I now know what Dad meant...
when he said I would know what to do for his funeral service. I have been getting lots of advice from people about how the service is to be done, which day, what time - and all of it conflicting. I know what I am about to say is not going to be popular but right now it's not about being popular, it's about doing the right thing.
I mentioned that Karran went to see the pandit yesterday to make arrangements for the service today as well as the one next Thursday. He told us to get a number of things for the last rites but when we got to the funeral home, his list was not complete so we had to do a few last minute things. Fortunately we managed to do it quickly and the service started a few minutes past the time it was supposed to start.
We were supposed to complete the service at the funeral home, then they would transport Dad back to their other location to be placed in a burnable casket which is really a cardboard box because they don't like to burn the casket for environmental reasons. I chose that place versus the more popular other funeral home that most Hindu Winnipegers choose for exactly that reason. The other business is very corporate and "promotes" their business - even at other funerals. I don't like that, but it's not for me to like or dislike what anyone else is doing. I personally have to do what is right for me and my family so I went with a small family owned business. When they said that they do not burn the caskets, I was quite happy about that. I have to tell you, I made this decision over three years ago because I am just that kind. I have to make sure that I have all the information I need before making an important decision. So I did my homework including extensive research on funeral rites.
SO to make a very long and difficult story a bit shorter, the pandit was instructing Karran on how to make the 5 pindas - dough balls that are to be used as part of the service. His instructions were not very clear so I started to help Karran mix the dough. The pandit chastised me - telling me that if the girl children did this it would be a sin against the father. My response? "Okay pandit, I don't understand all the Hindu rituals but nothing I have ever done for my father was a sin. Nothing!" Then he started to explain about India but by that time, I was not in the mood to listen. He proceeded with the service and at the end, he said since this is the final rites, only the son and the daughter-in-law and mom were allowed to touch him. Like I said, I don't pretend to understand the religion but I was not expecting this and neither was the rest of the family that attended - about 15 of us in total..
After fretting about it for a few minutes, we went off to the crematorium and by the time we arrived, I had decided that with all due respect to the pandit and the religion, if Dad's family wanted to touch, kiss or pat him, they had a right to do that. I do not remember reading a single item that tells me that my sister-in-law can give flowers to my dad while in the casket but I am not allowed to. So I called all the family together who by this time were all disheartened and I told them that if they wanted to say goodbye to Dad in what ever way they wanted to, they could do so. My sister-in-law Kelsey was put in a very awkward situation but I were not upset at her. I was more upset that for 57 years I have been at my father's side and someone is going to tell me that religion dictates that I cannot touch him when the funeral pooja is done and that if I do, it would be a sin.
We talked to Dad and wished him a speedy journey to his new destination and we came home. I was hurt that the pandit should tell me that in the absence of a son, the daughters can perform the funeral rites, but if a son is there, the daughters have no place. That is absolute ..... (well I was going to say something really stupid but I am only refraining because it's about religion and I don't want to be disrespectful). I came home and told the rest of the family that I was going to call the pandit and meet with him on Saturday to talk about today and next Thursday. I went upstairs to change my clothes, came downstairs and paced around for several minutes not feeling settled and went back upstairs to change my clothes to go see the pandit tonight. Robin said that I was upset and should wait till tomorrow but I didn't feel I could wait till Saturday.
So I called the pandit and asked to see him tonight. He said he was going out so I said I could come tomorrow if he gave me a time. He said I should call tomorrow and he would tell me when I could come. By this time, the tone of his voice told me that he was the authority and I was to acquiesce to him without argument. By now you have probably discerned that I am not going to accept that without explanation so I asked why he couldn't commit tonight to an appropriate time tomorrow.. He said I should call at 11am and he would tell me when I could come. I insisted on confirming a time and he finally said that tomorrow is his holy day and he couldn't meet me. Why couldn't he say that the first time? So I said how about Saturday at which he asked what it was I wanted to meet him about. I asked him to confirm a time and he agreed to 11am. I then told him what I will be discussing with him on Saturday. I said that I was disappointed at how cavalier and disrespectful he seemed at the service today and telling me that I cannot touch the funeral things because it would be a sin is not right. I also said that he didn't seem to be paying attention to how he was conducting the service and when he had to ask what Dad's name was at the beginning of the service, that was beyond disrespectful. I told him that everything I have ever done for my father was done out of love and if he cannot commit to doing the service with respect, I will find someone else to do the service but I WILL NOT have my father;s memory dishonoured by carelessness. He then started telling how Savitree-ji is such a sacred name at which point I said that this is not about me. This is about my father. Right now I am not so concerned about the sacredness of my name. My concern is for my father.
His tone during the initial part of the conversation was dismissive - as if to say. I am a pandit and you are not to question me. Why did I say it was a dismissive tone? Every time I tried to say something he would interrupt me and proceed to tell me that he was not being disrespectful. I told him he was today and that's not okay with me so unless he is going to brush up on what he is supposed to do and do it with respect, I am not going to accept anything less for my father. He then tried to tell me that in India... but that was as far as he got. I said "With all due respect to what is done in India, I was born in Guyana, I do not speak Hindi or Sanskrit and I don't know all the aspects of the Hindu religion but what I know for certain is that I love my father very much and I want to do the right thing. I said that I won't know if the service will be done right or wrong but I want it done respectfully and I intend to trust him to do that so if he cannot tell me that he is going to do that, then he needs to tell me this on Saturday. I also said that I had done extensive research and expect that should he do something or ask us to perform some ritual without benefit of an explanation, then I am going to ask for one. I understand about faith. What I don't understand is tradition that doesn't make the least bit of sense so I am just the kind of person who will ask the difficult "why?" questions and if I can't get an answer that appears to make sense or worse - no answer at all or something like "I don't know. That how we've always done it", I am not about to follow blindly.
So that was my little rant today. I can be forgiven for that. It's been a difficult two days but I am not expecting anything less than the best for my father. Speaking of fathers - The Dood looked like a veritable prince today. He wanted to go out in his best so that's what we did. This is what he wanted - white pants, red silk shirt, sports jacket with a little red pouffe in the pocket and his sunglasses. And by golly, he looked like he was getting ready to go out to dinner on the cruise ship. The last time he wore that outfit was on his Panama Canal cruise. His face looked perfectly peaceful. The colour was beautiful without make-up and all the swelling from his lips had disappeared and his mouth was closed as if he was in a peaceful slumber. It was hard not to think that he would get up and say something to us - it was so real. Mom splashed on some of his Old Spice on him and I put on his sunglasses to shade his eye from the brilliance of heaven. We considered putting a few rubber bands and some twist ties in his pocket with a strip of duct tape, masking tape and string because he was a vociferous collector of all things rubber band and twist tie. Karran found half a big grocery bag of rubber bands in his house and I have some pictures of the wall of the hospice where he had quite a collection going in the last 2 months. We didn't put the rubber bands and twist ties but every time I look at one, I'll think of Dad although I don't need any reminders.
Back to my subject line. I started out by saying that I now know what Dad meant when he said that I would know what to do. When I was asking him what he wanted us to do about preparations for his service, he said that I would know what to do. I said that I didn't know enough about the Hindu religion to know what to do and I was not confident that I would not do the wrong thing. He said that I had never dissapointed him and I nver will so I'd know what to do when the time came. That's why I spent endless hours researching and documenting Hindu funeral rites so that when the time came, I would do the right thing. I even remember my friend Prak telling that he would feel sorry for which ever pandit was doing the rites because I would make sure they didn't slip up. I now realize that I was taking Dad's statement too literally. It's true that I don't know enough about the religion to know what things have to be done, but I think Dad meant that I would know what to do in the situations I am now faced with - dealing with all the conflicting information, laying out my expectations for the pandit in simple and clear language so there is no misunderstanding and making a decision that family comes first - always.
In the end, that's all you have left and that's what matters (that goes for friends too!) and everyone of you have been with us on this incredible journey. Without your love and support, we may not have been able to make it this far. Tomorrow we are going ahead with our plans for an Easter Brunch that I organized last week to do at the hospice with Dad. Only he won't be with us in physical body and instead of all his favourite foods, we are cooking vegetarian. Karran has to eat vegetarian for 13 days after Dad's passing because he has to be a number of religious functions in those 13 days. In a show of solidarity we are all eating vegetarian along with him. It's suprising how much good food there is that isn't meat or fish. We have a great menu planned for tomorrow but Shaun, Stefan, Sharm, Trent, Sahana, Sabreena, Bena and Mom all said that all they want is dhall and roti. Oh my gosh, is this a family thing or what? Comfort food - totally inherited from the Dood.
Stay tuned for the continuing saga of my meeting with the pandit...