Indonesia is a country of diverse ethnic cultures. My mum hails from northern Sumatra, a clan who are notorious for being a lineage of headhunters. (No, not the recruiting kind, the scary “I’m going to chop your head off” type).
The Bataks have a ritual for just about every occasion – weddings, engagements, births, harvest time, deaths…
When my grandma passed away, there was ceremony after ceremony for at least 3 days. All performed as open casket, no less.
Anyway, on the final ceremony, prior to the actual burial, all family, friends and mourners will form a circle around the deceased and well, start dancing.
Now, before you start thinking how crazy it is, remember this is culture.
It may not be yours and one that is familiar. Nevertheless, it does have its firm place in this vast rainbow world of ours.
Whatever we choose to follow or decide as common practice, does not necessarily mean it needs to meet the requirements of others’ belief systems.
But the Bataks believe that the Tor Tor dance invokes the spirits of past ancestors while respecting the presence of those still alive. Most of all, it’s a form of encouragement; trying to lift one’s spirits during a time of pain and grief.
When my cousin first told me that the dance was about to happen, I looked at him and pointed at my grandma’s coffin, “Seriously? Dancing? Now?”
“Yup” he shrugged. Himself also in disbelief.
And while it seemed completely out of context, I witnessed this transformation of people’s sullen faces to a temporary brightness. They started skipping around the coffin. Hands in the air, with palms facing upwards, they moved rhythmically and in unison. Singing along whilst in motion.
Dancing around your dead grandmother. Whodathunkit.
But within seconds of commencement, the room suddenly became lighter, with the heavy tension lifted for a brief moment.
None of it felt wrong or out of place. Everyone there was simply dealing with grief the way they always had. And always will.
Don’t ask me what happened during that week after I was told Kak Rytha was killed in a car accident.
I cannot recall much from it. It was a blur consumed with heartache, grief and disbelief.
But I did decide to start running again. Having being injured for almost 6 months, I had only been able to brave the treadmill. I was too scared to pound the pavement. Psychologically, I wasn’t up for another injury.
But when I found out I wasn’t going to make it in time for my cousin’s funeral, I had one of two choices a) sink deeper into my grief b) say goodbye to her my own, personal way.
I thought, “What would Kak Rytha want me to do? Would she want to see me miserable? Sad that I wouldn’t be able to say goodbye?”
Alas, there was no singing or dancing around a coffin for me.
Instead, 2 days after her death, I did a 5 km road run. The first in what seemed like forever. But I ran for her. I thought of her smile, her cheery disposition. I pictured her laughter as she would cheer me on.
“Faster, darling! Faaaaster!!” her boisterous, playful voice would say.
Grief, I’ve discovered is about life.
Without this excruciating pain, we can’t truly appreciate life – whether it’s our own or of those who we’ve tragically lost.
Without this devastating heartache, we can’t learn how to breathe properly; to suck in, inhale the good; to expel the suffering and affliction.
Yeah, I’m crazy to run in the darkness of 4 am.
A 40 something woman probably shouldn’t be recklessly jumping off a wharf into freezing icy ocean water, in fear of appearing childish. Juvenile, even.
But this is how I’m dealing with my grief: by facing and celebrating life – head on.
Joining Essentially Jess for IBOT