26 September 2013
My father died two weeks ago today.
But I'm not writing about that. What I am writing about is how the absence of ritual can really fuck you up.
First of all, I'm surprised to be taking this particular position. I am, in the abstract anyway, ready to do away with Old Forms. Outdated Traditions. Moldy Remnants of Days of Yore. Who needs that crap, after all?
Confronted with death, or birth or any major crisis, though, you look for guidance. I'm not so sturdy that I don't yearn for some kind of support.
If your father died in Ancient Greece or Rome, or 16th-century Japan, or, hell, in 1910 in America, you had a prescribed course of action. A set of rules and behaviors surrounding how to mourn and how to bury the man. These were enforced by a priest, a minister, a family. You shared a set of expectations, the etiquette that hid and eased the process. You had experts to rely on, that were not in your pay or your thrall, but who represented, however poorly, a tradition. You could adhere to that, or not, depending on your temperament and philosophy.
Now, you have to decide. And make choices at the worst possible moment, when you're tenderized and scraped raw and dealing with anguish. You have no form to pour those feelings in to. Instead, you have to make up the program for the burial, as if you're a half-assed theatrical producer.
My father set out his wishes in his will, so we have guidance. It's a set of requests both awesome and completely foreign to me. I'll honor those wishes. I'll put his car on display for the Shriners, have the piper play, and invite the firefighters to do their number for their fallen brother.
But it's all improvisational, made up. Grab-assed. That freedom is cool, I guess. But I wish, now, for a rule. A set of regulations that would dictate how long to weep, how many weeks to wear black, to put an armband on my suit, how many tears to collect.
What songs of mourning to sing.
Then, I'd know what to do. Absent a church or a temple, you don't exactly know. Maybe I'll shave my head, or burn his possessions, or find some ashes to toss on my head as I sit and meditate on him and his absence.