WHEN WE alit from the tricycle (a side-car vehicle powered by a motorcycle), after literally the last leg of a 16-hour trip between Wellington (NZ) and San Carlos City, Pangasinan, there was about 10 meters between the gate and the front door, but no one stepped out to receive us or help with our bags. As Mahal’s nephews and nieces started running out to greet her, they were quickly shushed and waved away by their respective parents, Mahal’s siblings. Later we were told that when a person enters a funeral held in a house (where funerals are usually held in rural areas) for the first time, he or she must enter alone and must not be received by loved ones until the former has finished entering such dwelling. Something about the first entry being special and symbolizing entry into the next world, that much I got.
As soon as Mahal came in though it was tears and group hugs all around; her dad had been a good husband and father to all of them, his wife and seven kids, provided all the love, guidance and parenting that a father was capable of, just that his time came too soon. Now it was for the rest of the family to carry on.
I’d been to Mahal’s childhood home twice before, and on each visit it was immaculate. Not so this time, and not just because there were many many visitors and condolers (is that the word?) . It was considered inauspicious to do any sort of cleaning while the family was in mourning. And because everyone was so busy with cooking, attending to guests, selecting songs on the karaoke and other tasks, it might have been just as well.
Less bearable than an untidy house (that unsurprisingly no one seemed to mind) was the fengshui-ish injunction against anybody bathing, showering or otherwise doing any ablutions, which apparently was also verboten in a house of temporary mourning. On this issue I could see many members of the family, particularly the younger generation, starting to buckle under the antideluvian rule. Was it a hard and fast rule? When was it instituted? Fortunately, the local arbularyo (medicine man) commented that it wasn’t strictly applied anymore, and at least the very young children could be bathed. And speaking of young children there were quite a few, as Mahal was in a brood of seven, almost all of whom were married with offspring.
None of the immediate family in general served guests, it was up to extended family who I admit were quite devoted to their tasks as if they were the next of kin. The reasoning was I think the deceased was to be alone in his trek to the next world and involving oneself in serving guests would be tempting fate. Of course there were exceptions, like Mahal’s younger brothers who were quite solicitous of our needs.
Each time some mourner or visitor left the premises we weren’t allowed to say or wave goodbye, it was considered bad luck, just asking for trouble. No matter how well somebody sang a song on the videoke we also weren’t supposed to clap or applaud him/her, yup bad luck again. And I know it’s a bit creepy, but even in the wee hours of the night when nearly everyone was turning in, at least one person had to stay awake to keep vigil over the deceased. Believe it or not, when even the designated person fell asleep and the whole house was quiet Wednesday morning, my mother-in-law says she felt a nudge from nowhere and guiltily fixed coffee for herself. How could not even one of the family stay awake for her beloved?
Every member of the family immediate or extended was welcome to attend the funeral, in fact the wake was held for more than a week just to suit this purpose. Relatives from everywhere, would you believe some who happened to be vacationing from Australia asked if it were possible for the bereaved to wait for them? No problem, Papa (the deceased) would’ve welcomed distant cousins early or late, from near or far.
The morning of the eve of Mahal’s dad’s interment talk was rife about purchasing a live adult sow for the humongous dinner later that night, which would’ve been attended by the entire barangay and all branches of the bereaved families. When I commented that buying a live animal would require efforts to slaughter, dress and clean the pig (obviously), Mahal explained that one of the common funeral practices in their province was to slaughter a pig, drain its blood completely and to bring the same around the four corners of the household, probably a practice that found its roots in ritual sacrifice to appease spirits and to facilitate the deceased’s journey into the next world. With a few centuries’ worth of tradition backing that up, it was hardly the time to say anything negative.
I’m sure there’ll be one or two more surprises about Pinoy funerals and wakes I’ll discover. Thanks for keeping us company in Mahal’s difficult time!