Saturday, August 28, 2004

Death masks

An interesting post by Olivia on Chapel Perilous. Cultural practices surrounding death fascinate me. My father died in 1992, and I went through the whole experience surrounded by Catholic family and custom. Not only Catholic....Irish Catholic. He died in a hospital. He was embalmed and we greeted visitors during a 5 hour wake. We were expected to keep our emotions in check. A few months later, my friend India's father also died. The family had moved here from Lithuania about 40 years earlier. India's father chose to die at home, with his family surrounding his bed. After he passed, the family bathed him, dressed him in clean pyjamas, and filled the room with candles. They wrapped his hands around a thick pillar candle. Then, they sat and mourned. Told stories, laughed, cried, howled, even. All through the night and into the next day this went on, as friends and visitors brought food and well-wishes to the family. India's mother invited all of us to come see him. India, a professional photographer, documented the whole event. For me, it held such meaning and purpose. It made sense. It was the beginning of an adjustment to life without him. When India died suddenly last November, many of these rituals came to mind. Somehow, her sons found a way to make everyone comfortable while keeping with their mom's lifestyle. They found a funeral home that would allow a pagan farewell ceremony, and we waited until her sweet Lithuanian mother had left. (She never approved of that 'witch' stuff.) The home also allowed someone to come in and make a death mask. I still visit Momo (India's mother), and on her bedside table you can see the photo of her large, handsome husband in death, and next to it the death mask of her only daughter. Lately, I get the feeling it won't be long until she joins them.


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