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June 23, 2024

My Brother’s Body is Becoming Sediment & Somehow, I’m Actually Okay.

{*Did you know you can write on Elephant? Here’s how—big changes: How to Write & Make Money or at least Be of Benefit on Elephant. ~ Waylon}
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It’s wild to realize that pain can be such a deep portal for experiencing true love.

I’ve heard this notion, but here I was experiencing it for myself—and it’s true.

We had been in Thailand for a few days now, resting, crying, eating pad Thai and spring rolls, and walking about the boutique hotel property slowly, like monks in meditation.

By the grace of god, we were somehow the only guests staying there that week. They had a big swarm of people before we arrived and were expecting a full hotel the day we were set to depart. It must have been fate.

The day had come for Marshall’s cremation ceremony. I was feeling brave and also terrified. The last time I had seen Marshall he was living and breathing and gearing up for his big Asia trip. Now I would be seeing his body, stone cold, lifeless, and soulless.

We had no clue what to expect and were all a bit frightened.

We packed in the car and listened to some Rufus to connect to Marshall and distract from the upcoming event. When we got to the Buddhist temple, we were greeted by an English-speaking woman and three monks who only spoke Thai. My sister, mom, and I were instructed not to touch the monks, as it is forbidden for women.

I thought that everyone would be serious and stern. Here we were sending our deceased beloved into a fire burning kiln.

But the monks were joyous, smiling, present, and kind. There was a lightness that surrounded them. Even though we weren’t allowed to make physical contact with them, I could feel myself drawing nearer to them. Feeding on their energy. Taking a bath in their warm smiles. These are the type of people you want nearby in a moment like this.

Each member of my family took their turn saying goodbye to Marshall. We were all hysterical. Watching my mom, dad, sister, and younger brother breakdown in utter sadness was devastating and heart shattering. Then my turn came.

I touched his cheek and it still felt warm, plump, and supple. Something came over me and I wanted to save him from the burning fire. Maybe this was all a mistake, maybe he was still alive. I belted out, “Mom, he’s still alive. He’s alive.” And my mom, crying herself, assured me, “Honey, I’m so sorry. He’s not.”

I didn’t want to accept this. It took me a minute to come back to reality. I started to pet his beautiful, thick peppered hair and lovingly exclaimed, “I’ll love you forever, Marshy. You’ll always be my big brother.”

We gently placed paper flowers around and on top of the body that my brother once inhabited. In the Buddhist tradition, this symbolizes a smooth and wishful transition into the spirit realm and his next incarnation. We all bawled as the monks slowly pushed the casket into the fiery kiln.

Anticipating this moment, I thought I wouldn’t be able to watch. I figured I’d look away and pretend it wasn’t happening. In reality, I couldn’t keep my eyes off of Marshall’s body. It quickly turned to all black, ashy and coal like. I could still make out the outline of his face and shoulders. We all surprised ourselves that we were inching closer and closer to the kiln. We were right up at the edge of life’s mystery—and how could we resist.

It wasn’t so bad, was how I felt in that moment. However, I wasn’t thinking in that moment. I had moved beyond thought into pure and clear presence.

The monks saw us yearning to be closer to the burning scene, so they peeped open the little hole we were looking through so we could fully watch it all. Wow, my brother’s body is becoming sediment and, somehow, I’m actually okay.

Eventually, the monks closed the door to the kiln and we walked down the temple steps to take a breather. I looked up at the tall chimney atop the temple, which was now spewing out a thick, dark smoke. It was in that moment that I realized something phenomenal, something that would carry me through this loss and grief, and would be a knowing I would forget and then remember. Forget again…and then keep remembering.

Marshall is everywhere. At all times. In every leaf, every wave, and every gust of wind. In everything.

I felt it and knew it. I had opened to an unmistakable and indisputable knowing. I couldn’t explain it but I couldn’t deny it either. It was an experience of awakening to the interconnectedness of it all. Marshall had dropped his body and merged with the infinite.

I was smiling and now understanding why the monks were so jolly on an occasion like this. Because they knew this wasn’t the end. And Marshall’s birth wasn’t the beginning either.

We are incarnating again and again. From formless to form back into the formless. From one to two and back to one again. From the infinite to an embodied infinite back to the infinite. This was merely a transition for the Buddhist monks to celebrate. They were aiding Marshall in his spiritual transition back into oneness.

Marshall’s body would burn through the night. And it was time for us to have our own burn and say goodbye to the monks. As I walked back up the temple, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The monks—these holy men, pure and saint-like—were smoking cigarettes!

My whole family started laughing. “Marshall would love this!” we all joyfully exclaimed. Marsh was a party boy and loved a good smoke. I’m not a smoker, but for Marshall I bummed a cigarette off one of the monks. So did the rest of my family. Puffing and passing, we all were laughing.

I could feel the cosmic joke of it all. How funny that we take it all so serious, life and death. How could we not laugh?

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