Sticks of incense stand upright in the freshly up-turned dirt, filling the air with their fragrant smoke. Like runway lights, they lead the way from where I stand to Mae Tee, finally at rest.
Before she came to Elephant Nature Park, Mae Tee was forced to work in the logging industry, hauling massive logs through jungle terrain. She was rescued about five years ago, and was given a chance to enjoy a peaceful retirement. In all her time at ENP, despite her aching feet, she never once lay down to sleep…until now.
With tears in my eyes, I listen to the monk beside me recite a prayer, as an elder from the community blesses the burial ground and the funeral attendants with water.
I hold an offering of a beautiful, pink flower and an unlit piece of incense, bundled together with a small section of white string. I walk carefully over the loose dirt downhill to Mae Tee’s final resting place, right next to her best friend, Mae Kham Geao, who passed away just over two years ago.
When all our flowers have been offered, the monk continues his prayers. He instructs Mae Tee’s soul that there is no reason to hold onto this life. He explains that her soul is free and that all the sorrow, pain, joy and love she experienced in this life is behind her, and that it is time to move on. The white string, symbolizing her ties to this life, is severed and her sprit is free to fly.
With that, the Buddhist ceremony is over. Most people follow the monk away from the grave. I linger a bit longer, perhaps looking for more closure. My Western upbringing keeps me focused on the body left behind, and I envy the apparent ease at which the Thai people around me leave the scene, having already turned the page to the next chapter. I remain still, with memories of all those I’ve lost in my life running through my mind.
After dirt has covered her body, I feel calmer. Now it feels complete to me. Goodbye, Mae Tee.