Attending a funeral is definitely not something anybody looks forward to. Especially if the deceased is a stranger to you.I didn’t really have a choice here. Someone needed to accompany my grandmom to her cousin’s funeral. I may have met this granny during one of those family functions when I was young. But it’s beyond the grasp of my memory. Hence,to me she was a stranger. Which is a good thing in this context. Death of a stranger should not affect you much.
We were to visit her home first and follow to the church for the funeral services. I put on a funeral-perfect black salwar. My grandmom was in a white saree. Black vs white…the better choice for funerals? Well, it differs I guess.(Getting my white salwar ironed was too much of a hassle anyways). I helped grandmom up the steps onto the verandah where the coffin was placed for people to pay homage. We stood in front of the coffin for two minutes. My grandmom was quite upset but I honestly had no feelings. I plastered a neutral expression on my face and stood by her. That’s the dictum isn’t it? You put on a sad face to a funeral and that happy face to a wedding. Just another mask we are obliged to put on. The unwritten laws of the society, they say.
We spent around an hour in that house. Here are few of the scenes my mind captured. Since I didn’t know anybody there, I played a guessing game in my head. There was young lady with tear stained eyes next to the corpse. Daughter. A young man was standing on the verandah. He had a look of loss on his face. Son. An old man sat in a corner,his head buried in his arms. Occasionally,he lifted his head to blow his nose. His face was red. Husband. Then there was the group of women in the corner who sang the funeral songs with utmost passion. Cameras were flashing as the photographers tried to ensure that they missed not a single face or moment. Priests would come in between and offer their condolences and say a word of prayer.But what I found intresting was the scene outside. Chairs had been arranged outside the house. There were around forty people seated there. I helped grandmom find a place. Most seated here were over sixty. Some seemed to be busy in happy conversations. Since they don’t get out much, funerals are good opportunities for the older folks to catch up, grandmom answered the question in my head. An occasional bored child could be seen wandering around. Soon two older women joined my grandmom. Cousins. She introduced me to them. “Oh, you look just like your mom” “Are you done with your studies?” “Are you working?”…I soon found myself swarmed with questions. Thankfully,they soon changed the focus from me to other important gossips. That left me to sit back and listen to the songs in the air. “The giver of life asked for life to be returned,can we say no?”,my brain translated the Malayalam lyrics.(thats just the content..it did sound quite poetic in my mother tongue). “No matter what you ask of me Lord,I will trust it is for my good…” and many more beautiful lyrics. Soon the songs were replaced by a short sermon by a priest. He reminded us that no matter what we earn or become in life, we exit in a coffin which is built by someone else and chosen for us by another. He reminded us of the importance of doing good during our short time on earth. And then his teaching took a controversial turn…for me that is. (I doubt if most people were even listening). “Your will be eligible for citizenship in heaven if you do good works”,I heard the speaker say. But is it so? I remember the Word of God say that our eligibility in heaven is based on accepting Christ and acknowledging Him as our personal saviour. We will never be able to stand in front of God based on anything we have done but because of the righteousness of Christ. The good works we do are just a product of our obedience and walk with Christ…this is what I believe. Well…looks like I have to get back to the Word and confirm. The speaker had many more words of wisdom. But I had tuned out by now.
After the prayers at home, the coffin was carried in a procession to the church. A jeep with loudspeakers went ahead spreading funeral songs in the air. This was followed by a series of priests clad in black. Around six to seven men carried the coffin behind them. All the mourning that you associate with funerals happened in the front. The rear end of the procession was made of a large throng of family and friends who joined for the sake of it. Once in the church, the coffin was placed on a makeshift table in the centre. Suddenly there was a loud sobbing and I saw the young man we had seen on the verandah being held by another person as he wept holding his deceased mother’s face. The husband was seated on a chair nearby. The daughter looked too tired to even cry. The empath in me got into action and I felt my eyes tear up. Wow! I don’t even know this woman and I am shedding my tears for her. Well, silly emotional beings we are, I guess. The priest went onto describe about the mother in the coffin. She had always lived in the shadow of her husband who was a social activist and local political hero. She was actually an unsung hero herself, the priest informed us. He remembered her loving nature, her sacrifices as a mother, hospitality and gentleness. He urged all the women in the crowd to remember these good qualities. As the prayers progressed, my mind had wandered. “She had dinner with her family and retired to bed. She died peacefully in her sleep”, I had heard someone say earlier. Was it peaceful? How do we know? What would she have been thinking before that? Did she know when she went to bed that she would never wake up? If she had, would she have done anything differently? Would her family have done anything differently?…my mind came back from its jaunt as the coffin was taken to the cemetery. The closest of kin followed. Rest of us waited outside the church. It was definitely not a silent wait! Soon the chatter had started. I graced many more distant relatives with a smile. Some seemed really sweet. But others were honestly a little annoying.( …”You should try anaesthesia.My niece is doing it” “How old are you?” “Still single?wow! Why???” ” I know this boy…a distant cousin…” “Don’t marry a doctor. It will be difficult ” “Child you should marry a doctor ok. Only a doctor will understand your busy life.” “You should put on a little more weight” “OMG!you have become fat! The last time I saw you, you were so skinny!”….and many more questions and suggestions). It seemed like forever before I could find my grandparents and get going.
I was definitely happy to be back home! At night, as I lay in bed, my mind went back to the day’s funeral experiences. Death is inevitable. Yet, why do we go on living so randomly? If this was your last day on earth, how would you live it? Wouldn’t we do something differently? Love our dear ones more passionately? Give your mom a hug for no specific reason? Smile at that stranger on the street? Help someone in trouble without second thoughts? Call up that friend you have not talked to for ages? Say sorry more often? Would any of those pretty clothes you envied on that picture perfect actress or that new fancy restaurant everybody is talking about matter? What about all the degrees you earned? Or that fellowship you were not able to do? Would your huge bank balance help you out? No. We have to face death, whether we are prepared for it or not. “From the dust and back to it”… But for a Lord who with His resurrection defeated death, we would have had every reason to fear. Maybe in the end, the only thing that will matter when we take that last breath is if we have an assurance of our eternity. My mind resonating with that thought, I reached for my phone and clicked on WordPress.