Last Saturday I went to the Buddhist Relics tour that visited our area for 10 days or so. They visited two years ago around this time as well, but John had just died so I didn’t have the will or energy to go then, but this year I was excited to experience it.
That Saturday I was supposed to go to the state fair and a concert that evening, but that morning I woke up and said to myself, I don’t want to do any of those things, I want to go to the Relics tours, get tea, then lunch and go home. Which is exactly what I did.
For those who don’t know what the Relics are, they are bits of the cremated remains of Buddhist Monks. Not all the remains of them, but bits of polished stone, some round, some not as polished or as round, sometimes they are tiny bits of bones that didn’t cremate completely. In general, the thought is that these stones, these bits of their human selves that were not completely cremated are each a good deed done by the person they belonged to. From the Buddhist background they are much like the bodies of Catholic saints, preserved bits of the human form from a pure heart that are blessed and can bless those in their presence. No matter what your beliefs, it was a beautiful morning to drive up and see all the multi-colored flags billowing softly, each with a positive message of love and forgiveness on it. The chanting was harmonic, awing and calming. The Relics were humbly but prettily arranged for those who would visit. Some of these remains were thousands of years old, some mere hundreds of years old, but I found that in their presence I was calmed and lifted of the guilt about the fact that I still have John’s remains tucked away in his handmade urn waiting for me to feel strong enough to release them.
Another sort of funny thing that came of going was that I was suddenly wanted to sift through John’s remains to find the bits of his good deeds, thinking that maybe I could simply keep those instead and release the rest of his body to enter the cycle at last. When I told my grief therapist this she tried hard to hide her astonishment and kindly said, “Well I suppose you could but I doubt you would find anything. It might not be a beneficial act that way”.
I think she was simply surprised that I would desire to handle his remains in that way at all. Maybe to her it sounded strange, maybe even over the line of sanity or simply gross but as grievers we know that it is not. I have heard many, many stories from other grievers whose beloveds were either cremated or buried exclaim how much they want their loved ones near them. Of course in cremation I think that is easier for obvious reasons but it doesn’t seem to eliminate the need of it for those whose person is buried. I’ve shared countless conversations with people who have thought of going to the cemetery and simply un-burying their loved one and bringing them home-simply because in their heart that is where they should be because they are so very missed. Of course they don’t do it, of course reason and law stops a grieving heart from the actual act but like my thought of sifting through John’s ashes to find his good deeds, and I know they are there, it is part of the grieving for us. It is part of the missing for us. It is actually, from my limited experience and conversations with others, quite normal really.
Even if I don’t go through John’s ashes I was brought great peace from visiting the Relics because if an ancient tradition can hold on to remains for hundreds and thousands of years, then my holding onto John for these last nearly two years now does not seem so strange, so wrong, so greedy, it simply is.
I don’t know whether I will actually sift through to find his good deeds or not, but really that isn’t the main part of the story for me, even if it alarmed my therapist. The main part of the story for me is that Buddhist’s loved ones are honored and treasured and revered and they make no apologies for still having part of their remains thousands of years later. Knowing this I will try hard to stop judging myself or listening to the judgement of anyone else because I still have John’s remains, even though I am working up to courage to release them, I won’t rush to do it out of guilt or shame. Having visited the Relics I came away with a sense of time past not being so important to the grieving process as the fact that the process continues and unfolds at it’s own pace as does the healing of my heart and my understanding of it and myself.