Monday, March 07, 2011

Funerals for life

Kung Kung's funeral was on Saturday. It's been a very emotional few days and I think I'm feeling a little depressed. I'm getting used to the idea that I'm going to be sad for a while. Today seems pretty bleak. There was all this momentum leading up to the funeral - organizing the program book, figuring out the speech, selecting flowers, figuring out all the arcane Chinese customs (of which, as my mom said, we're doing the "bare minimum" because if you went all crazy juju traditional about it, we'd probably have to take 6 months off of work and bind our feet and prostrate ourselves before a stone statue of Confucius or something), and now that the funeral is over, now that my siblings have scattered, now that we're back home, it's like the real work is beginning. The work of imagining a life without Kung Kung, the work of making sure my Poh Poh is okay.

I have only a scattered series of impressions from the visitation on Friday evening and the service on Saturday. There were some funny moments and there were some truly sorrowful moments. The chapel looked beautiful - so many people sent enormous flower displays and the chapel was filled to capacity - an amazing legacy - there's no way that many people would turn out for my funeral.

The reverend was wearing a Hugo Boss shirt that had all us kids giving each other "WTF?" type looks - it seemed like a specially designed one to accommodate the reverend collar. We had the photo boards put up around the chapel and there were a steady stream of people coming to the Friday night visitation and on Saturday. The receiving line at the end of the service on Saturday broke my heart. People filed up to pay final respects and there were "aunties" and "uncles" I hadn't seen in 10 years. The outpouring of support and love was incredible. It's remarkable how funerals bring people together, coming together across distance and time to make up a community from the pieces of your life. Grief is so much easier when people are knit together like this and our rites around death are an example of what people are capable of, at our very best. The feeling I had of being buoyed by this network caused me to utter the title phrase of this post to the Dotytron, "funerals 4 life!" I said in the car. To me, funerals and wakes are so much more meaningful than the way people come together for a wedding. It's easy to share in people's joy - it demands so much more of the goodness of humanity to come forward and offer to help shoulder the burden of someone's sorrow.

I beheld this network of people that have made up my life - who all knew my Kung Kung in some capacity or were there to support my mum and my family and I was unbelievably touched. It's crazy how a funeral becomes a sort of "Karl Lagerfeld...this is your life" situation. Some of these aunties and uncles I didn't even know by name - they were people who I only knew from seeing their faces at the mah jong and banquet tables at the three big to-do's my grandparents organized every year: Kung Kung's birthday, Poh Poh's birthday, and their anniversary. Some of them have known me since I was born and now that my Kung Kung has passed away and there's no more momentum to organize a big event, I'm suddenly feeling a loss for the end of an era. I'm wondering if I'll ever see these people again and I'm sad at the thought that I might not. It's even weirder when I think that I don't know some of their names - sitting at the "kids" table we came up with our own shorthand: Green Lantern Auntie, the Poet friend, the "brown" Auntie. LOL.

Funny story about "brown" auntie - it's terrible but we only know her as that because her brown-ness really made her stand out at the grandparents aren't really known for having a multi-culti crew and Brown Auntie is a newer compadre. On Friday night I was working reception at the visitation, so I saw almost everyone who came in. I was fuming because I didn't see Brown Auntie show up and I then went off about it to my sister and Bruce Wayne, and made her the scapegoat for all my Kung Kung's fair weather friends - people I assumed would show up for the shark's fin soup at the banquets, but wouldn't be there when real friendship was required. During the paying of final respects, my siblings and I were flanking Poh Poh and offering her support as people filed by. My eyes were filled with tears at the kind hug of a long-forgotten auntie and I turned to the side and beheld Bruce Wayne, receiving a hug from Brown Auntie and Bruce Wayne met my eyes and gave me the tiniest, most imperceptible nod at the exact same moment that my sister gave me an urgent nudge in the side. All three of us broke into laughs and probably seemed really inappropriate, but it was some much needed levity. So thank you, Brown Auntie, for showing up at precisely the right moment.

I'm so proud of my littlest bro, who went up to the podium and nailed it with his speech. It was the cutest, sweetest, most heartfelt tribute ever, hitting all the marks - it was funny, it was personal and poignant. There is a 10 year difference between me and C-hova, so I wasn't around for most of his formative years. I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for him, to grow up almost an only child in my parent's giant house, with siblings who had other concerns and interests that he couldn't share in. An although I never think of him as an afterthought, my sister, Bruce Wayne and I do share a bank of memories and experiences that we went through together that C-hova just can't access. It is all the more remarkable then what a good kid he turned out to be.

I will always remember how, at the cemetery, on a miserable, wet, cold morning, as the casket was being lowered into the ground, my sister and I broke down crying, and I had my arm around her and I felt C-hova reach over and put his arm around us, and I felt Bruce Wayne reach over across my mother and put his hand on my shoulder, and we stood like that and watched Kung Kung's body being laid to rest. Even through my sadness, I will remember how grateful I felt for having such an extraordinary family and such amazing, accomplished, siblings to lean on.

In Chinese culture, it is traditional to bow 3 times during certain times of the year/significant days towards photos of your ancestors. Growing up, it was customary that during the Harvest Moon Festival, or Chinese New Year, we would be rounded up to bow 3 times in front of a picture of Kung Kung's mother, father, and his grandmother. Last night, as we were readying to depart for home, Poh Poh came over and suggested that we bow in front of Kung Kung's photo. It was very emotional - I never thought that one day, Kung Kung would be just a photo. And I know, somewhere, that he's not just a photo, that the usual platitudes are true, that he lives on in me, blah blah blah, but that knowledge seems very far and inaccessible at the moment, and all I can think about is that my Kung Kung is in the ground and that now Master T will be bowing before this photo of a man wearing a hesitant, for-the-photographer smile that doesn't begin to encapsulate his life or his essence and for Master T, that's all there is to that. The Chinese custom of bowing before your ancestors seems much more poignant and symbolic and weighty now. What were rote movements without meaning are now imbued with significance. I bow down before my grandfather and everything he represented - my body is weighed down by my gratitude to him for giving me life and for being a part of my story.

I'm struggling to find the gratitude that Master T got to meet his Tai Kung for 4 brief months and that I was lucky enough to have 31 years with my Kung Kung. I'm struggling to find the part where my incredible family, husband, and the circle of support of my grandparents' friends and my own will ease me to a better place. Right now, that doesn't seem possible. I know that life will prevail, that the mundane and petty realities will find a way to worm their way into occupying far too much of my waking hours, but right now, right now I am sad.


1 comment:

dr. rei said...

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