Celebration of Life
I changed my ticket back to school, and instead went home to Seattle. The family spent time together, as hundreds of people visited my mamaji’s house over the next few days. Cousins flew in from as far as Budapest to be together. We got a chance to remember what’s most important in our lives. We got a chance to spend quality time with those we love and care for most.
The funeral took place on Saturday. Not able to fit inside, dozens of people spilled out into the parking lot. The funeral home was packed, with hardly enough room to stand.
On Sunday, we all enjoyed a celebration of life ceremony, telling stories and reflecting on the blessing of spending time with mamaji. My cousin, his eldest son, started everyone off with pictures and stories of mamaji. He was truly a remarkable man, my cousin explained. He worked double shifts often, and took triple shifts when he could. During the ceremony, my cousin half-joked that we never knew when he slept. Still, none of us ever heard him complain.
A cousin of mine from LA also shared some words and some stories. She visited him in Seattle 3 weeks ago with her daughter. Mamaji could barely contain his excitement, she explained. He came home from completing a night shift while she got ready to go to his son’s dentistry office for a checkup. She fully expected him to get some rest, but after a two hour nap she found him downstairs, dressed and ready to go. He spent the day with them, taking care of her young 2 year old daughter. He laughed and played, enjoying what truly mattered in life.
My Cali mamaji also took the podium to share his love. He talked about the last time mamaji visited him in San Francisco. My Cali mamaji, Cali mamiji, and their son accompanied mamaji around the town. They rode the trolly, checked out Ghirardelli Square, and shared laughter and love as they explored the city. My mamaji chocked up, saying he never thought that would be the last time he got to spend time with his beloved brother.
At one point, my mom and my masiji went up together to speak. Listening to them both share stories as well as their love for mamji invited a deep sadness. Yet within minutes that sadness revealed its true form. Hearing them relay the joys of mamaji’s life uncovered the love at the source of the sadness.
My mom told us all how each year, both of her brothers would call her on her birthday after living in different places. This year was different though, she explained. She received a text from my mamaji in California, who’s become the technologically advanced one of the siblings. Yet there was no call from her older brother. Over the next two days, she wondered why he didn’t call. She felt sad and missed him. On the third day at the hospital for work, someone tapped her shoulder. She turned around to find mamaji there with a bouquet of flowers and his signature squinting grin. She told us how blessed she felt that this year, right before his passing, she received flowers from her brother on her birthday.
It was a wonderful way to finish the weekend. Often in the Sikh community, stoicism is preferred. One might hear us urging each other to be strong, to not cry. Yet I believe true strength lies in recognizing our emotions, treating them as old friends, and listening to the story they have for us. It felt beautiful to mourn over the immense loss together through the week. It felt beautiful to be there for and hold each other. Finally, it felt beautiful to celebrate the life mamaji lived, with the many souls he touched.