A friend of mine lost her husband recently. It was a sudden and unexpected death, happening within a few weeks of a surprise cancer diagnosis
Their last week together was spent in hospital; thankfully, oh so thankfully, restrictions on visitors for people in palliative care had just been eased in this province so my friend was with her husband for his final week on earth.
A few days later, she returned home, not with him as she'd expected when she'd left ten days earlier to pick him up after a biopsy. The next day, her first full day at home without him, with the full weight of the loss settling upon that quiet home, with grief unpacking and settling into every space, she noticed her husband's prayer flags in the garden had fallen onto the ground.
Traditional Tibetan prayer flags are those multi-coloured flags we see most often in photos of the camps at Mount Everest (at least, that's what I think of first). Mount Everest is the climbing mecca in the Himalayan Mountains between Tibet and Nepal, so prayer flags have become part of the scenery.
When my friend saw her husband's flags on the ground, she went outside and re-hung them. In an email, she called that "the best bit of work of the day". I'll not soon forget the phrase or the action. So much so, as soon as I read it, I went online and searched for a Canadian site selling Tibetan prayer flags.
They arrived by mail yesterday. Handmade in Nepal, with a donation from the sale being made to a local school.
Although prayer flags are a delightful idea, I've never bought and hung Tibetan prayer flags; I considered it inappropriate since I have no connection to Tibet or Buddhism; sadly, they aren't part of my faith tradition. But my friend's work of the day gave me a connection, gave me a personal need to buy some flags and hang them from my gazebo so every time I see them, I think of my friend, I remember her husband. It's about honouring a life, and a friendship.
The packaging that the prayer flags came in has a description printed on it. It reads in part, "Prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom." That certainly describes my friend's husband and the way he lived and worked. Also, the description explains that prayers flags are auspicious because they contain images of dieties, mantra and prayer that are believed to bring happiness, peace, prosperity, good fortune, health and victory over obstacles.
Even though these flags were an impulse buy, with no benefit to my friend or her husband's memory, I felt compelled to have them. I couldn't go to her, and the celebration of her husband's life was held online, so hanging these flags gives me a tangible way of honouring a beloved life that was so important to my friend (and to many others) while creating a healing, caring energy that my friend will receive when I think of her.
The packaging also says, "Just as life moves on and is replaced by new life, Tibetan Buddhist renew their hopes for the world by continually hoisting new flags alongside old ones."
There are prayer flags hanging on both sides of the gazebo and I see the prayer flags hanging between the birch trees when I'm sitting in my reading chair.