In the past 6 months, I have been to three vastly different funerals. It should have been four funerals, but due to circumstances, I wasn’t able to attend my uncle Bob’s services. It’s fascinating to me how people from different walks of life handle loss and mourning. You can learn so much about people from how they grieve. You see them at their most vulnerable.
The first funeral I attended was late last year just before thanksgiving, for a brother from our church whom I have known since I was 12. He was white, and his wife Liz is Mexican. They were Christians, non-denominational, but similar to Pentecostals. The service was short and sweet. There was beautiful singing of fairly modern songs, all uplifting and pointing all attention to Jesus. The service was quiet, each person peacefully paying their respects. The casket was closed, even though there was no reason for it to be. It was more because Liz didn’t want a spectacle of people lining up to view him. I remember Liz saying, “I was this short. I want it to be done and over with…not drawn out.” A few spoke kind words about Don. I remember his brother getting up to talk, and it was so hard to watch him. First, he broke down during his eulogy, unable to continue on. Second, he bore the image of Don; they could pass as twins. I had never met him before. When I looked up and saw him at the podium, I couldn’t look away. That’s when tears started to roll down my cheeks.
Immediately after the service, we walked to the gravesite and he was interred. The entire process took maybe an hour at most from start to finish.
The second funeral I attended was for D’s granddaddy CJ. He passed in December. D and his family are African-American, also Christians, but more along the lines of baptists. We had the viewing in the evening, and it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. There was no pastor, no speakers, nothing. Just granddaddy in the front, with tons and tons of family in the pews and standing in the aisles, all of them talking and laughing so loudly that it was difficult to hear the person in front of you. I don’t remember seeing anyone cry. Later I told D that it was more of a family reunion to me than a funeral. So many people had come from out of state, his kids and grandkids, family D hadn’t seen in years. I felt somewhat out of place – the only non-black person there. It made me a bit self-conscious but everyone loved on me and treated me so well, like one of them. The whole viewing took hours, around 2-3 if I’m not mistaken. Even when it had ended, family lingered and huddled in the cold outside, talking and catching up. Eventually we left, with people still mingling in the parking lot as we drove away.
The following morning we had to drive to a church for the actual services. D was instructed to sit in the front row, since he was an usher along with his cousins. I say with his aunts and cousins, in the second row on the other side of the church. Again, the church was so full of people that it quickly became extremely hot to the point of discomfort, people shifting in their seats and fanning themselves with what they could find. The service was full of laughter, singing, and vocal responses to the pastors from the people in the pews. There was a time for family to share thoughts, with a line of members telling their stories about granddaddy CJ. Most of the stories caused outbursts or laughter or loud “mmhmms” of agreement from family and friends. I remember at one point, there was spontaneous singing of old hymns. When the pastor spoke, every few lines there would seem to be a unison of outward vocalizations, sometimes people standing up and speaking in tongues, moved by the Spirit of God. There was no feeling of sorrow but rather a peaceful joy about the life Grandaddy lived. That was remarkable to me. It was a party, a celebration of his life.
After this, granddaddy was loaded into an old hearse, majestic in its antiquity. Family piled into their cars, and proceeded to follow each other in a traditional processional, escorted by police officers who stopped traffic at each signal all the way to the burial site. I was familiar with the burial site; my Nana and Tata were both buried there, not far from Grandaddy. The internment didn’t actually take place while we were there. The grandsons carried Grandaddy from the hearse to the internment site, but he wasn’t lowered while family was still there. The family lingered for quite some time, seizing the opportunity to take family pictures, not knowing when so many of the clan would be together again all at once.
Above: The grandsons carrying granddaddy to the internment site.
The final funeral was more recent: yesterday and today. I was able to attend last night’s viewing of my Uncle Rudy, but not today’s burial service. My uncle Rudy is Italian/Mexican, as is my pops. He was also Catholic, so that guided the flow of the service. It was small, not packed at all. The services seemed limited to close family and friends. The viewing lasted 2 hours total, almost down to the minute. It was punctual, not wasting time for anything. There were several rosaries that were performed, which seemed mundane after the third time of hearing “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death amen.” I remember feeling like I was sitting amongst a group of drones, mindlessly repeating words in unison, with no significance behind them. I don’t mean to blaspheme against Catholics; I just remember feeling zero sense of peace. I couldn’t wrap my head around how repeating a prayer over and over again could possibly be comforting to someone. I just don’t understand.
Overall, there are aspects that I enjoyed and appreciated from all three experiences. You never know what things you can learn about people and their culture or when/where you might get the opportunity to learn them.