I have been to a lot of funerals in the last two years. In most cases, I sort of knew the deceased but not very well. I went because it was culturally appropriate. Grief here is very public. There is wailing and screaming and crying. There is pounding the floor, shaking the body and collapsing in grief. All of this is done in public, often in the middle of the village. People come from miles around pay their respects and grieve with the family.
Funerals in the village are social events. Friends and family come together to cook a ceremonial meal, drink kava and sleep in the house of the deceased. They join together to share in the loss of the family and grieve again for old losses.
My grandfather died this weekend. My stret grandfather, the one who lives in the US. I am torn between telling people at work or people I socialize with and keeping quiet. My grief is not public. I do not want to collapse in a wailing puddle. That’s just not my style. I want time alone, to be quiet and cry on my own. And none of that makes sense here. I haven’t told a lot of people yet, though I probably will at work next week. I hope they won’t judge me for not wailing.
A grieving period here in Vanuatu is either 5 days or 10 days (it depends on which island and how close a family member). During those days, the immediate family does absolutely nothing. They don’t cook, bathe, clean or leave the village. They grieve with every cell in their body. At the end of that time, there is a feast. The feast is a celebration of the deceased, a chance to bring old friends together and talk about the good times. The feast is also the last chance to cry. When the feast is over, life returns to normal and crying or carrying on is in bad taste.
I want the 5 day feast. I want to celebrate Nonno. I want to remember the larger-than-life character who let me slide down his belly as a toddler. I want to remember the stories he told about stealing trucks from the army lot and driving into Manila for a wild night on the town and returning the car to the lot with only three tires. I want to remember late arrivals at the trailer and the smell of greasy Italian food, cooked special just for me. I want to remember running screaming with my brother when he dumped crabs out of the trap into the grass. I want to remember my admiration when he reached down and grabbed crab after crab, tossing back the small ones and shoving the good ones in a saucepan.
I’ve lived for 2 years in a different culture. I’ve started to accept parts of this culture as my culture. I will never be comfortable grieving publicly, but I understand it a little more now. It shares the grief but it also shares the joy.
I’m glad you aren’t in pain, Nonno. I hope you followed your beliefs to a place you can share with Grandma and watch over our family.