lola is no longer buried beneath the earth, but have departed from this place a very long time ago. In the end, I lifted my hand and placed it gently on the smooth marble of a grave that is shelter to Lola’s remains, and whispered a breath to the sun.

I know Lola is not here, and that we came to visit only her ashes, her bones. This is not her home, not her resting place. I hear her clicking the glasses at night sometimes. I know she is in her old room, sipping coffee and listening to the music of her youth. She must be wondering where we are. She must be waiting for us to come home.”

I closed my eyes and knew what I wanted: not bliss, not truth, not wisdom.

The heat slowly crept from the ground to the walls, covering the dimmed alleys with the stench of death. The ear-splitting silence of the place drowned the turbulence of the city outside the cemetery, and for a minute we stood in the center of the dead—their faces altered, their spirits transfigured, their memories annihilated. They were calm, wordless, unneeding.

I closed my eyes and knew what I wanted: not bliss, not truth, not wisdom.
I wanted to burst with the stillness of death.

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