Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Passing Ritual

Okay. Three funerals in three weeks is enough.

One thing I think I've gained from the experiences, though, is a greater appreciation for practical value of the ritual. While I didn't attend any wakes, I did attend two of the funerals and three of the "repasts"*.

Wakes are almost completely foreign, to me. I don't think I've ever experienced one and I never plan to. Not that anyone's ever excited about attending a wake, but the funeral experience -and its distance from the deceased- seems much more emotionally useful. Maybe I just don't get the true purpose of a wake, though.

I've attended my share of funerals. Even when I didn't know the deceased, the aura of sadness and loss are often enough to make my throat swell and my eyes water a little. Anyone who hadn't had the chance to openly mourn the loved-one's passing can get that extra emotional "push" - the kind that helps you have a "good cry." There are people are to lean on, hold onto, speak for and about the dead, and there's a pastor to slowly bring us back down from the emotional apex of the event. The internment is that last opportunity to say good-bye.

After all that, the repast and procession is like a big, collective hug. A time that may or may not involve much reflection on the life of the deceased, but that can almost be a celebration of life, family, and loved-ones. Seeing those who can't or don't visit often makes us feel good. Eating together makes us feel good. Seeing how our lives are connected and how we affect each other makes us feel good.

It can be hard. In some cases, unfortunately, it can be full of drama. It may even seem to be too much, at times, but I think it helps us all heal from the pain of another's death and grow closer to the living.

I don't think I ever truly "got it," before. Maybe I still don't, now, but I think I'm closer.

* - Apparently, this term has different meanings among different people. I'm generally talking about the after-funeral gathering and consumption of food.


Los Angelista said...

You have been having a tough month, haven't you? A whole lot to deal with. I hope you are taking care of yourself and allowing yourself some space to breathe.

Keith said...

Sorry to hear about the tough month you've been having and the losses you have endured. Even sorrier to hear about you having to apologize for your father and his behavior.

It'll get better.

The Urban Scientist said...

Defining a Wake: Before mortuary sciences were well developed and embalming the dead was comon practice, there were WAKES.

People had to eliminate the possibility that the deceased was simply in a deep sleep (or coma). Wakes were held at the decesased home in his/her bed. People visited and maintained a 24 hr watch to look for ANY signs of life or waiting for them to WAKE up.

After the appropriate amount of time -1-3 days- depending on decomposition rates, they could have a funeral without worry of burying the living. This was a concern because during 18th and 19th centuries, burying the living was a sad and scary fact.

How do we know this...Well, there were also a lot of grave thefts at that time (they needed bodies for medical schools) and found evidence of people trying to claw their way out of the coffins.

Nowadays wakes are just a set aside time, the day before the formal funeral, for people to visit an pay last respects.