In Chinese culture, it is believed that seven days after a person dies, the soul will come back to visit its family at home for the last time before moving on to the afterlife. The soul will visit the family anytime from late in the evening to the early hours of the morning. During this time, the family should be in their bedrooms fast asleep, because if they see the soul of the deceased, they might not want to let them go. And this would prevent the soul from moving on. There should also be no interruptions or distractions of any sort. All lights in the house must be turned off, and all the telephone lines disconnected. There must be no visitors, and no going to the toilet in the middle of the night. Even a little interruption or distraction would prevent the soul from moving on. And if that’s the case, the soul would remain in the human world as a wandering soul and not be able to move on. During the visit, the soul will also bring along other ‘companions’ into the home, so it’s best to just leave them alone. Food and drinks are prepared for the soul and their ‘companions’ to enjoy. As far as I know, there are two ways of finding out whether the soul really did come back. You can pour flour all over on the floor to see if there are any footprints the following morning. Or you can leave some incense sticks burning. If you happen to smell the incense sticks in the middle of the night, even when it has all finished burning, it means that the soul is around.
Seven days after my mother died, she came back to visit me. At that time, my father was still alive. As we were preparing the food and drinks, all I could think about was my mother. For some reason, I was scared to see her. I didn’t know why. No matter how much I miss her, I also didn’t want to see her. By six in the evening, my father and I went to bed. My father had some wine to help him sleep. But I didn’t have any. When night finally came, I was still wide awake. I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother. By that time, I was feeling so scared that I was hiding underneath the blanket. I didn’t know what I was thinking. I felt like running out of my bedroom and going to my father. But I knew that I couldn’t leave my bedroom. That was how strangely scared I was. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. But I couldn’t. So I remained underneath the blanket and curled up into a ball. Not once did I take a peek.
After having stayed awake for so long, I started to feel sleepy. Just when I was about to fall asleep, a smell caught my attention. I opened my eyes. It was the smell of burning incense sticks. The smell quickly became strong. Even from underneath the blanket, I could smell it, like it was surrounding me. I immediately began to panic. Could it really be my mother? I asked myself. I also knew that it couldn’t be the smell of the actual burning incense sticks that my father and I had lit, because that was awhile ago. And it doesn’t take that long for the incense sticks to finish burning. I remained completely still. I even tried to breathe slowly. I suddenly had a feeling that my mother was standing right by the bed watching me. I could feel and sense her presence. I was curious. I wanted to come out from underneath the blanket to see if she was there. But I was scared. So I closed my eyes and tried to remain calm. It wasn’t long until the smell slowly went away. But I still didn’t move, nor did I open my eyes or take a peek. And before I knew it, I fell asleep without realizing it.
I didn’t know how long I was asleep for when I suddenly woke up. The first thought that came into my head was my mother. I was no longer feeling scared, so I came out from underneath the blanket. It was still dark. As I looked around my bedroom, I suddenly felt sad, stupid, and lonely. My mother had come to see me for the last time, and all I did was hide. It was strange how I was no longer feeling scared. At that moment, I wanted to see her. I wanted her to come back. I even tried to catch the smell of the burning incense sticks. And then I started to cry. I cried for a very long time, and as I did, I kept calling out to her quietly. But she never came back.
Thinking back, maybe I was supposed to be scared, because if I had seen my mother, it would have been hard for me to let her go.