Funerals not always sad occasion

By Helena Rodriguez: Local columnist

I told my sister Maria recently, “You missed a good funeral,” and she looked at me like I was nuts.

“No, I mean it,” I explained. “It was a good funeral, getting to meet and visit with Dad’s side of the family.”

It’s something we rarely got to do while growing up and something we haven’t done since Grandpa Chico passed away in 1997.

Funerals are supposed to be sad, but they’re really bittersweet. On one hand, we’re sad because a loved one is gone. On the other hand, though, there’s a sense of joy because most of us have religious beliefs that view the afterlife as a better place. Also, funerals often become family reunions for many of us because that’s the only time we see our distant relatives.

Over the holidays, my daughter Laura and I went to Lubbock with my dad to the funeral of my great aunt, Maria Elida Rodriguez. She died on Dec. 23 and was buried after Christmas, on Dec. 28.

After the funeral, I told Dad, “People don’t cry that much at funerals anymore,” and he agreed. “But then again,” I added, “Tia Maria Elida was 87 years old and had been sick with cancer for two years, and so her children were prepared.” Also, her husband Julio Rodriguez Sr, had preceded her in death some years before.

I also commented to Dad that maybe people do still grieve a lot, but maybe they do it more in private nowadays. That’s what I think.

It’s OK to cry in public at a funeral. It’s still expected. But in recent years, it seems to me that grieving is becoming more of a private thing in our culture.

Of course, it also depends on the circumstances of the death. I recall some pretty emotional funerals I attended as a child.

There was a great deal of mourning when one of our second cousins committed suicide in the 1970s. I also recall a very sad funeral when a second cousin died as a result of violence.

When my Grandma Emma passed away in 1986, it was also very sad because her sudden death was unexpected. She had suffered a heart attack but was recovering and was even expected to be released from the hospital, but then she had another heart attack the next morning and was gone. My mom says Grandma Emma waited another day so she could see all of her children before she died.

I always tell myself that I will be more happy than sad for a loved one when they are called home by the Lord because of my religious beliefs. But in truth, I don’t know how I will handle it because I’ve never experienced a death in my immediate family. I don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, a parent or sibling. All I do know is I shouldn’t spend a lot of timing worrying about it, like I used to.

I also cannot spend a lot of time obsessing over my own inevitable death, like I did when I was a teenager.

Today, the focus of many funerals is on the life the person lived, not so much on their death.

I last saw Tia Maria Elida at my Grandpa Chico’s funeral a decade ago.

She was a smiling woman with comforting words for my dad and Grandma Chaya. It was nice to see her grown children again, Frank, and the twins, Irma and Julio Rodriguez, Jr., who by the way, shares the same name as my dad. In our family there are seven known Julios. It was also nice seeing my dad’s cousin, Felecita, who they call “La Prieta.”

Like all the others, we had not seen her since Grandpa Chico’s funeral.

Another memorable thing about the funeral was the story the priest told during the funeral mass about a woman who was buried with a fork in her hand. According to the story, this particular woman spent a lot of time volunteering and helping with church luncheons.

As dishes were being cleared, she always remembered people saying, “Keep your fork!” That meant that something good was coming, something even better — dessert. And this is the same mentality this woman had about the afterlife.

She knew something better was coming and the fork in her hand served as a reminder to people.

Helena Rodriguez is a freelance columnist. She can be reached at: