At the wall of the Concepcion Public Cemetery are seen three notices stating the place will be closed to human traffic from October 29 to November 4, this year. Those days, in normal years, are the days we set aside for the visit to the graves of our loved ones who had gone ahead. Those days are days to remind us of our mortality.
When October comes to an end and November begins, we are reminded we are all mortals. No one, among us, lives forever. There is no debate on this matter. There is only faith.
One defining certainty in our life as human beings is that, at a certain point, we will all be placed underground. If there is any consolation, no one whose life is ending ever can talk about how the terminus came about. Then we, if we are the dead ones, will be buried. Again, do not be afraid: no one who is buried is conscious of his burial.
Many things after death follow: the funerary rites, the mourning, the interment and the remembering.
It is the practice of human groups that wake and funerals are always time-bound. There is a marked beginning and, take my word for it, an end. No one grieves forever. There will be exception but that is more pathological than human.
We know how to grieve and we know when not to grieve. We know when grief is necessarily supplanted by other feelings, which are all part of the repertory of living.
We may not talk about death as candidly as we discuss love and separation but we have been always aware of the many acts we do for death.
Think of the hours immediately after the person has died. One needs to call kin, the closest ones. We do not apprentice in any workshop on death but someone always knows how to break this saddest of news. If you are the eldest among siblings, then you are duty-bound to be the messenger of death. It is not an easy task but it can be made easier by the richness or sparseness of our language.
Do you know how in reality no one really declares a beloved “dead?” No one calls a brother or sister to announce that a mother or a father has died. “Gone” is the operative word. “Mayo na” or “wara na siya” are the many wonderfully simple terms accessible to us all. The person at the other end of the line or conversation knows how to interpret that word – gone. Again, do not be afraid that your relative will interpret your news that a loved one has vanished. No. There is low power in “gone” but, believe me, there is no magic in the utterance of that single-syllable disclosure.
“Gone” is the most minimal of the announcement of the biggest loss in our life.
In that announcement comes another item: where the remains are being waked. Now, there is a great deal of magic in the word “remains.” In that very material appraisal of how individual humans cannot go on forever is the ideology of something flying away or leaving the body so that what remains are merely remains. For the Christian, we have the soul taking off. The irony of the “remains” is the accompanying news item about how the deceased is survived by the following – it could be siblings or a parent, or nephews and nieces. In obituaries, these “survivors” are described as “grieving” or “filled with sadness.” Some are “inconsolable.” Do not be inconsolable; these remarks are pro-forma. If you are familiar with wakes in this region or in this country, it is one rousing reunion of kin and friends – all dolorous but also all boisterously laughing in funeral parlors, cremation lounges or living rooms of homes.
Death is simple and also complex. One can fly balloons or release butterflies. One can hire a band or pay acolytes to ring the bells following the tones of yore. You could compose elegies or play love songs. At the end, because death is the end, we are left with graves and epitaphs. For this season of inconsolable virus, our societies with their penchant for rules and laws have declared that not everyone can be accommodated in cemeteries, columbarium buildings, and memorial parks or any place where we are supposed to annually recall those who have passed away. For the first time in a long time, there will be no gambling on top of niches, no hotdog stands and soda dispenser, no selfies against sample gaudy coffins. The reason: a disease greater than death and memories has asked us to schedule, or postpone to other weeks, our rituals of mourning and remembering.