I found out my former colleague had died when I looked him up on Facebook and his page reported, ‘deceased.’ What? The shock was like a gulp of cold water through my chest. We had not been close, but I don’t know. I had felt like we were kindred spirits. When we had first met I thought he was an unlikely looking friend – more than twice my age, wearing a loud floral button-down shirt, with an accent worthy of the BBC. But as soon as we started talking I had that ‘Aha!’ sensation, when you meet someone who you know on some deeper level than small talk.

I had missed his funeral service, as I had not been close enough to his family to have been notified. I contacted his widow and offered my condolences. But it was not complete yet, not for me. I felt a bit silly but I did this anyway. I went into my backyard, where I can look out over trees and greenery. I murmured some words of farewell. It was still not quite enough. I went inside, got a candle, went back outside. I lit the candle and said some words, then stood in silence. Then I blew out the candle.

Sometimes we don’t get a chance to say our good-byes. Sometimes we do, but we feel it hasn’t been enough.

In her book The Fruitful Darkness, Buddhist teacher and anthropologist Joan Halifax recounts a ritual she and friends conducted on behalf of her deceased mother.

Fifteen monks and lamas with their long horns, cymbals, and offerings called my mother’s “soul” back into an effigy, that she might be purified from the patterns that had caused her suffering and death. I repeatedly put my body down on the dark buttery floor as I prostrated in the gompa’s shrine room, and the lamas worked their prayers and offerings in her behalf. At the end of the day, her effigy was cremated.

I am not a practising, well, anything, so I don’t have access to a memorial mass, or a Buddhist service, like this. (Although I imagine some religious communities would still offer help if you asked.)

But you can still do something for your person even after the funeral is over. Perhaps light a candle. Say a few words. Bow your head in silence. Remember three things about them, say them into the air, offer it up to the world. Write a note, burn it in the backyard, watch the ashes fall to the earth, the smoke rise to the sky. Your grief is worth heeding and it is a worthy offering.


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