Monday, January 07, 2013

gi-il (忌日, 기일)

[NB: This is an updated repost originally from here.]

My mother died of brain cancer three years ago today. I chronicled much of this ordeal at my blog, Kevin's Walk. Since today is Sunday, a day for religious mindfulness, I thought I'd pass along 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.



Lorianne said...

I'm sorry for your and your family's loss, three years later. It seems dignified and healthy to remember the departed this way, as if we could ever forget our loved ones.

Elisson said...

May your mother's memory be for a blessing to you and your family.

Interestingly, among traditional Jews, birthdays are not considered important at all, but the yahrzeit - the anniversary of one's death - is always commemorated by the recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish. (Among our little group of regular morning services attendees, it's also a tradition to take all the people who attend the service to breakfast - it's a way of not only commemorating the deceased, it's a way of thanking people for showing up and making up the necessary quorum of ten for reciting Kaddish.) There are a few other prayers, and there's the lighting of a memorial candle... nothing too complicated.

The rationale for observing the yahrzeit instead of birthdays? When someone moves on to the next world, he or she has walked the planet, affecting the existence of loved ones and friends, and doing (one hopes) good deeds. At birth, we don't know a person's potential; at death, we have a much better picture. Anyway, that's one explanation... and some insight into a fascinating confluence of two different cultures.

Seon Joon said...

I'm sorry for your loss, this year as when I first heard from you that your mother had passed.

...And, although it's a little late this year, if I can ever help with a chesa or other memorial at any point, even if it's simply including your mother and family in our regular blessings, let me know.

Charles said...

A little belated, but as always my thoughts are with you.

Kevin Kim said...

Thank you all for your beautiful comments. Hugs all around.

Joh said...

Mothers go, but they never leave us.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

My condolences again, Kevin. You were fortunate to have such a mother. She was fortunate to have such a son.

Jeffery Hodges

* * *

Kevin Kim said...

Thanks, Joh and Jeff.

Kstylick said...

This is such a heart-felt post. I know almost everyone of us love our mothers so much. Everyday without them is a mourning day.