W is for wake

“We once smuggled half a pig worth of meat over the German border.” villager M says; “Chorizo, hams, the lot, under the kids’ feet.” The other villager laughs and nods. I’m sitting wedged between the two, I want her to tell me more, but someone walks in, stalling the conversation, he halts in front of the coffin.

I am not Catholic, I have no idea how to cross myself, but it impresses me seeing others do it, the casualness of it. A whispered “Who is that?”

The room is not unlike a waiting room, chairs against the walls, clean floor, white walls and at the far end, behind a glass wall is the coffin. I’ve been to several wakes, so now I know how it works. The first time I made the mistake to walk straight up to the family of the deceased after having thrown a brief glance at the coffin. What you have to do however is stand there in front of the coffin in a short moment of prayer, being scrutinised, because that is exactly what happens at that moment, hearing the hushed “Who is she?”

People chat at wakes, there is nothing much else to do. Chat about the people who walk in, chat about the weather and chat about the deceased. I found out that nothing but good about the dead does not apply here.

At some point a  priest will come in and everyone stands up and joins in prayer, sentences repeated over and over, it feels odd when you cannot join in. At the last wake I went to a priest’s nerves took over. He hadn’t been assigned to the area long, basketball player sized, extremely nervous in his mid twenties and lacking all the charisma of the previous young priest who everyone loved. I felt a bit sorry for him when the village women told me that he wasn’t very good at giving mass. I joked that perhaps the high turnover rate of priests here had something to do with them. His hands were shaking when he opened his bible and began to dedicate the prayer using the name of the husband of the deceased instead. There was this moment of awkwardness until someone dared to tap him on the shoulder and correct him. His already fragile confidence would have been heard shattering on the floor if he hadn’t managed to cushion it with profuse apologies.

Wake normally takes place over two days, after that is  the funeral mass  in church and the funeral itself.  Funerals are like village parties, if you’ve been to one, you’ve been to all. The amount of priests who turn up is  linked to the amount of money the family can afford for the mass.
Men sit in front of the church, women in the back, but even church has that bit of no mans land in the middle where men sit next to women.

Church has an unbelievably ugly statue of Santiago de Compostela on his white horse, staring down at the congregation. At the top of him is something which is meant to represent the sun, but it lacks symmetry, it should hang that tiny bit more to the left.

It always disturbs me.

More so than the cracks in the walls.

I like those cracks in the walls. I like them because they obviously shouldn’t be there, but no one bothered to cover them up.



5 thoughts on “W is for wake

  1. This is so similar to the Irish wakes I have attended – I buried my mother last year. Ritual is a great comfort whether or not ones believes and in Ireland there is even a traditional saying to be used at times of bereavement: “I’m sorry for your trouble”. That covers the tragic early death of a much moved family member and the passing of a miserable so-and-so everyone is glad to see the back of and all points between….

  2. Funerals are complicated. I started out Roman Catholic and now I’m Russian Orthodox Christian. Lots of rules, loooooong services. It does give one the feeling of having been thorough about the observance.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. Happy A to Z!

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