Today I will visit a ‘place’ established by my sisters to remember our mother. They placed her ashes there. It’s mothers’ day. I’m glad to be going. In fact, it’s the first time I’ve visited this place, or made space for it.

What is a place, I wonder? What’s the relationship of a ‘place’ to the kind of ‘space’ which is our ‘experiential world’? And, how does memory work?

I read this morning about a white settler whose husband died. She sold the farm and moved away (maybe back to England); but not before she relocated her husband’s grave to a tree somewhere off the farm. I thought that was sensible. She made sure it wasn’t on any one individual’s property. She couldn’t control its future, but she gave it the best chance of carrying on.

The tree was a ‘place’ that held memories for her, because long before, when her husband had arrived penniless in the area, unable to afford board anywhere, he had lived in the trunk of that tree for five years. Rabbi Rudy Brash includes the story in his Permanent Addresses, which is a book about people’s graves. The man went on to create a farm, and have a large family.

Why do we have graves? I wonder. How does memory work? Isn’t the body the memory of what’s been? Isn’t it the carrying forward of what has been? Or do we have these places to remind us of other ‘spaces’? Without the acknowledgment of ‘other’s spaces’ ours would be a narcissistic bubble. We create these places to carry forward our spaces into more of life.

Many people use graves to speak to the dead. With such an interaction, do we take a place into our space (our living), absorbing its fresh meanings (fresh because this is ‘now’) into our being? A lot of healing happens this way. I had a dream a couple of years ago, in which two young aboriginal men told the dream-Christopher: “It is an honour to speak with the dead.”

A spontaneous visit with a friend to the local vihara one day, a couple of years ago, led me to reflect on how I’m treating my parents, who have both died. That’s an odd concept to many, no doubt.

“How are you treating your parents?”
“What do you mean? They’re dead?”
“When you say that, what do you want that word ‘dead’ to mean?”

I think I’ve got some learning to do, here. The Sri Lankan family who provided the lunch meal, were commemorating the death of their collective parents – and they do this every year. I imagine one function of the day is to remind themselves that: I am subject to old age. I am not exempt from old age. I am subject to illness. I am not exempt from illness. I am subject to death. I am not exempt from death. There is alteration in, and parting from, everything that is dear and pleasing to me. I am the owner of my actions, heir to my actions. They are my matrix, I am related through them, they are my mediator. I become the heir of whatever actions I do, good or bad.

I got to thinking that, while I do often think about my parents’ deaths – each of which had its own story, its own character – on the other hand, I don’t commemorate their death, in the sense of make a special time of remembrance. I think of each of them, from time to time, and I think about the manner of their deaths, and I think about their inner growth up to and into that moment of death; but nothing ritualised.

I resolved after that dream, and after witnessing the Sri Lankans that day, to explore what more there could be in my relationship with the dead. To be at peace when it’s my turn, I might need to speak with them now more intimately than random musings allow. If I only had a year to live, wouldn’t I follow this thread? “Yes.” Then, okay.

So, thanks to the dream and an unexpected invitation to a meal at the local Vihara on day, I started to explore ritually inviting remembrance, a conscious process. I took the first step: I recorded the dates of my parent’s deaths in my diary.

I’ve noticed that others of my family, and some of my acquaintances, they do this: they go to the cemetery, each year, on the anniversary of the deaths of loved ones. It was by my sisters’ suggestion that we are visiting my mother’s place in the cemetery today, and it felt right.

These dates become an opportunity to be in touch with the ‘more’ of life. I’ll check in ‘with the middle of me,’ today, to see what comes there. I imagine it can be, at the very least, a day of gratitude, and an opportunity to be feel the preciousness of a human life – and maybe it’ll be painful, but… that’s welcome, too. It’s included in all this. There’s space for it.