Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Funeral In the Family

Usually when you live in another country as an exchange student you get to experience almost all of the normal ceremonies. You go to weddings, wedding showers, baby showers, birthday parties, graduation ceremonies, holiday gatherings, and other special cultural events. However I never thought nor hoped that I would end up at a funeral. Especially in Brasil. Funeral events are 24 hour things. The person dies, they have a wake for a long time (which I didn't get a chance to experience, but they sit and pray and visit the dead), and then they have a mass and they take the dead to the cemetery. Now being it all happens so fast it isn't that kind of thing where you can travel long distances, or where I knew many people that were dying. However as we were driving to the airport in Cuiabá to go to Paraná, my second host dad told me that his great uncle had passed away. He lived in Paraná and under normal circumstances he wouldn't have gotten there in time, but being he had died on the eve of our travel, we ended up arriving just as the casket was entering the church.

I don't know how to explain what it is like going to a funeral where I knew nobody except my host dad and my two brothers. I had never heard of the dead man and I knew little about him except that he was a relation and that he played in a band. Also, where does the exchange student's role fit in terms of condolences. I know with my parents back home I would give them lots of hugs and talk to them, but is the role the same, especially if I had never even known of this person before...? The wonderful thing before this moment is I always put this in the "what if" catagory and never thought up a good enough answer because I thought and hoped it would never happen. All you can really do is be prepared for anything because I believe that any person would be different and react differently. You have to be ready, if they want a long tight hug, that is what you have to offer them, if they want to be alone you can show them you care by taking care of other things around the house or such and offering your company. However it's not as easy as one would think, and a lot of the moments are awkward. I feel like in this sense we have the same role as beloved pets do, almost, because we don't exactly have the complete role of children (because children would know how to deal with it, would know the circumstances, and people tend to shut down when they are devestated) but because we are here to help lift their burden, to make their day better with a hug or a smile, or simply to clean up the kitchen without being asked (not that animals do). Thank goodness it wasn't a closer relative to the family, and the effect wasn't as big. However it was a strange but good experience nonetheless.

I think the weirdest thing was being in a room where everyone knew the man and was crying, which left me wanting to cry, but not knowing him or anyone else. I didn't know how to act and I was such an outsider. I spent most of my time observing people and their reactions than paying attention to things. As awful as it sounds I liked watching people cry. I liked watching people hold each other. I liked that I could tell that he was beloved without ever knowing the man, to me that is the best way to honor him. Nothing was faked, nothing was acted out, it was normal people at a funeral. I felt like it was the beginning of a movie, you know before you get to know the other characters where you just watch and begin to take in the scene.

Then I got to thinking about death and I have yet to come to a good conclusion, but hopefully I have a lot of time left. However maybe some exchange student will be lucky enough to attend my funeral, I for one would be delighted in their presence. In the sad event that you get the chance, I advise you to go to a funeral in a different country, because every culture is at least a little bit different.

tchau tchau for now,

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