It’s been one year since my father died. Here, you remember the dead at set days after their death. An important one is the ‘one year after’. The Friday is an important and popular day to visit your departed loved ones, so today the family went off to Behesht-e-Zahra, Tehran’s big cemetery,
Not everyone’s was there, however. Myself, my aunt Parvaneh and her husband Nader, from Tehran, my grandmother (my grandfather died a few years ago) and my uncle Husheng, his wife from Mashhad and her sister from Shiraz. The night before, Parvaneh made halva, a sweet, for at the grave, and prepared rice, for lunch at my grandmother’s.
It seems I’ve pretty much come to terms with my father’s premature passing away as I’ve felt quite nonplussed about the whole thing for the past weeks, or months for that matter. The Sunday of his burial, one year ago, was easily the toughest emotional experience I ever had and the letters to my father appear to have been quite the therapy I needed.
But still, they couldn’t take away the anticipation I felt the evening before today’s remembrance. And although I was surprised to find that, at the grave, emotions easily bubbled up to the surface, I was also happy to find today was not nearly as nerve wrecking as a year ago.
Before arriving at the cemetery, we got some flowers for the graves, for we ended up visiting seven and lookde for even more, and rosewater, with which to clean sprinkle the graves. I’m not one to really appreciate these things too much, or more accurately, I don’t care too much for them, but my grandmother more or less forced me to buy at least one flower for my father’s grave myself. So I tried to get one flower, a rose, and was given one for free.
I tried, last year, to be the one to pay for my father’s gravestone but was unsuccessful as my grandmother insisted on footing the bill. Together with my aunt, we were able to put in our preference for the type of stone, green marble. I wanted something different so that, in the densely wooded forest of graves that is Behesht-e-Zahra, I’d be able to more easily spot the grave if left to my own devices.
However, getting the right stone didn’t turn out to be easy as, in the end, shortly after my arrival in Tehran some three weeks ago, Parvaneh and I had to try once more, after her and grandmother trying several times over the past year, to find a stone and a mason to work the stone. Cool as we were, we found one and were promised it would be ready within a week. That become three weeks, being put in place, on the grave, only yesterday, the remains of the original stone in pieces lying around it.
At the grave, beside the halva, we also had fruits, dates and a few other snacks. The same cloth used last year to cover the cotton-wrapped body was taken out, first to cover the grave, then folded up for grandma to sit on. She actually talked to Farhang, my father, I suppose telling him some of the things that happened over the past months or year. When we left, she said goodbye just like she does after talking with her on the phone, or when saying your goodbyes after visiting her at home.
During our one hour, or so, stay at the grave, a man with a receipt book stopped by, asking if we wanted a prayer said. I think it was Husheng who agreed and, not too dissimilar from a year ago, but much more laid back, we had a sad, touching, but surprisingly restrained song, prayer, sung for Farhang.
As I mentioned, it’s custom to bring food to a commemoration like this one. Our group was small, but some of the groups, remembering their dead ones, are much bigger or stay much longer. Besides tea and sweets, they bring blankets to sit on, tea and juices, lunch and sometimes even dinner. And it’s considered extremely bad form if you don’t bring way, way, way too much of everything. You literally continuously stumble upon people handing out food, be it sweets or soups or tea. One does not have to go hungry when at a graveyard.
After visiting my father, we stopped by my grandfather’s before visiting some of Nader’s, my aunt Parvaneh’s husband, relatives. His father was murdered by SAVAK, the former Shah’s secret police, and the only reason he knows where he’s buried, on the SAVAK’s ‘private’ burial ground, is that his mother worked at a government institution and was given the site of the grave as a favour. Most of the graves at this stretch of Behesht-e-Zahra are unmarked.
While strolling between the graves, in search for a few distant relatives in an older section of the cemetery, I found the many people remembering their dead ones a soothing experience. There’s sadness, but there’s also joy, friends and family coming together and having a good time, while explicitly not forgetting people they held dear and loved.
However also, I passed what seemed to be a mother and daughter next to one particular grave, with fresh dates and some small snacks spread around them, remembering what seemed like a young man, I assumed the daughter’s husband. And although they smiled while sitting there and lovingly offered me a snack, I also found the scene very touching, very sad even, this gentleman being left to only having two women to remember him. I suppose it reminded me of the fact that even the people who remember you, keep you alive, in a way, after you die, also at some point pass away themselves, leaving nothing but distant memories or vague stories before you disappear completely from the collective mind.