J. Rojo – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

Almost three years ago, a sudden death occurred in my family; my grandfather past away. My family decided to have a typical American funeral for my grandpa in our hometown. I come from a Mexican family, and the rituals Mexicans do for funerals are much more different than the ones Americans do. However, we don’t typically follow the rituals of death from Mexico. We mainly follow the rituals of popular holidays like Christmas or birthdays. When my grandpa past away, a wake was already set to go. I remember because it happened so fast. My family is huge, with several uncles, aunts, and cousins. We were all comforting each other and I believe till this day, if we did not have that kind of comfort, we probably would not have dealt with the death that well. Each family member was close to my grandpa in their own way. I was the oldest grandchild, so being close to my grandpa meant a lot to me. The day the wake came, I remember it was at an old, but fairly cared for, funeral service. Only the immediate family was there first, so as the entire family walked in together, we all noticed the weird sense of not wanting to be there. The place was dim, and flowers in a vase were scattered everywhere down the hallway we walked at. As we were in the actual room, it felt like a church. There were long, dark brown seats sectioned in rows and a lot of red and white flowers. It was just the beginning of December, so we felt red was an appropriate color for the holiday month. I noticed how there were cards with my grandpa’s name on it. It had a saint on it and on the back they had information of my grandpa. At the beginning, it was very raw and emotional. There was not a dry eye in the room and I saw people in my family cry who’ve I never seen get emotional before. My little cousins couldn’t control their emotions as well. It was all happening so fast because after we all had our “time” with our grandpa, other people started to come. The room was still dim, with no music playing. There were posters with a lot of pictures of my grandpa with us on it all around the room. I noticed my other relatives coming to the wake and could see their faces flushed. Some were sitting down, crying. Other stood, and showed no emotion. It was surreal, to say the least. The next day, the funeral happened and it was held at a Catholic church in a Spanish mass. We all caught up with our relatives who we haven’t seen for a while, and then we all sat down and listened to the pastor as he walked in. The church was big, but relatively empty in the back. There were some flowers, but not many. The stage was huge, and my family and I were all sitting in the front. No one cried much during the mass. It all happened when we were outside to say our last goodbyes. It was tough to watch because everyone was hysterically crying. I didn’t know what to do but look away. It was a pretty cold and windy day, but when you’re in the state of emotion, the weather doesn’t have much of an effect on you. In the end of it all, slowly people started to leave and it was just us with roses to give to my grandpa. As we all said our personal goodbyes, I didn’t look back. I knew I would start crying if I did.

With this ritual, it relates a lot to the passage ritual: closure. This part of life is suppose to be celebrated or mourned. This is suppose to occur in order to be able to move on in life. I realized that this affects people in different ways all the time. For me, it was hard to come to terms with. It still felt like I was going to see my grandpa when I walked into my grandparents home. However, it is not healthy for one to not account the reality. It was important for my family to realize the reality and move on. It was going to take time of course, but it was important to understand why we needed to move on, why the wake and funeral were held, and why it is important to not hold onto any grudges and forgive. With this ritual, it was extremely important to have help from the public. The more you address an issue, it could be anything that is sensitive to you, the more it helps you move on. If you keep things to yourself and do not want to talk about it, it will cause a great affect on you later on in life. If you talk about it, rely on others, or seek help, it will help you heel. This family gathering, in a way, helped us heel because we had a lot of support. It helped us realize what we needed which was love from our loved ones. The eulogy was also a way to help us move on from this stage in our lives but also remember the good that came from it, and celebrate that. Every detail in a way fits into this ritual. The flowers, the cards, clothing (dressed in black), no music, dimmed lights, these all help and show closure. I don’t think I would have held it together if I did not have these little things help me. I knew that it was okay to mourn my grandpa as long as I needed to. I knew that it was okay to seek help from others if I needed to. But most of all, I knew that it was going to be okay, as long as I find that sense of closure. You don’t have to shut out your loved one who past away completely. You can still celebrate their life and express your love for them everyday. It’s actually helps with coping with depression or any other major emotion. Although the atmosphere was not pleasant, the flowers and photos in the room were there to bring a more welcoming feeling and show people that we are celebrating his life that he had with us. It helped me cope with my emotions better and brought light to our family unit. Especially on birthdays or holidays, it’s important to understand that his passing was sad, but it is ultimately a part of life. We should all understand that death occurs but it can be dealt with in a healthy manner. It just takes time.

2 thoughts on “J. Rojo – Week Three – Description of a Ritual

  1. I notice how language plays a huge role in our understandings of funerals. A “wake” in your culture would be considered a “viewing” in my culture; others cultures might call it a visitation as well. While they serve similar purposes, these words entail different religious customs. both are associated with death, both are held the day or night before the actual funeral service; both are mainly facilitated by emotional loved ones; and both are related in one or more aspects socially whether it is reminiscing, making amends, or just grieved remembrances. So is this where the concept of language becomes arbitrary? Could we use Saussare’s argument to explain the psychological imprint of the sound? When I hear “viewing” I know that death has occurred and the atmosphere of a viewing will be quite sad. The same may happen for you when you hear “wake.” However, do we see and hear the same interconnections of culture and language that Sapir and Whorf theorize? Our interpretations of our experiences are defined by two different words though they convey similar feelings, events, and behaviors.

    Is it culture that differentiates words, or is it linguistic meaning? How do we determine which does so? Why is it important?

  2. Typically, when I think of a funeral, I would generally be inclined to classify it as a rite of passage (closure). Though it is an unfortunate coming together of family, it is still a coming together of your family. I would argue it is as much a rite of intensification, because of the way everyone was able to come together and celebrate your grandpa. Like you said, the family members who came were grieving in the expected way of shedding tears which lended to the rather sad environment, but everyone had a chance to catch up and come together. The circumstances obviously weren’t the best way to bring your family together, but it seems that it did provide a place for everyone to grieve together, rather than alone — which can be quite difficult. I’ve only ever been to one funeral before — a traditional Hindu wedding. Though the actual ritual of cremation and attire (all white) is different from a Catholic funeral, it’s interesting that the driving force and sentiment is the exact same. We use different words as to what we call it, but the family/close friends are always present and it gives the family a chance to come together to celebrate the life of the deceased.

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