I’m always intrigued by the way different cultures handle death and grieving. I live on a checkerboard Indian Reservation – which means some of the land is owned by tribal members, some by other individuals who aren’t tribal members (that would be me) and some by the tribe as a whole. It’s a beautiful place to live, lots of forest and is mostly quiet and serene, except on July 4, but that’s another story.
The other day while driving into town, I noticed cars pulling in right and left at a house on the main road. Then farther down the road, two huge fire trucks and one aid car passed me by coming from town. I ran my quick errand and headed home.
At the house I’d passed earlier, the huge lawn was filled with parked cars. One of the fire trucks was getting ready to leave and the aid car was loading a stretcher on wheels. My thought was that someone had died or was really, really sick.
A day later, all the cars were still there. A large green tent had been put up and lots of folding chairs were stacked nearby. It took me a few years of living out here to realize that’s what happens for funerals. I figured the tent and chairs is either loaned or rented from the tribe.
What struck me most about the other day was the close network. Half the tribe knew that someone was dead or dying and had arrived, even before the aid car made it to the home.
None of that happened in my family. Over the course of many, many years, one of my brothers died, then my Dad, then a couple of years ago my Mom. They all had friends, but family lived pretty far away. There was nothing like that kind of gathering.
Yes, there were funerals. I didn’t go to my brother’s – I was only 5. My Dad’s funeral was small, if I remember right. There might have been a reception at the house, can’t remember. We did go out to the cemetery.
My Mom’s funeral was in her church as she requested. There was a reception in their meeting rooms with a lot of her friends and afterward, my brother, sister-in-law and I scattered her ashes like Mom wanted.
I do remember that neither funeral held much for me on an emotional level. They simply weren’t my way of grieving.
I still remember a conversation that a friend from Wales and I had about death many, many years ago. She had just been back to Wales for a wake and was struck by the differences between American funerals and Welsh wakes.
Everyone at the wake had a drink or two and spent time talking about the person, becoming emotional, weepy and there were lots of hugs going around. The event lasted and entire day and most of the night.
The American funerals she’d been to were very reserved with a little teariness, some nice words said about the deceased and then mostly people left. That was pretty much my experience with funerals, although the ones on my husband’s side of the family have tended to be much larger and somewhat more emotional than those of my family.
I’m not sure what all this adds up to, just noticing how different we all are. It leaves me with a respect for other people and their way of handling the big, and little, parts of life. If I didn’t have those differences to look at, I’d probably never question my own life and wonder why I made the choices I did.
And I think the important thing is asking those questions about your own choices.