Monday, October 27, 2003

saying goodbye and saying hello

Having gone to two funerals for my grandparents, I've come to understand the ritual of death: the prayers, the mass, the rosary, and the food. I've come to realize that these rituals facilitate the mourning process and our abilities to transition in our lives.

I drove down to the funeral with my parents and sister. We had both taken the day off for bereavement. Technically bereavement is only meant for very immediate family and not for a "first cousin twice removed" which is the technical identification for my grandfather's first cousin. I don't understand this definition of the nuclear family. That real bereavement is only qualified for people "not removed." I'm lucky. My manager and supervisor are Filipino, they understand.

We waited at the church for the casket to arrive. His grandsons and nephews would serve as his pall bearers. I had heard a saying once about how you can tell how people consider the living by the way they treat the dead. Filipinos treat the dead well. In death, everyone you could possibly have ever known comes to say goodbye. Not only do they say goodbye, but they take a picture next to the casket to prove they were there. Grant it, we're also scared that if we don't, the dead spirit will come and visit it us. Nonetheless, it does allow for some closure even for the people who hated you. Though in this case, there weren't too many people that hated Uncle Paul.

After the mass, we caravan to the cemetery. More people arrive. Final prayers and blessings are given. The undertaker announces the coffin is to be lowered and that if you are squeamish to step away now. Most of us stay to watch as he is placed in. The machine uncoils the straps and squeaks as he goes down. Some of the grandkids are not yet 10. They do not quite know what's going on or why they are there, just that their dress up clothes make them itch. They watch ants crawl on a tombstone nearby. They cannot yet read the name nor associate it with a person. Once lowered, we each take a flower from one of the wreaths and toss it in, a symbol of our last goodbyes.

Later we say hello to the relatives we hadn't greeted yet. Cousins who used to threaten to toss us in fish tanks they said were filled with piranhas and now have children of their own. A few aunts who have also watched their husbands be buried, say some comforting words to my aunt, she laughs despite her tears. Directions are passed to the restaurant.

My cousin, my uncle's grandson, commented, "I've never eaten so much food in a week." There's always food at wakes and funerals. In the Philippines, the wake would be 9 days, with relatives and friends staying up all day and night, playing, praying and staying with the body. Subsequently, food must be prepared for all the guests in appreciation for their support and prayers.

It was like saying hello again to old family. It has been a while since there was a big gathering like a wedding. I announce to a few that my own wedding will be in another year or so. Words like that run like wildfire. My cousin's mom says that she's heard I was planning something, then she asks why not next year? I reply that my other cousin is getting married next year, so we are taking the following. She replies, "oh no, that's ok, you can be married in the same year. They're not your immediate. How old are you now? oh see, you can get married next year, like June or July, then by 2005 you can have an anak/child." At that I excuse myself to go greet another relative.

We find out how tall kids have grown and how my cousin decided to buy a motorcycle rather than another tattoo (artistic differences). Everyone discusses the different diets that they are on, doctor prescribed or otherwise. We exchange email addresses and business cards and promise to keep in touch. Word of wanting another reunion, the last one was 5 years ago. They want my mom and an aunt to organize it. My mom comments, "I'm not even blood related, yet they want me to organize it!" Being blood related, me and my sister volunteer to help her.

Til the next time we meet, we're still family.

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