The Chamorro funeral is a fascinating event, one I've come to appreciate more and more as I grow older. WAIT! Before anyone is tempted to remind me about the exorbitant cost, physical and social demands and family disputes, just let me speak my mind first. This is the funeral process through my eyes, a perspective that comes from smack dab in the middle of the picnic table conversations and chopping board chats.
As a young girl I was always bothered by the elaborate funerals and wondered why everyone went to such extremes. It was not until I was old enough to share the burden and responsibility of organizing one, and not until I was old enough to really grieve that I learned the value of our customs. When my uncle Charlie died two years ago, I felt like I was in a dream state, acutely aware of everything going on around me. The grief was almost indescribable, difficult, and complicated, like trying to get play-dough out of your hair.
I found comfort in the daily routine of chopping vegetables and preparing meals for the night's rosary. It was in those moments at the family table, when the stories would come pouring out. Every day there was something new to appreciate and love and mourn about Uncle Charlie. Every day there was a chance to express in story and laughter how much he would be missed. I realized that the rosaries and more importantly, the preparation for them, was integral in preparing us for the actual funeral. The Chamorro Funeral is grief immersion therapy at it's rawest and it is a beautiful thing.
I watched each night as people gathered to eat. I listened to the words of condolence, to the offering of memories significant to each visitor who came to express their sympathy, and I was struck at the simplicity of it all. "Come to the table and break bread and we will share our heart's fondest memories; I will be here for you until you are ready to stand on your own" This is what people were really saying to one another.
Nine days of rosary to help the community prepare. One day to say good-bye. Nine more days with just the family to help adjust to life without their beloved. There is so much more to say, but my heart is full and heavy and I can't seem to make sense of it all right now, but I didn't want to lose this moment.