Grieving from Afar
Indira Pintak, WEEKENDER | Tue, 02/28/2012 2:10 PM |
My father is alive no more. During the past 14 years, I saw him only once. And I was fast asleep in Pullman, Washington, USA, almost 14,000 km from the hospital in South Jakarta where he lay, when news of his passing reached my cell phone. Within minutes after the doctors stopped their resuscitation efforts, my sister was frantically trying to reach me via BlackBerry messaging, text messaging and the regular old phone call.
When I finally stirred from slumber and saw the slew of condolence messages on my cell phone, I knew that the event for which I had been bracing myself for a couple of years had happened: My father had died and I wouldn’t get back in time to attend his funeral.
I had run the various scenarios through my head several times, and had held out hope that there might be a slight chance my family would wait for me to return before burying him, but as my father had died on a Thursday night, he could be buried on a Friday – a mere 15 hours after his death. Fridays are considered auspicious for a Muslim burial, because it is believed those who die on a Friday or the night before will be spared the punishment of kubur (grave). It also meant that there would likely be more people participating in the sholat jenazah (prayers for the dead) for him right after Friday prayers.
And so I resigned myself to missing my final goodbye to my father … until my sister suggested that my technologically adept nephew connect us through Skype. I figured it would be the regular dial-up connection marred by frozen screens and frequent dropouts. I didn’t realize my nephew was using mobile broadband until the laptop camera followed my father’s body outside to be washed. I watched, in stunned silence, as, there in the makeshift wash area, my father’s body was washed tenderly by his children and grandchildren. I then watched as he was carried back inside and laid on the floor so that people from the mosque could shroud his body with kafan cloth.
It felt odd to see my father’s body lying on the floor under a batik cloth, while people bustled around him, busily attending to other tasks connected with preparations for his burial. Indeed, to me it felt disrespectful and undignified – but I realized I was thinking like an American not used to direct handling of the deceased.
Perhaps I’ve been away from my culture too long and so am no longer accustomed to the details of burying a loved one. In the United States, people aren’t allowed to handle dead bodies; usually, the only opportunity to see the body after the time of death is at a funeral home, after the body has been embalmed, dressed and made up for viewing.
In stark contrast, there was my father on the kitchen floor being shrouded with kafan. Just before his face was to be shrouded, the laptop was brought closer to him and I was able to wish him safe passage to the afterlife.
When the time came to move his body to the mosque, my laptop “eye” traveled with him. I “sat” behind my father, his body now also wrapped with tikar (woven mat) and placed inside a bamboo keranda covered with green cloth from the mosque. I then “followed” him into the mosque, “sitting” beside him as we waited for Friday prayers, and watched from afar when his body was moved to the front of the mosque for prayers. Although physically in another continent, I was emotionally transported into the mosque, and felt strangely serene hearing the melodious call to prayer and subsequent prayers.
At the cemetery, thanks to the ever present laptop, I saw everything even more closely than I would have done had I been there in person. The laptop was held right over the open grave and I could watch as my nephew and two cousins went into the grave to receive my father’s body. I had a bird’s eye view of the grave being covered and flowers being scattered over the fresh soil mound of the grave, and I was able to meet and greet relatives and family friends whom I hadn’t seen in a very long time. I even joined in group photos as the laptop was still carted around with me fully connected on Skype.
When all was said and done, my husband, children and I had spent about five hours witnessing my father’s funeral. It was a jarring reminder of the disturbingly vivid details of preparing the dead for their final resting place. It was so emotional that, by the end of it, my eyes were swollen, my head was pounding and my heart was drained.
The next day I looked at pictures of the funeral that my cousins had taken, and again I felt that I was right there with them. I surfed through the pictures, taking a closer look at the details of places and people I had missed the day before. In doing so, I realized that grief is a collective emotion – and my own connection to other mourners was facilitated by technological advances not available just a few years ago. Without this technology, I would have been left clueless about my father’s final journey.
My father was not a technologically savvy person, but I’m sure he would have been happy to know I still made it home to say my last goodbye. Selamat jalan and rest in peace, Bapak.