Death! It is the one thing that connects all humans on the planet; The knowledge that one day we all will cease to exist. That our mortal coil will be cut, and we will be nothing but a memory.
Every culture and religion has its own way of dealing with death. The Jewish culture sit Shiva, the Irish reminisce over drinks and food and the Catholics remember the life of the departed somber and respectfully. There is no wrong way to honor those you loved once they have passed.
Recently my Aunt, who is also my Godmother, passed. When I heard this news the initial wave of sadness washed over me, but immediately after a wave of joy and happiness replaced it.
Let me explain, I loved my Aunt deeply. She helped raise me and protected me from my cousins who wanted to practice wrestling moves on me in the basement; without my permission or cooperation.
She was always the first one to give me a compliment or the warmest of hugs when she saw me. She was for all intents and purposes another mom to me when my mom wasn’t around or available.
The reason I smiled is that my culture, which is Jamaican, does mourn the deceased but we mourn by celebrating their life.
As I entered the viewing of the body on Thursday, the only evidence of this being the beginning stages of a funeral was my aunt’s body being displayed in the center of the room.
All around her were those who were family, people who loved and respected her. They were all laughing and telling jokes, hugging and greeting those that they hadn’t seen in a long time. There was a strange mixture of joy and sadness at the occasion.
Soon the viewing was over then we went to the night-night. A night-night is a night of music, food, drink and celebration before the night or day of actually putting the late friend or relative into the earth.
It was everything you would think it would be: blaring loud music of a playlist of the departed and families’ favorite songs, mounds of their favorite foods, and no one was allowed an empty glass or cup of their favorite alcohol or non-alcholic drink.
It was a true celebration and festival of my aunt’s life, and that was only day one. After the actual funeral, which was traditionally a somber event, everyone heads to the late relative’s house or a rented location, where the true party begins.
This is an all day event. There is more drinking, dancing, eating, laughing and remembering those who we lost. Yes, no one leaves till the clock strikes midnight as to usher the spirit into the new life.
I don’t know if any of this actually works or is needed. All I know is this Thanksgiving be thankful for the loved one sitting next to you and treasure the time you have with them.
But know that when the fragile thing we call life ends it’s important to celebrate the life of your loved one, as well as mourn them.
My culture’s customs helps put me at ease because I know when it is my time to go, there is going to be one hell of a party!
Justin A. Baker