Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Time To Gather Family

Here in San Francisco, a very distant relative on my husbands side of the family died this week. It was not totally unexpected, since she was well into her nineties. I had shaken her delicate hand at a few family gatherings, but since I don't speak Cantonese, we couldn't really communicate beyond smiles and nods of heads. I knew very little of her, and I suspect she knew even less about my place in this family.

Last night we attended the wake, and this afternoon we will attend the funeral, first at the chapel in North Beach, then at the graveside.

Although the wake was a somber affair, there were a few wonderful things I took away from it -- the first being a strong sense of family. As I sat there with Herman's relatives gathered around, I felt honored to be part of this clan. Like most families, I suppose, they pull together in times of celebration and sorrow. They have their share of family squabbles, but they support each other, always. It took me several years to warm up to his family, but now I know that I've come to love them. And even though, as I say, she was a distant relative, there was a feeling that the family was greatly diminished, that she mattered and will be missed by all. I couldn't help wondering how much I matter, if I will be missed.

The second thing I took away from the wake was a sense of tradition, not my own, but of Chinese traditions passed down through centuries. From the lighting of incense sticks, to the repetitive bowing, to laying blankets on the body, to burning fake money, to passing out money and candy to everyone that must be used before you return home. They even placed a coin on the woman's lips, so she could pay the toll when she reached the gates of Heaven. I felt a sense of wonder at the ritual, which was both colorful and dignified. I appreciate these traditions, they being comfort and strengthen the sense of family.

I'm looking forward to the funeral today, if only to see what other rituals emerge. A story is forming in the back of my mind, centered around a Chinese funeral -- one that explores family dynamics and the passing of life. Could be a good one. Stay tuned...


Karen Walker said...

Hi Alan,
I love these personal blogs of yours, rather than book reviews or event announcements. It gives me a sense of who you are and what's important to you. This is so lovely and I'd love to read that story when you write it.

AlanChinWriter said...

Yes, I'm turning a new leaf, of blogging each day and making it personal. I'll still do reviews and interviews, but I'll post them on my column and just provide links to them on my blog.