I visited mom in her niche a few days ago. All Saints Day is a big and busy day here in the Philippines. Families from all walks of life trek to the cemetery and spend time with their loved ones. The tradition has gone a bit overboard with some who spend nights in the cemetery, celebrating and gambling while keeping vigil over the deceased. This has prompted the banning of brining in alcohol and drinking inside cemeteries. Gambling and loud music are also prohibited. Cemeteries get very busy a day before and only mellow out a day after Nov. 1. It’s like a fiesta that takes place on the day we remember our loved ones who passed on. Quite contrary to the solemnity of the day itself, the tradition continues year after year. Rain or shine, November 1 is the day we celebrate life with our loved ones gone.
The atmosphere is the opposite when visiting a niche. Because most niches are extensions to churches, the mood is solemn. Silence lingers all throughout the day and celebrations come in form of leaving flowers on the little vases that accompany every niche. Chairs are stacked up in corners of the niches and what surrounds other than dead silence is murmurs from visitors who come and go.
I visited mom early morning. I pulled a chair from the corner and sat at an angle by the window facing her. In the silence of my heart I started talking to her. I wandered around looking at the names engraved on the other niches and came across the niche of a dear friend I lost to suicide. I said hello, touched her name and stood talking in silence wondering if she heard me. I walked around the maze of niches looking for the name of a friend my girls lost a few years back. I couldn’t find his name and that made me sad.
I came back to mom and sat down wondering what it’s like to be the person gone. Does mom know that I came to visit? Does she see me? Does she hear me? Would she be happy or sad, disappointed if I failed to visit her? I do the same thing with her photo at home anyway. I talk to her whenever I feel like it, I plant a kiss on the photo whenever I feel I need to connect with her so what would it matter if I went to her niche or not?
I question myself because honestly I feel trapped. There’s a bit of guilt that sets in with the urge to break tradition. There is so much more of mom at home that remains ever so close and dear to me. Her antique collection, her vintage plates from World War II, photos of her on display, her angel collection that I love and so many more little things that remind me of her every day. Unlike the warmth I feel at home, going to her niche gives me the chills. Rows and rows of niches line hallways like a maze that goes around in circles. It just gives me an eerie feeling and I would much rather talk to mom in a place where I can feel more of her presence other than a square section where I can’t even see her urn, just her name to identify her.
When I am gone, I don’t think it would really matter if my ashes were visited or not. What would matter to me more is that the loved ones I leave behind be okay and able to move on. If they visit me, it’s because they want to. If they remember me, they can do so from any part of the world and not just where my ashes are.
Forgive me for wanting to break tradition and culture. Speaking for my soul, it’s really ok if my urn stays in a niche unvisited. I know in my heart that my loved ones will remember me in whatever way they feel holds meaning and value for them.