In the fast paced world we live in there is very little time for living, let alone dying. In the name of progress, we rush through life replacing time spent with family and friends, with computers, and countless other gadgets that steal precious moments with our loved ones. We meet our friends or family out for a meal, and everyone sits at the table taking care of business over their cell phones or talking with someone else instead of each other. There is no alone time any more, and even a trip to Wal-Mart is not immune to the phone ringing. When death knocks on the door, we approach dying in the same hurried manner.
Loved ones left behind stress as they rush to make funeral arrangements, and at the wake say their hello’s and goodbyes to relatives and friends they have very little time for anymore, and probably won’t see again until the next funeral. Not so with the Choctaw community.
When a Native American friend, Janie, ask me to attend her uncle’s wake and funeral with her, I expected to find the usual fleeting hello’s and goodbyes, as family and friends met up with each other, offering condolences, a quick hug, and a sympathetic pat on the back before they rush on with their lives. What I found was something our modern world has not yet stolen from the Choctaw Tribe; time to grieve.
In the Choctaw community every cousin is important, and no one bothers with 1st, 2nd, or 3rd cousins and so on. Either you are kin or you are not, and almost everyone is kin. Funerals are often held in the home, and family and friends gather pretty much around the clock, coming and going at will for about three days and nights of grieving and story telling around an outside fire that is not allowed to die, but must be kept going day and night, some say, to keep away evil spirits. Foods like hominy or fried chicken are cooked slowly over the fire in big, black iron pots. Janie’s uncle’s funeral would be no different.
As his body lay in the living room in a simple casket where loved ones came and went freely or gathered to sing songs in their Native American tongue. There was no need for me to try and understand the words because the spirit of the songs told me everything I needed to know. It brought back memories of when I was a child and my grandmother’s lifeless body graced our living room.
Afterward, his body was carried to the family grave yard, and buried right next to the home where he grew up.
Even though his spirit was gone from his body, it remained with his family throughout those three days. His family welcomed him into the world with joy, and in his death took the time to truly grieve his departure.
A simple man laid to rest beneath the land he lived on, loved on, and died on. Surrounded by what is important in life….Family and friends.