Until just this past week, I’d only ever been to one funeral in my life. It was for my grandfather, and I was about 3 or 4 years old at the time. I don’t recall much from that experience, except that I had to wear all white (the tradition of Chinese funerals), and I had to bow on the ground for a long time. I didn’t know my grandfather very well, so I wasn’t distraught by the loss, but I understood that something important had happened.
Last week, Rene’s grandmother, Luisa, passed away and we drove up to our hometown to attend her wake. This was my very first wake, and also the very first time I have ever seen a corpse. I never had the opportunity to meet Luisa, but seeing her at the wake really struck me. It hit me in many different ways.
The first thing I realized was that none of the many movie/TV corpses I’ve seen in my life do real life corpses justice. There’s something really remarkable about seeing a body that once had life and now no longer has any. On display, there were many pictures of Luisa throughout her life, and it was striking for me to see her life in pictures and then to see her body in her casket.
The second thing that hit me was that I wasn’t afraid of Luisa’s corpse. I have had childhood lingering fears of the dead and ghosts, not to mention my illogical fear of the elderly. I expected to be afraid, but when I saw Luisa, something in me clicked, as if to show me that there was really nothing to be scared of in regards to corpses, ghosts, or even dying. Luisa looked so peaceful, there didn’t seem to be anything negative about death. I’m not sure why I had this negative idea about death and dying, but I now know that there isn’t much to be afraid of in that regards. I wonder if this has made a huge difference in my irrational fear of incapable elderly. I feel like this experience definitely has changed something in me in regards to this fear.
Thirdly, I was extremely struck by Luisa’s family and friends who came to her wake. The entire affair was very pleasant, which is kind of odd considering the reason why everyone is there. Many people shared stories of Luisa or other family members who had passed away, and I got to meet many of Rene’s extended family and family friends. For Rene, he hadn’t seen some of these folks for over 15 years, so it must have been like a family reunion of sorts for him. I really enjoyed meeting everyone, and it really got me thinking about how important family can be. I don’t see most of my extended family (they mostly live in Taiwan), and so I only really see them once in a blue moon. But now I’m thinking about ways to go see them more often. After attending a wake, I really value the moments that I do have while I’m still alive and thriving.
And lastly, despite most of the eulogies being spoken in Spanish and my not understanding any of it, I really appreciated hearing what people had to say about Luisa, and what she meant to them. And if I didn’t understand what they said, I could certainly hear the emotions they felt about her. I really liked Rene’s mother’s speech. She gave such a wonderful background about her mother, and I could imagine what Luisa’s life might have been like. Rene also gave a very heartfelt speech, and I’m very proud of him for sharing his memories of his grandmother.
I feel like I’ve been slowly digesting the whole experience over the last week. While I never got a chance to meet Luisa while she was alive, I’m really glad I was able to meet her at her wake. She has taught me a lot of things, even after death, and I’m truly grateful for my new experiences and will keep them with me always.