An exact year ago, my aunt died due to Alzheimer’s. She was a retired teacher and active church member within her community. The funeral was mid-morning, around 10am. The sun was shining and the day was beautiful. The funeral service was held inside a dim-lit church. People I had never been formally acquainted with gathered inside. Some wore black; some wore red; some wore multicolor. No one wore white. Some wore casual attire; some wore formal attire. They were people from all walks of life, those who carried an educational background and prestige; others who worked the typical 9am-5pm job; former students; family; church members and friends. Her casket was open and placed in the front of the church. She was dressed in what seemed to be normal attire. She was frail and aged, but preserved and lifeless.
People were seated according to their relation. Family filled the first two rows of wooden benches. Then friends, students, coworkers, and so forth. People cried. Some cries were loud outburst. Some were silent weeps. Others were sniffles and loss of breath management. People laughed. People shared memories. Some stories were short and extended condolences to family members. Others stories were lengthy and inaudible because emotions overtook their words, or they choked on their mucus. People sang gospel songs and hymns that had nothing to do with her life. The closest relatives and friends seemed to need the most tissues. Church members routinely walked from aisle to aisle comforting someone or providing tissue. High heels were placed to the side or underneath a seat. The pastor preached a sermon. Babies would break whatever silence that formed in between events. The funeral was concluded with an invitation to the church. Pallbearers carried the casket into a hearse. The hearse was a fair newly modeled black car. The funeral moved to the burial site where everyone witnessed my aunt get place 6 feet under. Before the official bury, flowers of all kinds were placed on top of the casket. More tears were shed. Everyone returned to the church. Then there was food.
Up until that point, I hadn’t processed the ritual entirely. I was busy observing the unfamiliar faces and different behaviors. How come I hadn’t seen most of these people before? Why where heels to a funeral if they make your feet uncomfortable? Why place the casket at the front of the church when pallbearers are going to have to carry it to the back of the church? If I poked her to check for vitality, what would happen? In actuality, the funeral lasted 3 hours, but we spent a third of it reminiscing her life. Why pay so much money to hold services that didn’t contribute entirely to her? My last thought: how could everyone return back to their normal behaviors so quickly after the funeral?
Communion acts amongst others reveals a lot about who they are.
In the basement of the church was where the food was served. The basement seemed more decorative and less gloomy than the upstairs off the church. The tables clothes were white, which seem to throw off the theme a little. People lined up single-filed. The food ranged from healthy to unhealthy, starting with raw vegetables to fried meats. Once more, seating arrangements were made according to closest relative. Pictures were taken. Why weren’t pictures taken during the actual service? Apparently, people didn’t mind optics with their mouths stuffed, but photos while mourning was a forbidden unwritten rule to abide by. There were jubilant conversations. People extended their last condolences to family. Everyone departed. I never cried.
This funeral could be classified as a rites of passage because there were many characteristics that factored into this typology. For instance, the element of promoting of familiarity was observed as people shared stories, offered comfort, and ate with one another. There were several other actions throughout the funeral that functioned on the elemental varieties within this typology (i.e. adjusting to the reality of death, fulfilling the motherly role and financial responsibilities of my aunt, and the act of her death). Why were memories shared? As a way to validate the legacy of my aunt. Why wear every color accept white? White doesn’t fit the mood of a funeral, black does. White makes a statement which can be inappropriate when celebrating a loved one’s life. Black, or dull colors, encourages grief. Why sing gospel songs? In respect to God and His will. Why dress up the dead? A preservation of their dignity, perhaps, or to make them appear “normal.”