Back in January, my wife and I were visiting one of her uncles , a gentleman of advanced years,who was not keeping well. We had a good visit and as we were saying our goodbyes, he caught hold of her hand and said ” You won’t forget me when I’m gone, will you ?” We made the appropriate response ( ” Of course not” ) as we took our leave. As it so happened , he did pass away a couple of months later and my wife has kept her promise. Every morning , when she says her prayers she remembers him and all the other ancestors who meant so much to her in life. I too do the same. Near my computer is a little photograph of my parents and each morning I say a prayer for them. And increasingly, I find myself thinking at odd moments of a departed ancestor, a grandparent or an aunt or an uncle , and I remember with gratitude the pleasure of their company. Another close friend has a photograph of his late parents near his bedside . Every morning , he remembers them as he prays and offers them a couple of boiled sweets which he places before their photograph. ” But what happens to the sweets ?” I asked. ” Each night, I say another prayer and then I eat the sweets.” he replied. At first this struck me as funny but then I realized that all the “offerings ” we make to God or others we wind up eating ourselves. Besides, in a way, his parents are continuing to feed him sweets much as they used to do when he was a child .
The wish to be remembered after one’s passing is one of the most fundamental desires that there is. Almost all societies, but espescially those influenced by Hindu, Buddhist or Confucian influenced cultures , stress the importance of remembering one’s ancestors. These societies have a strong belief that the spirits of the departed continue to take a keen interest in the lives of those they loved. They are also believed to be able to influence the living . That is perhaps why so many different cultures have festivals to honor the departed . In Japan, the Obon festival which occurs in mid-August, is marked by prayers and offerings of fruit and vegetables to the spirits of the departed.In China, in Korea and in Vietnam there are similar observances to honor the deceased. Sumptuous platters of festive foods are prepared and ritually offered and incense burnt before the photographs of the ancestors. In India, the occasion is called shraddha and is observed on the 13th day after the passing and , every year after that ,on the death anniversary.In Europe the remembrances take place on All Saint’s Day ( November 1st), in Ireland on Samhain and in Mexico and Latin America on the Day of the Dead ( around Nov. 1st).
I suppose it is comforting to feel that our ancestors are still looking out for us after death as they did in life but the idea doesn’t seem logical particularly if one believes in re-incarnation. If after leaving this existence , the soul goes onto another body , another life, how can it still be able to stick around and affect the lives of those it loved ? It doesn’t make sense, but , then again , who knows? It is all speculation.
With me, it is more a matter of showing my gratitude for all that they have already done for me and keeping their memory green by remembering the time we had together.