Letting go

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With Eid on New Year’s Day 2017

It has been a difficult year. It began hopefully enough, with Eid seemingly on her way to recovery after major surgery less than a month earlier. The fact that she had been released from the  hospital on our tenth anniversary — December 23 — seemed especially auspicious. But just three weeks into the New Year, she was back in the hospital with severe abdominal pain. She would remain there for the last three months of her life.

eid and nin

Eid with Nin, one of the family dogs, in January. Nin has a bare patch of skin between her shoulders that is always itchy, so a good back scratch with a stick would have been heaven for her. Eid kept it up for a while, until a spasm of pain in her stomach forced her to stop.

In my last post, I wrote that I wished that my father and Eid had been able to die at home. As one with a very tenuous grasp of the meaning of the word “home”, it’s perhaps odd that I should think this way. In any case, I later remembered another photo of Eid sleeping that I took 10 days after her return to the hospital, when she was moved out of her room for about an hour so that the air conditioner could be cleaned. By this time she had been operated on again, but we still had no idea how serious her condition was.

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Eid drifting peacefully along a stream under a canopy of autumn foliage.

After spending three months in the hospital with Eid and then two weeks with her family after her funeral, I returned to Chiang Mai in mid-May for some time on my own. I still have two or three friends to hang out with here (most are now based in Rangoon, though they occasionally return for a visit) and I also spent a few months teaching, but for the most part I’ve been alone, giving me plenty of time to reflect on my life here and especially on the part that Eid has played in it. (Next month it will be exactly 10 years since I returned to Thailand after five years in Japan, so I often find myself thinking of the early days of our life together as husband and wife.)

I’ve done some writing since coming here, but have made very little progress on a couple of larger projects that I’ve been working on. Another thing I’ve tried to do is move most of my non-trivial Facebook posts to this blog. It was supposed to be a simple task to pass the time when I wasn’t in the mood for much mental effort, but I’ve found it quite time-consuming, so I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to closing the gap between January 2016 and November of this year. There are also quite a few posts that I didn’t bother to add, including this one:

carpe diem

I remember posting this because I liked the way it added nuance to a phrase most people are familiar with and think they understand. I recall it now because while this passage is about ways of taking hold of life, it also seems to apply to the idea of letting go. Just as carpe diem is not about greedily seizing the objects of your desire, “letting go” is not merely a matter of abandoning things you no longer want. Some effort and attention is required; in fact, for Buddhists, it entails a lifetime of practice. When Eid was in the hospital, she was encouraged to practice mindfulness of breathing; even her mother sat with her and tried to help her maintain her concentration by repeating “Buddho, buddho,” with each breath. Like most Thai lay Buddhists, however, Eid found it easier to use devotional practices to keep her mind on wholesome objects.

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Eid in the hospital, making merit on Songkhran, the Thai New Year, 10 days before her death.

For my part, I have found that it helps to follow certain rituals. One has been to play a recording of Buddhist chanting that Eid asked me to download for her while she was in the hospital every Saturday night before I go to bed. It’s actually quite long — more than six and a half hours — so it plays through the night while I sleep.

I have also observed each Sunday since Eid’s passing by wearing the black mourning shirt that I bought on the day of her death and wore at her funeral. It’s the same shirt that millions of Thais have worn since King Bhumipol (Rama IX) died on October 13 of last year. Unlike most Thai mourners, however, I have continued to wear mine since the king’s funeral two months ago. But today, the final day of the year — exactly eight months and eight days after Eid’s passing — will be the last day that I wear it.

beard no beard

Me in the black mourning shirt that I’ve worn every Sunday since Eid died. I also wore it on our eleventh anniversary last Saturday. I shaved off the beard that I started growing a month earlier in memory of Dad on the same day.

Eid died on a Sunday — April 23, exactly 13 weeks after she was readmitted to the hospital — so I attach a special significance to the fact that the year began on a Sunday and also ends on one. What this means to me is that Eid’s life was complete, that she lived a full and meaningful life from beginning to end. This is, of course, merely my way of finding closure, which I have hoped to do by reflecting on her life and the circumstances of her death.

Now that the end of the year is less than two hours away, I leave this as a final offering in her memory. It will not be my last word about Eid, but I hope that it serves as a lasting reminder of my love for her, and of my gratitude for all that she has taught me.

Thank you so much, Eid. I love you now and always.

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