Today was my first funeral in this country. Nonna Rina passed away just two days ago. Today I met her and (technically my) extended family as we stood together in the hallway of the long building of the chapel.
I’m used to funeral homes shaped like little houses with sprawling front porches that no one will ever relax on and stuffy rooms full of over plush furniture and too many cut flowers. So many flowers with different scents that mix to form a smell that now only reminds me of death. Today, there were other families lining the hall, with other open caskets tucked into what I can only call wooden cubicles. No frills – simplicity in a country known for its religious gaudiness. Nonna was in an open casket, a net draped over her. One bouquet of flowers placed at her feet. There was no formality other than a short prayer, then we stood outside as they closed the casket with screws.
As we walked to the funeral ceremony down the hall in the chapel, Rami’s uncle walked beside me and joked, “You know there’s no food at these things here, right? Not like you Americans!”
There are no mercy meals here. There is no drinking. The time between a person’s death and their burial or cremation is short. The focus is on the person, not accommodating those who come to mourn. We stood in the chapel and listened to a priest speak the same words I’ve heard now in two languages “This isn’t goodbye it’s a see you later” and the incense burned just as strong in the little room with white walls and wooden floors as it did in grand churches with velvet altars and stained glass windows. There was no singing, only mumbled prayers of the little group that was affected by this little 94-year-old woman’s life. Only one family member read a passage, asked to do so minutes before. We were escorted out into the sun of the parking lot as the hearse was opened and Nonna was taken away to be cremated. The little groups lingered for a little, then said their goodbyes and slowly dispersed into their cars to go home.
I don’t see this as “less” than the funerals I’ve attended before. I personally am someone that wouldn’t want any of it – not even what Nonna had today. My body after I’m gone isn’t worth hanging around. Throw me to the wind and have a party instead of spending money on a casket. I’m not one that needs to see someone “at peace.” I don’t get much from wakes and come to feel from personal experience that the sometimes endless lines of mourners do nothing for those already torn apart with grief.
But today death seemed more natural. In its simplicity, there was a deeper connection to life and death and the passing in between. There was no need for a meal. Just to say goodbye. <3