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Some of you may be upset by this next post. So before I tell this true tale about a very handsome brush turkey – a large somewhat clumsy and shy bird that lives in Sydney suburban bushland –I’d like to explore some of the more unusual ways in which cultures deal with their dead.
Zorosastrians wash bodies in water and bull’s urine before leaving them for vultures to pick clean.
In Tibetan sky burials, the human corpse is cut into small pieces and placed on a mountaintop, exposing it to the elements and animals.
Vikings laid the bodies of their dead on the deck of a boat, sent it off into the sunset before setting everything alight by firing flaming arrows at the pyre.
Back to my story.
Two days into 2105 I was in the honey and syrup section of our local farmer’s market when I got the call we all dread. It came from the nurse at the rest home in New Zealand where my mum had been living for the past 18 months. “I’m afraid your mother has passed away,” she said.
Those words, as well as the time, the place and the weather – a warm Sydney summer’s day – are something I’ll never forget. Time and life as I knew it stopped. From that moment, I stepped into a parallel universe where everything, although the same, looked and felt utterly different.
My mother – elderly and weak – had been ill for some days with pneumonia, so her passing wasn’t entirely unexpected. We knew she was ready to go. Nevertheless, I was in shock. So when the nurse asked what I wished to do with her body, I said: “If my mother had her way, she would be put on the compost heap along with the grass clippings.”
Although in hindsight, I regretted this spontaneous outburst, it wasn’t intended to be disrespectful. You see, my beloved mum didn’t believe in extravagant funerals. She told us she wanted to be cremated, her ashes sprinkled in the shrubbery of the family home, where my father’s remains had been scattered 30 years earlier. So I was very conscious things had to be handled in a way that honoured her wishes and knew she wouldn’t have wanted to be embalmed or as she would have put it – “placed in a fancy box which would have been burned.”
The next week passed in a blur of arrangements I didn’t want to make and regrets I couldn’t face. I had lived in Australia for the past fifteen years and even though I had recently visited her, wasn’t there to hold mum’s hand when she passed away. This broke my heart. Yet strange things happened over the next few days. It turned out the funeral director I was dealing with was a Buddhist. This would have delighted my mother who was drawn to Buddhism and told people she wanted to be reincarnated as a bird.
One week and two days after my beloved mum was cremated I was returning home when I saw a brush turkey flapping about in the carport. Panicking at the sight of the family car, it pooped on the front veranda then in a flurry of black wings and grunts, made a graceless escape over the fence.
I thought that was that.
Instead, the bird took up lodging in our garden.
Let me add in the twelve years the family has lived in this inner city suburb, we’ve never experienced such a persistent and ongoing visitation from such a big wild bird. They come and go. Generally, they don’t move in. However, this brush turkey decided to hang out on our compost heap and sometimes in the afternoons, at the time I would normally make one of my daily calls to my mum, I would see it sitting on the lawn sunbathing and looking into our family room.
Now, I’m not sure a brush turkey, which, being larger than a chicken and only slightly more capable of flight would have been the bird of choice for my mum’s reincarnation. But she had a fabulous sense of humour and appreciated irony.
I’d like to add here, my mother was very proud of her compost heap. She kept it neat, turned it regularly and used the rich soil it produced as fertiliser for her gorgeous New Zealand garden.
For about six weeks, the turkey and I had a daily routine. The turkey fossicked, hurled all the egg shells, orange and onion peels and avocado shells from the compost heap onto the garden path and lawn. Daily, I swept and shovelled it all back again. This battle went on all summer.
One day in late summer the turkey vanished. I decided it had either found a mate, a better compost heap or ended up as a roast (I’ve heard they’re tasty).
Then, on a Sunday in May – Mother’s Day to be exact – I stepped into the garden to find my tidy compost heap once more violated. The turkey had returned. Just for one special day. So I paid tribute to my beautiful mum on Mother’s Day by once more tidying up the compost heap.
When I told this story to a very down to earth friend, she smiled tolerantly as if dealing with someone who is seriously deluded and said: “Ah well, we all have our own ways of trying to make sense of things.”
Indeed the loss of my much loved mum – a powerful personality who always felt larger than life – is devastating and hard to make sense of.
Now rationally, I know the brush turkey was alive before my mother passed on. Rationally, I know as someone with runaway imagination, I tend to see patterns in the world where others see randomness and simply coincidence. But we all have our own ways of reconciling common sense with the mysteries of the universe and who knows what happens when we die? No one’s come back with a non-fictional account of their experiences. If science hasn’t yet unraveled the mysteries of consciousness and time, then I feel we must consider all possibilities.
I’ll be looking into the whole topic of reincarnation when I set up my blog for The Infidel’s Garden which I’ve just started building.
Meanwhile, come back and visit again. And of course, I’m interested in your comments on this post. What do you think? Was that visit from the brush turkey coincidence or communication?