Home Death—A Haibun (Prose and Haiku)
The young woman was a mother of four children—her drawn, pale skin tight on the small frame that was once full of energy. The breast cancer had slowly crept into every soft curve of her body. Her mind, at this moment of the day, was bright and clear. She had studied homebirth midwifery many years before. It was only natural that dying at home would be her last labour…delivering, with support, her body to her death—this sacred mystery. I remember the gentle morning light came in on the daybed as the conversation moved from making cards and wrapping presents for her children’s birthdays—that she would not be there for; to the laying out of her body for a home vigil. She showed me her hand-written prayers that she wanted read at the ceremony that would be held at home. Her friends had already started to make her casket that she designed and her children would help to paint. Their flat tray truck would carry her body to her final resting place—a home burial at their property out of town.
The old ways—anew.
Quietness with daybreak’s light.
Sunflowers reach tall.
There was a soft pinkish light in the room where her body lay wrapped in white cloth inside the home-made casket. The children’s handprints danced across the pink lid that lay against the back wall. Twice a day, her body was lifted out of the casket, lovingly with great reverence, to replace ice blocks that kept the corpse cold in the summer heat. The air-conditioner streamed out an icy chill and outside the room were a pile of thick coats for people to rug up and sit quietly around her body. The wild garden flowers that the children picked filled the empty spaces; and one white candle sat next to her photograph and flickered a small yet bright radiance that spoke to the light in this dark hour. The sign on the door was invitational—you are welcome into this holy space, please hold the silence.
Death—the sacred call
To be present—a portal
To an unknown world.
On the day of the ceremony, the open casket was ritually placed in the middle of the living area, decorated with flowers and lay ready to be sealed and carried to the carefully prepared deep hole in the earth. With the ceremony complete, music playing and people standing around the house eating it may have been any celebration—a birthday, a wedding, a Sunday get together. There was a plate of food and a drink near the casket as an offering to… I’m not sure—the dead woman? a deity? a still life painting? A boisterous group of children ran around the house and played. They would stop occasionally and sit next to the open casket and look in before continuing their game.
Run, sit, laugh. The sun will hide
Behind clouds. Play now.
The elderly woman dressed in light-coloured cardigan and slacks sat in the wicker chair at the back of the living area, head stooped and tired eyes. A handful of crumpled tissues on her lap. She was frightened of what she might see and kept her distance. Her eyes couldn’t help but be drawn to the casket and the young children who would stop and rest their hands on their mother’s forehead or place another stone amongst the treasures on their mother’s body. Slowly, in the midst of the hum of chatter, the old woman stood and made her way forward as if drawn by the silence of the ancestors—her kin calling her home.
Sings to the heart to listen
Afternoon heat fades.
The old woman’s hand rested on the edge of the casket as she whispered softly a prayer. In the eye of the whirlwind there was space—and peace. Enchanted, the old woman sat in the chair and looked. And felt ease. A magpie’s warbled refrain pierced the moment and drew her attention to the white and grey clouds that were building up over the mountains. The first drop of rain hit the tin roof. It wouldn’t be long before the tension in the air would break and the rain would flow until, in its own time, it would make its own music and then, as was the way of things, it would cease.
What is it that calls?
Come to the edge—peace deepens
In the summer rain.
Wendy reading Home Death—A Haibun