January 22, 2008
In the past month three acquaintances have died. The one right before Christmas was a fairly young man, maybe 50, had a heart problem. He had never been married, his sister and parents had preceded him in death. His brother, the only living relative, paid for his funeral with his credit card. The deceased was well known in the valley because he conducted an orchestra. This was basically his life, even though he didn’t earn much money. It had been founded by him and his dad, and he took great pride in this. The amount of people who showed up to the memorial was a fairly great number. I couldn’t attend this one, but heard about it. It made me sad that he had no family, but in reality, his family was his orchestra and the community.
The second one happened on Christmas day. An even younger man, in his late 20's just had a blood clot burst in his head and he died instantly. His wife was in the back seat of the car with the baby. They had stopped at a stop sign and when he died, his foot pushed on the accelerator and the car ran into a fence. His wife had to crawl over the seat and stop the car. She has a baby son and is pregnant with their second child. I mourned for the young mother who is my daughter’s age having to face life without her sweet husband. They lived in Japan and were serving in the military. Both sets of parents decided to bury him in his wife’s hometown, because they felt she needed to be near his grave. I felt so sad to think about losing your husband at such a young time in your life. I was sad he HAD a family that was left behind. I live in fear that my husband will be the first to be “called home” and I will be the one left behind.
In Memory of Steve
The last one happened today. He is a relative of a Mexican immigrant helper of my mother’s. This is also a very young man who had a wife and four children, the youngest being 10 years old. He was 40 and had cancer. He fought courageously and was sure he would overcome this. He died in another state, seeking treatment. He had a procedure which he claimed had made him feel much better, and everyone was optimistic he would conquer this. Suddenly without warning he was dead. My mother and I went to his sister’s house to give our condolences. It is a three-bedroom trailer house. At one time, I counted 60 people all crammed into this small house. When the wife, niece and brother arrived from the airport I found out there were more in the two back bedrooms, so I am estimating around 75 people were gathered. I have been to Mexican gatherings and the sound can be overwhelming. They are happy people, the visiting, music and laughter can reach very high decibels. But in this tiny trailer house tonight, I could hear when the refrigerator turned on and off. Not a soul made a sound except for the occasional sob or sniff. The feeling was more of a reverence and sorrow. The children who spoke in whispers were admonished by their mothers. Then when the wife arrived, she went into the bedroom where the deceased’s mother was trying to take a nap. The sobs produced from that bedroom were so heart-wrenching, that I even began to cry, and I had never met this man. I was touched by the support given to this family in their hour of need. I was amazed how families who arrived brought cases of bottled water and pop to add to the already growing stacks around the floor. They sat and stood in quiet reverence and sorrow for the entire 2 ½ hours my mother and I were there. They were already gathered when we arrived, and were still there when we left at 10:00 pm. The support given to this mourning family by friends and family was so overwhelming. The newly arriving people would come and hug the sister, then find a place to stand. No one said a word, no one did a thing, everyone just sat and stared, lost in their own thoughts and memories.
I have never experienced such a gathering in my entire life. Usually it turns into a reunion of sorts. Old acquaintances usually begin to talk and reminisce. The sorrow is so great that, at least in my culture, we feel a necessity to lighten things by changing the subject, cracking a joke, or somehow filling in the silence. Not so with this group.
I don’t know what to say about this. My mother wondered if she should come back tomorrow because she was invited. She brought a sweet sympathy card with two $50 bills inside. I asked her what else she could do? They have a little under 100 people already there lending support. The fact that she showed up tonight was appreciated, I’m sure. She will attend the funeral. She will continue to visit them as she has in the past. And in the end, I was sorry for this family left behind, but I have hope for the little widow. With that many people surrounding her at this point, I have hope that they will continue to lend support, love and help for as long as she needs it. I was sad for this young widow as well, but feel like she will be OK. I am amazed at the difference in our cultures.
We Americans live a busy life. When someone dies, we come to the viewing and funeral, if we can fit it into our busy schedule. But we don’t spend an entire day, gathered in the grieving home. We visit, give our love, deliver our gift of flowers, a card or maybe money or food and talk a bit, but when the next family comes to offer condolences, we excuse ourselves and go back to our own lives.
I guess I have never been involved this closely in any other culture’s funeral. It made me stop and think that it probably is NOT done like we do it in the rest of the world. I have a new respect for these people, and this has given me pause to think. That’s all. Nothing profound, just another experience I thought worth writing down and sharing.
In Memory of Raul