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Breaking Tradition

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.


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Interesting post

So I am wondering if you will visit the niche next year or instead kiss your mother's picture and enjoy her warmth.  You have kindly freed up your children to not need to visit you by this post.

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Hi Sue, I think what will

Hi Sue, I think what will happen next year is that I will decide to visit without feeling obligated to and without feeling guilty if I am unable to.  I wanted to free my children especially from feeling obligated to keep tradition where it really isn't necessary in this situation. :-)  Thank you!

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Rina, I've often wondered


I've often wondered what the point is of visiting someone's gravesite. I lost my beloved grandfather as a child. My Dad often took us to visit his grave. I didn' want to think of him in the ground. I wanted to remember him alive and laughing, or holding my hand. 

Bless you for freeing your children from this. My children's father insists that they all visit his father's grave every time they travel down south. They don't like it. I have already told them I will not expect the same when my parent's pass. We will do something to keep their spirits alive instead!


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My girls are in the same

My girls are in the same situation as your boys, their father is bound by tradition and insists that Nov. 1 is the day to visit the cemetery (when it is most crowded) where his mother rests and my girls are reluctant to express otherwise.  This is what prompted me to blog about Breaking Tradition and reminding my girls that they do not ever have to feel compelled to visit me when I am gone.  What matters is they do what makes them feel right.  Not visiting my ashes won't anger me! :-)

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The atmosphere

Rina, telling of all the niches lining the hallways--the uniformity of the picture you present is chilling in itself. It feels cold and impersonal. I can see why you--or anyone--would not look forward to the experience. More a duty than a joy.

I imagine that your mother appreciates your thinking about her and talking to her when you are at home, especially if it is a place familiar to her. I also think she knows when you have warm loving feelings, and when you act mainly out of duty.

To free your children to do as their hearts dictate is truly a loving thing to do. God bless you. 

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Thank you Dolores, you are

Thank you Dolores, you are right!  Mom always knows best even when she's long gone :-)

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I must agree...

I, too, have always found the visiting of graves an odd tradition. I want to remember my loved ones alive, vivacious, surrounded by the memories they created. Like you, I feel the spirits of my loved ones in not only the memories, but the things that were "them", the photos I display.

When I was young, my cousin was killed in a car accident. Of course we went to her funeral. It was open casket. The picture I now carry in my mind of my cousin is not the vivacious, beautiful girl I knew in life, it is the picture of her death - bruised and swollen, not even looking like the cousin I loved.

When I was a teenager, a friend of mine passed away. The last time I saw him he was joyfully roller skating along the roadway as I drove past in my car. He smiled, laughed and waved big at me as I passed. I chose not to attend his funeral. My parents didn't understand. They were worried about what his family would think. I wanted to have the picture of his life in my head, not his death. That is still the picture I carry in my heart of my friend - alive, smiling and enjoying life as a teenager should. I have never regretted not attending his funeral.

I feel closest to my husband's grandmother being surrounded by her art and her photos. Visiting her grave feels flat, no emotion, it's an empty place even though her bones rest there. The spirit of our VaVa is in the wonderful memories we shared, the knowledge that her hand brushed on the paint that created the beautiful painting I have hanging in my bedroom, the smile she has in the photos of her with Granpa and her grandchildren surrounding her. This is where I feel closest to our precious VaVa - not at a cold graveyard, staring at her name chiseled in stone. 

You have given your daughters a wonderful, selfless gift by releasing them from tradition. Let them choose to remember you in the way that means most to them, and keeps them feeling close to you in a way that is real for them.

Thank you for sharing your heart with us.


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Thank you too Bev, it's the

Thank you too Bev, it's the older generation that tends to stick to tradition and culture.  If my mom were alive, I would not be spared from visiting the cemetery.  This is why I struggled with the thought of breaking tradition.  I felt she would be disappointed but then again, she's in a happy place now.  And I am sure she hears me more talking to her things at home than at her niche :-)  I could not bear the thought that my girls would be dragging their feet just to visit my ashes.  I'd rather they reach out to my spirit with their hearts.