They asked me if I wanted to see the body. I wasn't sure what they meant. There was my father- who a few days before I had been shouting at to try and fight harder- crumpled, small, wrapped up in a white sheet. The rigor mortis of his limbs aggressively reminded that there was no life inside. The only part that grounded me was seeing the grave diggers struggle under how heavy he was. There's still a human there, I told myself.
My sister was eager to see the body, as if the situation wasn't completely obvious. She went over and the Imam pulled back the sheet to reveal my father's forehead. Do you want to look too..? she asked me.
I didn't get the curiosity or if this was some sort of normal tradition when people die, like in case the hospital had fucked up and you were burying the wrong person. I had gone into the situation telling myself I would endeavor to experience it fully. And so I went over, to have my father's cold white forehead revealed to me.
I didn't get why anyone would want to do it.
There was no pomp and circumstance. They dug the grave like they were digging a road, the brown mud causing a thick sludge on the ground. My shoes were covered in it, the earthy slop that would soon envelop my father. I reminded myself I was glad to have told my sister that we should wear boots, as if it mattered. What shoes did you wear to dig the grave of your father? The surrealism of the moment wasn't lost on me, as if a part of myself was watching the event unfold in the third person and I couldn't help but laugh at the stupidity of it all. You die and that's it? Wrapped in a white sheet and thrown into the ground like trash?
I had always hoped to freeze my father, to give him a chance of life again. I kept asking myself if this type of burial would allow me to retroactively still complete that task. I felt the scientific optimism of my youth fade away as I realized it probably wasn't true. Maybe there was something in parapsychology. Maybe consciousness was everywhere. Maybe I didn't know enough about science to know he still had a chance. Maybe I wasn't meant to understand. Should I call my friends in the cryonics space and ask if I should cut a lock of his hair? Did I have his DNA? Wait, I still had his false teeth. Every moment of my grief was met by perfect pragmatism. He's dead.. but Riva, you can bring him back. Just invest in the ‘Science’.
There's a rawness to how the Turkish treat the dead, especially during Covid-19. My local assistant, after I messaged her horrified after seeing my father's corpse draped only in a white sheet, explained to me the humility of the process. You return to the earth from where you came. A coffin, in their eyes, just gets in the way. My mind focused on the details. If there was a coffin, would he decompose slower? At what rate? Could I come back and get his brain? Everything had moved too fast for the plans I had always hoped to have. Was this going to be the same experience with other people I love? I wasn't prepared.
The images of his burial haunt me. They don't haunt me like a ghost, they haunt me like a psychological challenge- a series of images I dangle in my mind's eye repeatedly, double-checking that I can handle it. When I introspect to check if I'm ignoring pain, I notice I get the same response. You can't do anything anymore. It was, somehow, perhaps worse when I could. When I could help my father, I was plagued with thinking of all the extra things I should be doing or optimizing in terms of his health. I recited his baseline biomarkers to the hospital doctors like a perfect child. I would repeatedly wake up in the night and check over webcam if he was using his CPAP machine. My sleep hasn't been the same since.
And I berate myself for the one night where I convinced the doctors to let me stay over at the hospital. A full 24 hours where I argued with my father ten days before he died. I was angry that he wasn't trying. I was angry that he was ripping out his IV and refusing to put in his teeth to eat food. I shouted at him, I begged, I pleaded. I look back and wish I had been kinder. But my intentions were good. I wanted him to want to live. I wanted him to care. I've realized that it's a talent that I lack but it's the one that I want the most- the skill to incept a desire to live into a person. I have so much of it inside every cell of my body that I presume I can share it. Can anyone do it? Perhaps I should have spent more time figuring out how to give it to him.
I would like to give that feeling to my family. I would like them to experience just one day of unbridled optimism, of self-efficacy, of being in love with the world. My father didn't have it. He wanted to sleep. He kept saying 'Thank you Riva, thank you Sweetie for everything you have done for me so far'. And I would get mad and I'd say- Dad, I don't want your thanks, I don't want your words, I want you to try. If you give me that, I can give you the world.
Sometimes when I encounter older people I am curious what made them bitter or reserved. My father had a sadness that felt biological. His cells cried. His organs cried. He was wounded. He was always a young boy to me, even though I was closest to him between the ages of 66-71. I saw the face of a young boy who had been hurt by the world. He felt the world hadn't been kind to him and that he had lost the agency to manipulate reality to his dreams. That's what depression had always been to me, the unbinding of intention and personal action.
The night of the day we buried my father, I had dinner with my mother as if nothing had happened because she is too mentally ill to really understand. I sat there making jovial light conversation about books and the weather and in that moment realized my own strength. You're an adult now. Then I went back to my hotel and washed the earth off my boots.