Friends and funerals

Goodbye, Papa
At my father’s wake, with friends and relatives. Rosal Room Funeraria Filipinas, July 2015.

It’s interesting how the death of a loved one has made me take a closer look at my circle of friends and relatives, as well as my own attitude toward funerals. There are friends who stick closer than a brother, as the saying goes. When my father died recently, I have seen how certain friends really went out of their way to see me and comfort me, while others tried their best to extend their sympathy from a distance. I suppose people deal with death differently and show sympathy differently, too. I don’t mean to judge others, especially my friends, but I couldn’t help noticing the similarities and differences in their ways as they extended their condolences and showed their support.

For one, I noticed that it was my friends from the church who immediately contacted me to send their condolences and asked for the details of my father’s wake as soon as they learned the news. I wonder if it’s because they’re Christians and so they must take to heart the value of being sympathetic, “bearing each other’s burdens”? Or, is it because they know where they are going, so death or funeral isn’t something that they are uncomfortable with? Truly, I appreciate these friends, especially those who came regardless of the distance that they had to travel. Some of them drove for hours in their private cars while some used public transportation, both experiencing the kind of traffic one could only find in Las Piñas City. Many of them didn’t even have an idea where the funeral house was relying on GPS for directions.

Of course, not everyone could travel that easily, especially those who live abroad or in provinces. Their gestures, nevertheless, made me appreciate their friendships even more. These friends (and relatives) spent time and money on long distance calls just to check how I’ve been, considering that there are cheaper ways to do so, i.e., through social media and popular communication apps.

And then there were friends who kept sending me messages, asking how I’d been almost every single day, letting me know that my family and I were in their thoughts and prayers. That’s really sweet and I really appreciate them taking the time to do so, even lending me an ear. However, I couldn’t help wondering why they were unable to see me and whether communicating daily was just their way of compensating for not being able to express their condolences in person. I really wished I could see them.

There were also some who actually grew up with me and still live nearby, yet the best they could  do, it seemed, was leave a message on Facebook. I wonder why. Perhaps they thought that our meeting would be awkward since we had not seen or spoken with each other for years? But then, come to think of it, there’s this one boy who lives in the same village I grew up in and we’re about the same age. We never really spoke to each when we were growing up because people would tease us. He attended my father’s wake, nevertheless; he was there almost every evening, and for the first time, we had a real conversation. 

Now, some didn’t even bother to leave a message at all, but liked my post regarding my father’s death on social media. Of course, that’s still better than not getting any sympathy at all, especially from people whom I once regarded as one of my closest friends, right? I wasn’t really expecting anything from anyone, not even from my husband whom many expected to come home to attend my father’s funeral. However, later on, I found myself a little disappointed that  some of my so called friends showed utter lack of sympathy. I guess there’s a reason why some peeps are referred to as FB friends (and nothing more, it seems).

I remember this woman who came by early one morning. She happened to be a work colleague of one of my brothers, his superior even. I like what she said: she would miss a wedding, child’s christening, or birthday party of her friends and colleagues, but she would do everything to be at a funeral, particularly if the person who died is a parent of one of her friends or colleagues at work. We all appreciated her for that, especially after learning that she and my brother only get to see each other and work closely together 1-2 times a year.

I, myself, am not fond of going to funerals. I’m usually uncomfortable, especially when the family is non-Christian; somehow, they tend to be very sad as if everyone had also died. I remember my parents, however, when they were still alive. Even if they did not know the person very well, even if the person who died or someone  from the dead person’s family had wrong either of them in the past, they would still go out of their way and offer their sympathy by attending the person’s funeral and even helping out in any way they could. I think I know now why.

Understanding and accepting the fact that we shall all die and no one would want to be remembered for the wrongs he/she had done must be one reason my parents would always attend funerals of people they once knew. I’d like to believe that part of the reason many came and sympathized with us was because of the good things my parents had done for others, how they valued (their) friendships, and made others feel important.

In the end, I realized that although expressing one’s condolences through phone calls, emails, SMS, or social media is good, there’s nothing better than showing up at the funeral and offering one’s sympathy in person, especially if you can. One can’t really get too much sympathy at times like this. Don’t feel pressured and think that you are expected to entertain the grieving family, bring bouquets of flowers, give a certain amount of money, or linger for hours. Just be there because you care as a friend, and your presence would be enough to bring comfort.

Further, I realized that those who came almost immediately or without hesitation were the ones who had the same experience, i.e., having someone in their family died, too. They were at ease and they could smile, even laugh, without feeling self-conscious. They regard the activity as natural as having coffee at some cozy café. And I, in turn, was most at ease with them, and somehow, this reminds me of the dialog between Harry Potter and Luna Lovegood on thestrals:

Luna Lovegood: “They’re called Thestrals. They’re quite gentle, really… But people avoid them because they’re a bit…

Harry Potter: “Different. But why can’t the others see them?

Luna Lovegood: “They can only be seen by people who’ve seen death.

(Source: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Thestral)

Better yet, here’s something that I (and you) ought to remember when it comes to attending funerals:

It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart. Ecclesiastes 7:2 (NIV)

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