Wednesday, March 31, 2010
My First Funeral Ritual~~~
I know Darklings, what a peculiar subject, but it's true.
I was almost 5 years old, my Grandfather was in his very late 70's this was early 1950's so almost anyone surviving that long was considered a miracle.
Grandpa had a stroke, he recovered partially from it, I was there when he had it, it was a very strong memory in my mind. Perhaps I'll talk about it another time.
But after a year Grandpa was going down hill, his heart was giving out, pneumonia finally was bringing about his end.
I remember that most of the women folk were in the kitchen, cooking food, making coffee, occasionally going into the bed room to see if Grandma or my Mother wanted anything. My Grandparents bedroom was off the dinning room, the men folk were in the garage which was a converted barn, talking about who would take care of grandma, and paying for the funeral, even about repairs.
I remember my two aunts carried trays of coffee, cream and sugar to the men.
It seemed to me that the business of dying is really women's work.
I had wandered into the living room because I was fascinated by the single candle that was burning there.
The front of the house living room, entrance hall, dinning room was dark no lights, the bedroom that my Grandpa was in was dimly lit, it was night.
But in the living room on a table right up next to the windows facing the street was a window high table, it had on it one single large candle, this candle was in a tall clear glass jar that had raised crosses on it, I have it to this vary day.
The candle was lit and the curtains and drapes were pulled back away from the window so that anyone passing by could see it from the street.
Being barely 5 years old I thought this was strange, it wasn't Halloween or Christmas or any Holiday religious or otherwise for a candle to be burning, I remember staring at it and then one of my aunts came and got me and took me into the kitchen where I had some ice cream, then she distracted me by playing a card game.
I wanted to go and see my Mother and grandmother but I was told they were busy with Grandpa, they didn't tell me he was dying, I remember my younger cousins were asleep in the other bedroom so I had no one to play with, but everyone was somber and very quiet, even I couldn't raise my voice. I thought Why? It wasn't Good Friday, which would have made perfect sense, but I did as I was told.
After a bit the door bell rang and my aunt picked me up and carried me to the entrance Hall, there I saw Mother open the door and she had a lit candle in one hand, a priest entered and Mother said something that I couldn't quiet hear, the priest blessed her and also made the sign of the cross in the entrance hall as if he was blessing the whole house.
Mother with the lit candle led the way into Grandpa's bed room with the priest right behind her, she then lit two candles that were opposite either side of a crucifix. Then my Aunt took me into the kitchen, I didn't know what was happening but later as I was older I realized that the Priest was doing the last rites or what they call the rites for the sick, Extreme Unction it is properly called.
Then after a bit I heard a cry come from my Grandpa's bedroom and Mother and the Priest brought Grandma into the kitchen she was crying, my aunts distracted made tea for her and the other went to get the men folk, but little me not know what had happened went into Grandpas' bedroom, he was lying on his back his hands on his chest he looked asleep, then I began to feel sleepy, I climbed upon the chair next to his bed and laid down next to him, he felt warm and like the scent of lavender, I knew he used lavender aftershave and I fell asleep.
When I woke the next day I was in my bed in my parents house, Mother and Dad were very serious that I thought I had done something wrong, but we went back to my Grandparents house and Grandma smiled and hugged me and said she loved me very much.
It was like there was nothing I could do wrong that day, Grandma and I went into the garden that I loved, we played with the baby chicks (she raised chickens in her yard), I teased the cat with string, and she tossed ball with me. It was like she was focusing all her thoughts on me. That night I stayed overnight with her and slept in her bed, but I saw that Grandpa wasn't there anymore I asked Grandma where he was and she said that he went with the priest to the Cemetery and he was going to stay there for a while.
I thought at that time a Cemetery was like a hospital knowing that Grandpa was ill, it wasn't until they took me to the funeral parlor that evening that I saw Grandpa in his coffin in his good blue suit. It was then I began to understand death, because more than once we had buried a pet gold fish and a pet canary, but this time it was to an adult.
The next day I had a lot of questions and Mother answered them as best as she could to a young child. I was very quiet that day, Dad had gone a bought a new coloring book for me and it was like it was O.K. for me to play with that, so I colored pictures all that day, then it was back to the funeral parlor, in my Sunday dress, hat and coat, that was my first Rosary, afterwards we went to Grandma's house and many people came by and were saying they would see us the next day.
That day it was in my other Sunday Dress, back to the funeral parlor, where we just sat and then went pass grandpa's coffin, then we waited outside, my Uncles on either side of Grandma who looked very sad, then we went to the Church were I heard my first funeral mass, all the incense, the blessing of the coffin, the black draperies, then back out to the cars, the men with black arm bands and white gloves, the cars being carefully lined up, lights on then the funeral stickers on the front windshield, then the slow drive to the cemetery, we were permitted to go through red lights, I looked out the car window and everyone was looking solemn, some even crossed themselves.
I thought was a strange parade that we were in. Then we entered the cemetery, such a beautiful, green and peaceful place, and all the cars moving so slowly, we stopped near a green area that had all these flowers next to an open grave, there we gathered, the priest said more prayers, the coffin bearers left their gloves on the coffin, and each of us put a flower on the coffin then we walked away.
I remember asking Mother why were we leaving Grandpa, and she said because he had come home here and this is where he needs to stay but we could come and visit any time we wanted. I remember turning my head and looking back at his coffin and the flowers and I saw a man standing next to the coffin looking at me and waived, I almost thought it was Grandpa, but even today I'm not sure.
Everyone gathered back and grandma's house, my aunts and mother making sure the food and drink was there, grandma wanted me sitting next to her on the couch, which was fine, I felt sleepy again, it had been a long morning and we were up early.
After that Grandma's dresses were darker, when her good wool beige coat wore out she stayed with her black ones. I rarely saw her in lighter colors after that day.
She was like Queen Victoria in perpetual mourning.
But after that I grew up fasinated with the funeral rituals, I always made sure I could go to one, unless I had to be in school that day. I slowly built up a collection of prayer and Momento Moi cards.
I didn't realize it but Grandpa's funeral was my first steps into the dark side.