Washington DC, Spring 2022.
April 29, 2021: a conversation with my mother about death.
“Are you afraid of death?”
“I used to be afraid of death. But now, I am no longer scared of it. I sometimes wish it would take me sooner so all the pain I am experiencing will finally end.”
“What do you think will happen to you after you die?”
“I believe that I will not realize that I had been dead until day three of my death. Then, I would feel like I woke up from a good sleep. Then, I would find myself in an empty open field. Depending on my karma, I would then wait for them to take me either to heaven or hell.”
“Where do you think they will take you?”
“I am not sure; I hope they will take me to heaven. I think I have practiced a lot of good karma.”
“I am sure you will go to heaven. Do you believe in the afterlife? If so, do you prefer to be reborn as a female or a male?”
“Yes, I do. I think that I will be reborn again. I don’t care if I will be reborn as a male or a female as long as I can be reborn as a human again; that alone is a great gift.”
“Do you think you would remember your previous life if you were reborn again?”
“I have learned that at the gate of reincarnation, they would give me a drink which would erase all the memories of my previous life. I think that at this point, I have a choice in which I can pretend to swallow it, then spit it out as soon as I pass the gate of reincarnation.”
“I see you know a trick (I said with a big smile). Would you do the trick so you can remember your children?”
“I would do that if I could select which memories to keep and which to erase. I believe that would be impossible; therefore, I would swallow the drink. Now that I am getting weaker every day, I often look at your father’s photo, and his memories give me a lot of pain. I think I rather not remember this life to start my new life completely fresh.”
“That is very smart. I think you should do that. It is important to start your new life with new memories. Would you wish to be reborn as my child?”
“I could only be reborn as your child only if we have bad karma together. I don’t think you and I have that. I sent you away at a very young age, and you basically grew up with the circus, so I believe that we don’t have enough bad karma for me to be reborn as your child.”
March 21, 2022
My family is Buddhist, and we do not view death as the end of one’s life but rather as the end of a life cycle. It is a passage from one stage of the cycle to the next. In Buddhism, there is the belief that all life/being evolves in a successive cycle of birth, old age, sickness, death, and rebirth/reincarnation. In the Buddhist tradition, when death occurs, it is very important to perform rituals in the correct Buddhist tradition. Otherwise, it is believed, the deceased will not be able to move onto the next stage of the cycle, rebirth.
My family took care of my mother’s body at home in Cambodia. They washed, dressed, and placed her into a coffin. Her body was not to be dissected, and organs were not to be removed because we believed that would affect her rebirth. Her body was not embalmed and was kept in the house for 3days before cremation. Monks came to the home and recited sermons every evening by the body (accompanied by other ceremonies during the day). Family members, friends, and the villagers came to celebrate her life and accompany her journey to reincarnation for 3days and 3nights. There was homecooked food, coffee, and other drinks from day to nightfall. Most importantly, there were Smot chanters (ស្មូត or ស្មូតរ)– they chanted from the sunset to sunrise, describing the cycle of life and its nature. All her grandsons shaved their heads and the oldest one became a monk for 2 days.
Then, on the third day, a funeral procession was organized to carry her body to the temple for cremation. But as my mother had wished before she died, the crematorium took place at our home. On Thursday, March 17th, she was cremated at 1 am in our home in Battambang. On day 7th, my sisters and her grandchildren took her cremated remains/ashes to the temple, accompanied by mom’s favorite homecooked food: Khor Sachjrok and Char Kuy Teave.They offered the food to the monk, and they placed her cremated remains at a sacred place at the temple.
On the other hand, I participated in each ceremony through Facebook video calls as much as I could. This morning, on her 7th day, I cooked her favorite soups, lighted up three incense sticks, and offered the food, flowers, drinks (a glass of red wine and water) to my mother. I cried and meditated in front of her photo and the Buddha statue. I called my sisters. We cried, and we laughed. They said, “We’ll celebrate her 100th day in June together when you come home.”
Rest in eternal peace ម៉ែ <3 I pray that we will cross paths again in the next life cycle.