We, the Cavaco’s have this strange tradition. And by strange, I mean unorthodox and immensely creative. A death in the family means the ladies coming together to stitch a shroud - the last gift, an adornment for the departed soul. But this is no ordinary burial attire. It is made whole with gifted pieces of fabric from every other member of the household. Each piece embraces the kin’s sentiments towards the dead. This is a major coping mechanism; bidding goodbye and finding closure.
When my cousin Sasha left us, my mother and her sisters stayed up all night to bring her shroud to life. In total, twenty pieces of fabric were used- some brightly coloured, some not so much, sequined, dyed and self-printed. Kuki had even hand-painted her piece, while George had her’s bejewelled. As a kid, I remember wishing for a similar one when it would be my turn to die.
It’s been years since her death, yet the mention of her name surges mixed emotions in everyone’s heart. The clothes my aunt keeps locked inside the wardrobe have long since lost the lingering scents of her flesh. The sweater she had worn as a teenager, the green polka-dotted frock she loved, the Tom and Jerry t-shirt - are ceremoniously aired every cleaning season but smelled more often. Old birthday cards and handwritten letters were framed and hung in her room. The desperate need for a change in decor was evident, yet emotion condescended logic.
Last Saturday was Sasha’s birthday. Like every year, her room was thoroughly cleaned - the curtains changed, floors and rugs vacuumed and bed freshly made. But this year, something felt different. By the end of the day, revelation knocked on the door and proclaimed itself in full glory. While cleaning, my aunt had discovered that one of Sasha’s sweaters had a loose piece of yarn. In her desperation to mend it, she had invited in a disastrous effect; the sweater came undone and was left as a ball of wool.
“Blue was her favourite colour. I had it made especially for her. Now it’s all ruined. Just like her, this sweater had a short life.”
Humans are attached to non-living things, if not materialistic then emotional. My aunt wore the expression of someone who had experienced loss all over again. Noticing the pang of sorrow hit her baby sister, my mother smiled at her lovingly and said, “Vala, remember the shroud we made for our Sasha?”
“I do, irmã. Your piece was the most prominent amongst them all, white.”
“And do you know why I chose that colour?”
“Well, was it not because it was Sasha's favourite colour?”
“Well, partly but also because it represented our Sasha in essence. The seven colours of the rainbow mixed together gives us white. Sasha was a rainbow. And rainbows are a beauty that aren’t meant to last. They will be born again and bring joy to people’s lives everywhere. And that is what Sasha was and always will be.”
My aunt's hollowed-out tired eyes gazed past me and her trembling lips remained sealed. Someone had screwed open the sluice gate within, tears streamed down tia’s face as she gripped the ball of wool and bawled her soul out. In a way to pacify her broken heart, the words oozed out even before I could enunciate, “Tia Vala, you’re taking it the wrong way. It has served its purpose. Why not give the yarn a new meaning, a new form?”
Today is her twenty-first death anniversary. The entire family is huddled by the fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and recalling fond memories of Sasha. Tia Vala has been receiving many compliments for her looks, going around adorning her new blue and white scarf with the widest of smiles.
Yes, we celebrate our dead, but despite the warm atmosphere, one could easily note that it is hardly the most joyous family gathering when it comes to Sasha. However, maybe soon time will ease our hearts and we will be able to truly let the ache soothe down. This year, my aunt had taken a part of her daughter and merged it with her own. Smiling seemed a bit easier for her now. Humans are attached to non-living things, if not materialistic then emotional; and at times this attachment heals.