Saturday, October 20, 2007

A time to mourn

It's been quite an eventful week, and I still have a few more things to do before the weekend is out. Some of these events have been enjoyable, others not so much. Still, I'm here, and that's the important thing.

Sunday started off with going to a funeral. Yes, I went to a funeral. Now, I did not know the gentleman who passed away, but he was a good friend of my best friend. I went to pay my respects, but more importantly, to support my friend. As I sat there, looking at all those strangers, it struck me how oddly sad but comforting to see these tear stained faces. At times, I heard the odd but somewhat fitting laughter when mourners spoke of an amusing memory involving the rested. I did my best to remain silent and supportive throughout the service.

At the reception, I was not really hungry and neither was my friend. Something about seeing a dead body didn't really make me think of of food. The widow greeted us and implored us to go ahead and eat. Looking at the interesting mix of soul food, Vietnamese, Thai, and Tex Mex cuisine, I could not help but grab a plate and started to pile on the tasty morsels on my plate. This seemed to please the grieving widow--and I thought it was important that I show her my condolences by eating fried chicken on top of spicy papaya. I do enjoy eating food, and I rarely turn down a free meal.

The funeral itself was a nice event--if a funeral could be labeled as a nice event. I have been to several, and while they all are important and sombre events, I cannot help but compare them to the first ever funeral I attended when I was only 5. That funeral is probably the best, um, most memorable ever. It was my great aunt's funeral, a wonderful widow, who's only child was a spoiled wayward daughter. My cousin was a terrible child to her mother. As an adult, she still lived with her mother, but she often stole from her--money, jewelry, and other valuables. She used these items to disappear for weeks to go on alcohol and drug binges, often hanging out with a shady crowd. Still, her mother forgave her. A few times, my mom accompanied my aunt to the county jail to bail out wayward daughter and attend the court hearings. It made my mom and the rest of us so angry to see wayward daughter take advantage of her mom; still, who could argue against the love of a parent for a child? even an ungrateful one?

My aunt died shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her daughter, on her drug spree, had disappeared for about 3 weeks. My family made arrangements for the funeral, and it was decided that my aunt would be buried on the family grave site. I remember the white casket, sitting on the straps, was at my eye level as I was at the front of the crowd of mourners. The priest was saying a prayer, family and friends were crying, when out of the blue, I hear this gut wrenching scream like and animal fighting against the onslaught of vicious predator.

Somehow, during times of extreme stress, I can see things happening in slow motion, just as it did that day. I turn to see this crazed looking woman-wild hair undone, clothing filthy, no shoes--come flying out of the crowd and land on the casket! Being eye level with the casket, I saw the coffin start to sway, the straps underneath started to buckle. I looked into the face of this crazy, screaming person, and all I could see was tears of running mascara and an open mouth sending out guttural cries of pain and despair. I was startled when my mom called out my cousin's name. I did not recognize wayward daughter at all!

Then the coffin started to shake! The support straps gave way and the coffin with my cousin on the top plunged into the grave! Amids screams from the mourners and the discombobulated priest, mom issued orders that were quickly carried out by the others. My uncles and cousins jumped into the grave to pull wayward daughter out of the hole. Wayward daughter's hands ripped open the coffin as four of my big male relatives tried to pry her out of the hole. From my front row seat, I looked down and saw the casket open, my aunt's head had turned to the right, her well coiffed hair had come undone, covering part of her face. It took another relative to be able to pull out wayward daughter from the hole, and carry her screaming and fighting to the outside of the mourning (and shocked) crowd. My mom then went into the grave and straightened out my aunt's head on the pillow. Mom then took off her pair of mother of pearl combs and fixed aunty's hair, securing aunty's hair with the pair of shiny, beautiful combs before she closed the casket.

Mom was helped out of the grave by other relatives and proceeded to where the other relatives were holding wayward daughter and berating her for her carelessness. My other aunts and uncles were calling her ungrateful and what a horrible child she was to a loving, caring parent. My mother told her angry relatives to cease the accusations. There was all ready enough sorrow in the family. What's done is done. We needed to help each other through this terrible time. She took wayward daughter's hand and led the group back to the open grave. I was on the lookout for my cousin to plunge back into the grave--and so were the dirt stained relatives that had formed a cocoon around my mother and cousin. My cousin was sobbing uncontrollably, her head resting on my mother's shoulder; my mother also had dirt stains on her, but she held on to my cousin as the flustered priest resumed the service.

When they started to shovel dirt on my aunt's coffin, my cousin let out another heart rendering scream. Still, she did not throw herself into the grave. The rest of the day was not as eventful. The reception was demure, but whispers of shock at the events at the grave site were heard occasionally. My mom spent most of the evening with wayward daughter in a different room of the house. Since then, I've always unintentionally used that memorable funeral to gauge the drama level at all other funerals. None come even close.

A few years after, wayward cousin found Jesus. (Is it just me, or does Jesus seem to be missing a lot? Is he like the Where's Waldo of the religious figures?) Anyway, she even undertook several missions to sub Sahara Africa. Eventually, she married another missionary, founded a church in California, and have ministered to the homeless and wayward since. I guess my aunt always knew that deep down, her wayward daughter was a good person after all. She just needed time and guidance and love to help her find her way. It was not until my aunt's passing that we ever able to understand what my aunt had seen in her wayward daughter. I think mom was the first to realize this.

Often, there are times when my older siblings do things that piss me off, or they complain to mom that I'm too stubborn or spoiled. My mom's usual reply is, "When you have children, you'll understand". I don't have any children, so I guess I don't understand her sometimes. But I do has a small idea of what it means to be loved a parent, and how we all need to feel loved.

As I sat there eating my pad Thai, I saw my friend hugging grieving widow. I looked around the room and thought, though this funeral may not have the high drama of my aunt's funeral, there is the same presence of love. And when it comes to funerals and human relations, love is really all that matters.

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