Death. Such an ugly word. It’s so… ending. Why am I writing about death? It’s all around us, you know. Trees die, flowers die, animals die… we die… oops, there, I said it. People just hate talking about the end. We know it is coming but we all hope that we somehow cheat it. Benjamin Franklin said about death, “Some people die at age 25 but are not buried until age 75.” How true. Another saying I heard was that a person dies three times. First when his heart stops, second when he is buried, and the last time when his name is last mentioned. Think about it. That’s pretty deep, wouldn’t you say.
They also say that deaths come in threes. In the last few weeks, I know four people that passed away. So after the first three, did the death cycle start again and I’m waiting for the other two, or, was this trilogy of death just like a leap year with an added death?
Isn’t this subject morbid?
Just like everything else we Greeks do in life, we have our traditions (and quarks) in death. I can remember my mother telling me that when she was a small girl in the Greek village, after 9 years, they would disinter (that means – dig up) the deceased, take the bones out, pass the skull around, clean it all up with some nice wine, each relative would kiss it, and then place the bones and skull in a box and put it in the Church for eternity. Sometimes when they opened the coffin they would find the body turned around or scratches on the inside of the lid of the coffin. You know what that meant… no, they weren’t vampires – you’re watching too many True Blood movies. It meant they weren’t dead yet when they were buried. Yuck!!! Lucky we have Vraim Funeral Home to make sure we’re truly dead and gone when they bury us.
While writing this article, I found out the difference between a “coffin” and a “casket.” I know this question is keeping you up at nights, so if you are a vampire and you need to know the difference, a “coffin” comes from the Greek word (thank you Mr. Portokalos), “kophinos,” meaning “basket.” Coffin usually refers to the Dracula style box with the wider top and tapered toward the feet and is usually 6- or 8-sided. You know the type… vampires and victims of Wild West gunslingers are buried in them. A casket is the 4-sided rectangular box with opening lid for viewing. My view, coffins are like the European cut fitted shirts and caskets are our American full-size shirts!!
Greeks are a tragic-loving people and take death seriously. The Irish party at their wakes. The Vikings use to send their dead out in boats and bar-be-que their loved ones. The Ancient Greeks use to burn them too, and placing coins over each eye to pay Charon, the ferryman to take their dead over the River Styx to Hades. Nothing is free, even back then!
The modern Greeks send off their loved ones in tears and sorrow, and flowers and donations to the church and every other charity under the sign. I’ve been to those Greek funerals where they have the little old Greek ladies dressed in black that would wail funeral laments and dirges. They would chant about the recently deceased’s life and about the family. Those ladies were good too. Each one knew when to come in or when to hold back. They knew when to add something about the loved one’s life that was sure to bring sobs from the mourners when the emotions had calmed down. The more sobs the better they are. Those old lady wailers remind me of something from a scene in a Monty Python movie. “Bring out your dead!” Remember that one?
At the memorial luncheon after the burial, known as the “makaria,” the Greeks try to act a little Irish by giving shots of Metaxa out to the mourners. The Irish would laugh at that. They would want the whole bottle… or two and if there was music, even better.
Another tradition is the wearing of black. We wear black or neutral colors out of respect not for the deceased, since he doesn’t know and probably doesn’t care, but for the family. To wear colors, no matter how subdued, at a funeral is seen as a slap in the face to the family. Did you know, at one time, for a woman to wear black other than when she was mourning, was looked down upon. Fortunately, that is no longer the case. Just go to any Greek dance, bouzoukia, or club or look at any Greek woman’s wardrobe closet and it’s 99% black. Asians and Indians wear white and if a deceased Chinese is over 80 years old, they wear red. Can you imagine walking into Yiayia’s funeral viewing wearing an entire white bedazzled outfit like Elvis in his 1973 concert in Hawaii! Lol.
Everyone has their own thoughts about that final day. I have a friend that insists that when he dies, he wants a Greek band to play at his funeral luncheon. Can you imagine that? The band leader announces, “And now our next song, ‘Oli Tha Zisoume,’ is dedicated to our dear departed friend and we want everyone to get up and dance, well, not our friend since he’s dead.” Maybe only certain songs could be played, such as ‘Dio Portes Ehi I Zoi.’ Nope, I don’t see it happening. You have enough music from the priest, the psalti and the three little old ladies dressed in black, or as I call those old ladies, the Trio Bel Halia.
Another friend told me that when he goes and they have his body in the casket for viewing, he wants to be placed face down with his derriere exposed because he has been kissing “you know what” all his life, and now everyone can kiss his “you know what.!” I love Greeks. Oh, I forgot, too. I had to spit three times while writing this article so I don’t jinx myself and walk outside and get hit by a falling meteorite and instantly obliterated. Dust to dust, and all that!
In the end… of this article, not my life, I thought about my death and how I want to go. When that time comes – I hope many, many years from now, and the sun is setting, and my family is around my bedside sobbing and holding my hand (I’m sure some will be impatiently looking at Instagram or Twitter and wondering how long before they can leave), upon the instant of my passing I am going to turn to all and say with my last breathe, in a soft, struggling whisper, “The gold is buried in the…” and then expire! In other words, go out with a bang and a smile on your face.
As Mr. Spock said, “Long life and prosper, my friends.”
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