Grave matters: Done to death
A guide to dealing with more than just grief
By Cecil Pinto
Recently the father of a friend of mine expired. My wife Beatrice and I dropped in for a pre-funeral condolence visit. The situation in the house was quite hectic with people dropping in to condole and to help.
We said the obligatory prayer near the corpse resting in the coffin in the hall. Next step is to wish close relatives. I was looking around for my friends' mother.
Beatrice, who does not know the family well, quite by instinct, went up to a woman sobbing bitterly near the coffin and hugged and sat next to her sympathetically with an air of extreme empathy, as would be expected. I on the other hand was, within the confines of the sober environment, trying to signal to Beatrice to come away immediately.
The woman she was mistaking for my friend's mother was actually a distant neighbour, Filsu Aunty, whose grief stricken countenance was a permanent feature and had nothing to do with the immediate death. It was an embarrassing moment for Beatrice as awareness dawned - but knowing neighbours and relatives did not snigger and just kept a straight face. This was a common occurrence.
Some three years back John D'Silva in one of his tiatrs, I forget the name, had this brilliant comedy skit. The local village newsmonger enters a house and announces to the housewife that so-and-so has died and hands over to her what appears to be an invitation in an envelope. On being questioned as to its contents he explains that all details of the death and funeral were there in the printed announcement. It was
like a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section on a website, and had all the answers. How did he die? What time? Where? Who was with him?
What date and time is the funeral? Will the elder son from Kuwait be coming? And the daughter from Toronto? Will there be a bus from his native village? Etc etc.
At that time I thought to myself that it was nice idea and would soon be the done thing at Goan deaths. It has not yet happened but I am sure it eventually will, what with everyone now having computers and printers. In fact there are so many innovations that can be undertaken to make the whole death-funeral process a bit more organised and
'professional' as it were.
For example, similar to weddings we could have 'family flowers' that identify close family members so nobody makes embarrassing mistakes, like Beatrice did, by wishing someone not even distantly connected to the deceased. Miniature artificial wreaths maybe that family members could pin up on their clothing? We could take a step further with little name tags that not only identify the person but also establish his relationship with the deceased. Eg: "Fatima Lobo: Wife's eldest sister" or "Brandon Gonsalves: Son of second daughter Kathryn".
At any funeral you will see mourners siding up to one close neighbour, who with an air of authority will tell you all you wanted to know about the deceased and those present.
"Who is that woman with the short dark blue skirt with a slit?"
"That's Kathryn the second daughter. She's a divorcee and works in Mumbai."
"And that old man with the suit. He doesn't look Goan."
"That's Mr. Nayak, who used to be the manager at the bank where he worked."
"And why is the eldest daughter and her family keeping in the background?"
"Ever since she joined the Believers the family has sort of written her off and…"
Most of these semi-truths would be clarified with the advent of printed Death FAQs, Family Flowers and Name Tags.
Also how come nobody has a Handy Goan Death Guide similar to the half-dozen Goan Wedding Guides currently available? These guides have detailed chapters on how to prepare for your wedding, how to organize the reception and also a directory of wedding related service providers.
How does this sound? "Aiz Mhaka Falea Tuka" from Here Today Gone Tomorrow Enterprises. A handy guide for Goan Catholics on Announcement & Arrangements related to death (with a sub-section for Goan Hindus – "Urn While You Burn"). I hope some enterprising publishers and undertakers are reading this column.
Suggested chapters: Registering the Death, Catering without Celebrating, Newspaper Advertisement Conventions, Riding the Obituary Wave, Illustrated Coffin Layouts for Standard Living Rooms, Seating Protocol, Wishing Protocol, Transportation, D-Day Checklist, Lowering Standards for Graves, Post Funeral Conventions and Non-Alcoholic Alternatives etc.
A Customization Section could offer suggestions of themes, colours, music, flowers etc for a personalized effect.
Trivia sections could deal with mundane matters like the ethics of what can be put in the coffin to keep with the deceased wishes, Is there a protocol of priority for coffin pallbearers? Who carries Offertory items to the altar? Who delivers the eulogy?
Pros and cons could be presented by Subject Experts: Cremation v/s Burial, Formalin or Morgue, Why waste a good suit and shoes? Is it right to deny condolence visits? Requesting mourners to give donation to a favourite charity instead of bringing/sending floral tributes, Organ donation issues etc.
Post-funeral procedures could advice on whether it is really necessary to thank all doctors, priests and minor politicians by name in the Acknowledgement Advertisement. Procedures surrounding the Month's Mind Mass, Annual Anniversary Mass and Niche Marketing. Illustrated suggestions for designs on the marble slab covering the niche could also be one section - with a choice of lettering, typefaces, photo borders etc.
How does one reconcile the bank accounts, insurance policies, loans and email addresses of the deceased in the absence of a will? Is pre-payment for one's own funeral acceptable?
I'm not very familiar with Goan Hindu procedures regarding death but I'm sure there is a lot to be discussed regarding Scattering of Ashes, 12th Day Procedures, Eldest Son's Obligations, To Shave or Not, etc, etc.
Keep in mind that a man, or woman, in today's comparative and competitive world is remembered not only by how he lived his life, but also by the quantum and quality of mourners at his funeral.
Here is an example of how uninformed Goans are about matters regarding death.
In a recent instance an undertaker approached the family of the deceased and asked them, "Would you like a package?" They looked at each other nonplussed and then one member told him, "Actually we would prefer a coffin!"
The column above appeared in Gomantak Times dated 1st May 2008.
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