A few days before she departed, I proposed the idea to her of combining her funeral celebration with an Open Day over two days; we would invite all her educated friends and intellectual acquaintances from nearby Tuebingen, her neighbors, people from the village - simply everyone who had some connection to her - to come and visit her home, take prasadam and select some of her art work of their choice, as a last gift from my mother. She liked this idea and suggested that if they desired to give a donation it should go to the church community of her village. Her vision of her funeral was a joyful event with everyone feasting, celebrating her quitting this rather old and useless body...
Immediately after her departure on the 18th of October, we set the dates for this event for Friday and Saturday the 4th/5th of November. On the morning of the 4th, the funeral celebration would take place in the cemetery chapel concluding with placing the urn with her ashes into the grave. During the rest of the day and also the following day, the doors to my mother's house would be open to welcome one and all; we would serve prasadam and invite them to select some of her art work.
Together with the undertaker who coordinated the cremation and funeral celebration, I designed a beautiful and stylish death notice card to be sent to all the relatives, friends, neighbours and acquaintances. I chose a nice picture of her to be placed next to the statement by Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher: "One who lives within the minds of his beloved is not dead - he is only remote. Dead is he who is forgotten." It somewhat reminded me of Bhaktivinoda Thakura's famous statement: "He reasons ill who tells that Vaishnavas die, when thou art living still in sound!" A somewhat similar thought...
On this card, I nicely connected Kant's statement by placing a photo of one of her sand paintings next to our invitation for people to choose some of my mother's art work - so she would continue living within their hearts. It all came out really well - very different to the usual death notifications...! And I selected an antique looking urn for her ashes, knowing well my mother's taste and likings.
Two days before the funeral I went around the village knocking on those peoples' doors who had flowers in their gardens suitable for making garlands: marigolds, dahlias, chrysanthemums, and little orange and red berries growing on hedges. I decided to keep it all in autumn colours - matching to the season. I invited people to attend the event and also visit my mother's house on our Open Day, while asking for permission to pick some of their flowers for the garland decorations. Needless to say, people were very welcoming and invited me to pick whatever flowers I wanted. After all, it was the end of the season, and soon they would remove the plants and prepare their gardens for the upcoming winter season. Always wearing a sari whenever I would visit my mother, many people knew me already and could sense that I was a spiritually-minded person. My mother had often told people that "her daughter lives in India".
On my tour around the village I had many sweet encounters and inspiring exchanges, and people marvelled at all the efforts we were making to give my mother an honorable farewell.
On the day before the funeral, we were all extremely busy - as if preparing for a Vaishnava festival: Dhara Mataji and Krishna Caran Prabhu were cooking it up all day in the two kitchens of the house, Anuttara Mataji spent all day making garlands, and I went to a nearby florist and garden centre to do the flower compositions for three vases - a large one and two small ones. The chief lady of the centre had kindly agreed to give me a little corner in their working area where I could do the vases using their flowers.
The program started on Friday at 10am - the hall was packed with people, some of them being professors and PHD. Being only 2 km's outside of Tuebingen - a beautiful and historic university city with intellectual flair - many highly educated people had settled in this village, and many of them had known my mother.
I was dressed in sari and tilak and started off by introducing myself as a missionary, serving the goal of preserving and also spreading the great wisdom given in the Vedic literatures. I introduced the Bhagavad-Gita as world-famous literature, naming a number of well-known German philosophers and scholars who read Bhagavad-Gita which presents the science of the soul. I compared death to the setting of the sun - he disappears from our vision, yet simultaneously rises somewhere else. In the same way, a personality departs from our association and continues his activities somewhere else. I elaborated on verse 2.22 from Bhagavad-Gita, comparing death to giving up the old and useless clothes - a mysterious transformation into another existence. I called it a great blessing to receive some warning and time to prepare, by letting go of all worldly desires and attachments and absorbing one's mind in spiritual and religious thoughts and prayers. I quoted the statement from SB. 11.26.33, that religion is the wealth of those who are passing away from this world - the only eternal wealth which we are allowed to take with us, and which cannot be taken away by anything, not even death. And exactly this wealth my mother had cultivated throughout her life's journey guided by inquisitiveness and longing for God.
I shared one of my mother's favorite stories - the six blind men of old Hindustan who tried to describe an elephant to each other. The one who grabbed the tail thought the elephant to be like a rope, the one who explored the trunk thought it resembled a snake, and so on. In this way, all religions try to understand God, but their understanding is incomplete and limited. She had understood this story to illustrate the importance of being open to other spiritual paths, not thinking one's own path to be the only right one. (Of course, we devotees set another dimension to the understanding of this allegorical story). I elaborated on my mother's spiritual search in various directions: Buddhism, Russian-orthodox Christianity, all kinds of meditations, and also the path of Bhakti Yoga - she had come twice with me to India on pilgrimage. She had extensively read literature on all these paths and gathered valuable insights which enriched her life and broadened her practice and beliefs within Christianity. Her openness and broad-mindedness was rather remarkable for her generation, and also for her age.
I further elaborated on her deep longing to make a meaningful contribution to humanity. She carried the conviction that life was not meant to be simply lived for one's own enjoyment, but rather for a higher purpose. She had undergone further education as an art therapist and had established a foundation for art therapy for children suffering from cancer. She had a benevolent and magnanimous heart, always eager to support various charitable causes and organisations, including our projects within Krishna consciousness. Until the very end of her life, she liked to be there for others by sacrificing her time to listen and offer guidance, sharing her wisdom and life experience. In this way, people of younger generations liked to associate with her and found it interesting to converse with her. She had a good psychological understanding and knew the art of listening and mentoring others - something rarely to be found nowadays.
People were deeply touched by the whole mood and arrangement of the celebration. They had never seen such beautiful flower decorations and expressed profusely their appreciation for my talk, sharing that it gave them new insights and food for thought. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved - people's hearts were conquered...
Throughout the whole day and the next, my mother's house was buzzing with people coming and going, taking prasadam and spending hours choosing some of her art work as a last gift. Everybody glorified the prasadam and ate to their full satisfaction, sometimes taking something home for their family members. I was busy all day receiving people, talking and preaching to them. We had a table with Srila Prabhupada's books, our popular cookbooks (The Higher Taste and the Vedic Cookbook) and some nice and colorful brochures introducing Krishna consciousness. To my great joy, the lady priest came with her husband who is also a theologian. He was very inquisitive, and we spent a couple of hours talking. They left with a Bhagavad-Gita, The Science of Self-Realization and both cook books - and containers with prasadam to take home...
People remarked that it was the most outstanding funeral they had ever witnessed - it became the talk of the village... By Krishna's mercy, our endeavours were well received.
When we are able to give this last support to our parents when they leave this world, it brings this relationship to its perfection - with all its imperfections which may have been there during our life....!
On the 9th of November I flew back to Mumbai - it felt good to return to "my world", after having been in my "mother's world" for an entire month...
Your servant, Devaki dd