[NB: This is an updated repost originally from here.]
My mother died of brain cancer at 8:03AM on January 6, 2010, seven years ago today. Seven years is a long time, but sometimes, it still feels like yesterday. If this were a Dickens tale, I'd be expecting a visit from Mom's revenant about now.
Alas, I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm not inclined to believe in souls or in other remnants of personhood after someone dies. You're gone; you scatter; your echoes are the only things that remain, rippling forward in time ever more weakly, affecting the history of the cosmos in increasingly subtle, occult ways. At what point do you fade completely? Or do you ever fade completely? If there's no true boundary between you and the rest of the universe, the answers to such questions may be inarticulable.
I chronicled much of Mom's cancer ordeal at my blog, Kevin's Walk. Today is Friday, and I thought I'd pass along, as I do every year, a famous story about the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu, who is said to have acted strangely when his wife died:
When Chuang Tzu’s wife died, his friend Hui Tzu came to offer his condolences and found Chuang Tzu hunkered down, drumming on a potter pan and singing.
Hui Tzu said, “You lived with her, raised children with her, and grew old together. Even weeping is not enough, but now you are drumming and singing. Is it a bit too much?”
Chuang Tzu said, “That is not how it is. When she just died, how could I not feel grief? But I looked deeply into it and saw that she was lifeless before she was born. She was also formless and there was not any energy. Somewhere in the vast imperceptible universe there was a change, an infusion of energy, and then she was born into form, and into life. Now the form has changed again, and she is dead. Such death and life are like the natural cycle of the four seasons. My dead wife is now resting between heaven and earth. If I wail at the top of my voice to express my grief, it would certainly show a failure to understand what is fated. Therefore I stopped.” (Chapter 18)
This version of the story is taken from here.
Different cultures develop different ways of dealing with death and mourning. In Korea, which carries on the old Chinese tradition of venerating one's ancestors, people typically have a jaesa (제사), a ceremony for previous generations. While it may sound morbid, I suppose this day could be described as a "death day," the closed-parenthesis counterpart of a birthday. But is it really all that morbid to celebrate the transition from life to death? Far from being morbid, the day could be seen as a kind of ritualized symmetry.
Today, then, I and my family commemorate my mother's death. While it pains me that I can no longer hug her or hold her hand, I'm grateful for the care and wisdom she imparted.
I love you and miss you, Mom.