Sunday, July 22, 2007

Wake of the Gypsy

Do you remember the movies you've seen over time that involve Gypsies? Gypsies are often portrayed as thieving, sneaky, liars and backstabbers who will sell their children if it will make them some money. There might be some truth to this since I don't know how they live on a day to day basis but what I do know is how they handle their dead.

Once again I have to admit that I can't say how Gypsies handle all of the deaths in their community because I was only involved with one funeral, and he was a prominent Gypsy. I'm not about to say he was king or leader or anything like that but he was a Gypsy that was known all over the country. When we first got the call that this man had died in one of our hospitals and his family wanted us to help them I have to admit I was a little hesitant if not worried about handling the call. I had a preconception based on all that I had seen and heard.

When his wife and children came in to see me they were accompanied by what I thought was a relative who turned out to be an advisor of sorts. All of the typical information was gathered by me so that I could file a death certificate but when it came to the actual funeral planning there was no advice needed from me. The day, time and place had all been determined prior to their meeting with me. In fact all of the details had been worked out. They were there to simply select merchandise and to tell me what I was to do. They selected the best merchandise I had to offer and the advisor promptly pulled out a wad of cash to pay for it.

The visitation lasted days and people from all over the country were there to pay respects. They cooked in our parking lot and I can't begin to imagine the number of people they fed. Every night before the last of them would leave they literally had a crew that would go around and clean up leaving the place as clean as they found it; maybe cleaner. From what I gathered, his widow was going to be taken care of very nicely. His burial didn't take place locally and we weren't involved in that aspect but from what I was told it was large but went as smooth as silk. Again, the advisor whipping out the cash to foot the bill.

That week I was reminded over and over again that preconceptions are usually wrong. These were a group of people with different cultural ways yet they still respected their deceased loved one like any other group I had ever come in contact with. They hurt like the rest of us and are just people like you and me.


Anonymous said...

I have to ask, was it refreshing dealing with people who were almost totally self-reliant? I mean to say that they decided, organized, and executed everything with little to no outside help. Do you think that that's just a side effect of dealing with more of a community of people than just an individual family? Are most people prepared to make those decisions, or do you have to coax it out of them?

I'm curious because my mother passed away unexpectedly about a year and a half ago. At 25 I had to deal with the reality that my mother was gone and I was responsible for her final arrangements. I seemed very calm and polite when I made plans with the funeral director, but I think it was only because I was in shock. Despite seeming rational, they took care of everything for me. I think the typical family doesn't really discuss all the fine details of a loved one's funeral until they are old enough to feel it's warranted. My mother and I were no different and I had no idea what needed to be done, so even picking the music seemed beyond my capability.

No offense to the funeral home, or to your profession. They helped me out a lot, but I think they (probably many people in the profession) must be so desensitized (I expect you have to be, much like a doctor) to death and grief.

When I picked out the plot for her burial they took me to see the location (they drove me over to it in a golf cart). It was so professional, polite, and sterile that they reminded me of morbid Realtors. As if I was checking out an apartment. The future home of my mother's body seemed like a "rental of the dead."

While my mom's funeral felt more like an exhibition, the survivors of this man seem lucky. They seem like they were attending more of a homecoming. I'm sorry about all the rambling. I really enjoyed your post.

DeathSweep said...

Let me try to answer some of your questions from my point of view. Obviously, I, nor can anyone, speak for an entire group be it a community or profession so I will answer your questions from my heart. You ask if it was refreshing dealing with a family that was almost self-relient - In one word I would have to say - yes - since all of what I do is for the individual(s) and you have pointed out that many people don't have a clue where to begin, it's sometimes difficult to be sure that the plans I am executing are what they really want.

I'm sure that you're being left to take care of you mothers final care at such a young age was more than difficult; probably the worst thing you have ever had to do. I take no offense at your feeling that members of my profession must be desensitized to grief and death. Think about it, if I felt the pain and confusion that you felt, constantly, day in, day out, year in, year out, I think by now I would have been reduced to a puddle of mush. I'm not there to mourn for you, I'm there to help you through a part of your life you wished never happened.

As far as the golf cart and the feeling of morbid Realtors, I wish you didn't have to experience that; I could totally see your point.

When you say your mom's funeral felt like an exhibition, that's really a shame, seriously. Perhaps if more people were as close-knit as the Gypsy family obviously was, a funeral would more often do what it's supposed to do; gather friends and family together to support each other when needed most. I'm glad you liked the post and I hope I may have explained a thing or two ala DeathSweep.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty.

Although, to be honest while I can see the benefits of funerals as a psychological tool for release and acceptance as well as closure, but when it was all said and done, I had the ceremony to make it easier on the family, not for me.

That may seem cold at first, but for me, I realize that picking the wrong color of the flowers wasn't going to bother my mom. She's not in that grave. The part of my mother that I loved was her consciousness. Whether or not she went to heaven or found an afterlife is a moot point. What is undeniable fact is that it's just her body in the ground.

I say exhibition because that's the way people treated it, especially the family. We didn't celebrate her memory, we just mourned and pay homage her dead body. I think that's a shame.

I'm glad I experienced everything I did. Obviously I wish my mom had not have died, but I'm glad that it was so surreal. I would rather have a false sense of professional peace, a transaction, than someone trying to feign concern and understanding. Grief is funny because it's so personal no one can understand the way you feel, but so universal we all know what it's like to feel that way.

I just had to admire what seems to be a cultural view of a wake.

Anyway, can't wait for the next post.

Bryan @ One Man's Goal said...


It feels good to check in on you again! Another great post by the way.

I'm glad I could spare some time to view it.

Things have been going nuts at my site lately with the publicity and all.

Just wanted to stop in and say hey

MedStudentWife said...

Great comments have got me thinking... it has me thinking about my dad's father's funeral.

When he died we had a day of viewing. Thiose who came were of his community (all being immigrants, or 1st generation, from the same country, living together in a small town), our small family and friends. The visitation was just like what I came to expect in his lifetime, visiting his home - culturally - all were welcomed no matter the age, all a part a whole, sharing equally. Family = community came and just visited & he was there as part (in an open coffin and I bet he was enjoying it all). It was a community celebration of sorts.. kind of like the gypsies.

After the funeral, we came home to find a feast of food cooked by all the friends - a big food "pig out" and more being together - sitting outside 'til all hours talking about old stories, and remembering. Few tears,lots of love and laughs.

There was none of that "funeral" feeling that I have since experienced with other deaths. I have a very lovely and warm feeling about it all - there wasn't that "pall" forever invading everything and that need to "respect". We laffed and had fun, but still remembered the man in the way he would have wanted.

I wonder if that is the difference in funeral ritual in North America today, versus views of death in the "old" countries. If so, what a difference even one or two generations can make to the whole experience.