I'm attending a Filipino wake, or paglalamay, this evening in the home of my recently deceased aunt. I've attended many of these over the years. While most of my family prays the Rosary, I watch and listen. I find the process comforting. It's a ritual my family performs any time a Catholic family member dies. The process goes on for a long time while Protestants and at least one atheist, wait in an adjoining room. It's bad form to interrupt the proceedings; even when delicious Filipino food waits in the kitchen.
I asked my wife about the ritual on the first night of the wake a week ago. I don't understand why people participate in what seems like a meaningless recitation of memorized words and prayers. Being a engineer, she answered directly. "People need to feel like they are doing something meaningful when in reality they cannot do much. Praying the Rosary makes people feel like they are doing something." I think she is spot on.
The need for people to do something is overwhelming. At least this way my family feels like they are providing my Uncle and his children a service. Its based in love and respect. I can tell it means something to my stoic and devastated uncle. Alas, it means nothing to me. I understand religion as a concept, but its practice mystifies me.
I too feel a need to do something. I want to help. It's natural to feel this way. As I sit here and watch my cousin pour through family photos, I see bright eye and smiles. I can help the process in my own small way, and I will if needed. I'll drive people around and maybe make a photo album or two if asked, I'll do whatever I can to be a good member of a loving family. It's the right thing to do.
The grieving process is never easy. You find out a person's true character by watching how they grieve. What I can tell by watching my parents generation grieve is that they love each other. You can feel the love wash over you. The love for each other, for those who lost a mother or grandmother, or even for me, who lost a loving aunt, is real. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel. I belong here, even though I don't share their beliefs. This is my family and I love them all.