By Helena Rodriquez
Been to any good funerals lately?
These days, funerals seem more like family reunions to me because that’s the only time my mom sees some of her relatives. She was so close to them as a child, but has since grown apart due to time and space. Seeing tios, tias, primos and primas, second- and third-cousins reuniting, hugging each other and playing catch up, I often have to remind myself that we are there for a funeral.
After a long time of going without any funerals, I’ve been to two lately — for my daughter’s godfather, Robert Pacheco Sr., and then, this past week, for my second cousin, Tony Chavez of Moriarty. As the rigs from Tony “Tiger’s” trucking company were sounding off their horns at the cemetery, I started thinking about funerals and weddings because this family also has a wedding coming up in a few weeks. Among Tony’s last words before a series of heart bypasses was for his family to go ahead with the wedding celebration regardless of the outcome.
It was while standing there during the burial that I thought about how long it’s been since our family has had a wedding. It’s been at least three years. My mom and I started talking about how a lot of people in our community do not even get married anymore.
The Sunday lifestyles section of the newspaper used to have several engagements a month of people we knew, but nowadays, it’s a rarity. A lot of people end up living together first or staying single like me. As a result, my 15-year-old daughter Laura and her teenage cousins have not had many opportunities to experience traditional Mexican-American weddings, which are day- and night-long affairs rich in cultural traditions.
Getting back to funerals though, I don’t know if it’s just me or not, but funerals don’t seem as sad as they were when I was a child. I remember some pretty emotional funerals. Maybe it was due to the circumstances. Then again, I wonder if some of our unwritten customs have been rewritten. And perhaps it’s a sort of desensitizing effect that has taken place due to the media.
It seems to me it’s become even more socially unacceptable to cry in public than in years past. I remember people hanging on to coffins and constantly bursting into tears during the velorios and rosaries of my childhood. Mom says that maybe it’s because “the end,” as they call it, is closer than ever, and that’s why people don’t cry as much now, because they know they will be reunited with their loved ones soon. But I still can’t help but think there has been some desensitizing occurring over the years. As a result, I think a lot of mourning now occurs behind closed doors.
Every time I attend a funeral, especially when we go a long time without one, I think in my mind of what it will be like when death hits closer to home. I’ve been fortunate in my life in that there have not been many deaths in my close family. I can count on one hand those that did: Grandma Emma, Grandpa Madrid, Grandpa Chico and Uncle Hymie. But even to this day, death has not hit my immediate family. And so each funeral makes me think death is bound to hit my immediate family sooner or later, either in spurts or all at once.
I can’t live my life worrying about death, though, or my own inevitable demise, which naturally comes into my thoughts when I attend funerals. At my mom’s age, death is a bigger reality of life. That’s the main reason she reads the newspaper every day, to look for familiar faces in the obituaries.
I’m sure life will bring me to that point too. But for now, all I can do, all any of us can do, is live our lives to the fullest and trust that God will give us the courage to get through any death in the family … when that time comes.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: