I had to take a day off today, for my uncle's cremation. I'm back home now and I'm wondering if I should show up for yoga class. Probably not.
My relationship to my family is complicated, partly because I always feel the need to restrain (and suppress) myself in front of my relatives. Family, especially certain aunts, can be vicious and petty. But today was considerably painless, I guess because today everyone is on their best behaviour.
One of my cousin is working in the Middle East right now. He was in town for Chinese New Year, flew back to the Middle East on Monday -- but he bought a ticket home again when he found out about my uncle's passing. His plane landed just in time today for the service today.
My uncle was a retired school teacher and some of his former students were there.
Four of the nurses from the nursing home where my uncle was staying during the last few months of his life came. We were surprised that they bothered. It was very sweet of them. My dad said it was probably because my uncle was such a good-natured guy. He was. My late uncle was a man with layback charms. He had no airs, and he was kind to people. He obviously left a deep enough impression with the nurses in the final months of his life.
My cousin, G. was crying during the service. I didn't ask her about it, because her tears seem private. She lost her father a few years ago to liver cancer. She was going to donate part of her liver to help her father, but he passed away before the operation.
During the service when the congregation was chanting, I stared at the black-and-white photo of my uncle -- my dad's second older brother -- and I found myself focusing on the family resemblance between my uncle and my dad. They have the same ears, they share the likeness in their eyes and their mouths -- but my uncle had a sharper, more V-like face.
My eldest aunt and cousins were looking around the coffin earlier in the afternoon. Apparently they were looking for "lucky numbers". (There's the belief that sometimes the dead will pass on "lucky number" for the lottery. It's their way of rewarding the living, I guess. My eldest aunt seems to be the expert in discerning lucky numbers. She won $20,000 in the lottery a while back, and it financed a holiday to Beijing)
It was so traditional I couldn't help just smile. Uncle M saw what they were doing, and he just muttered (with good-humour), "Fortune-hunters."
There was no lucky number on the coffin, but when the chartered bus arrived, Eldest Aunt piped, "The bus has numbers." And she scrambled off to the carpark.
This is not to say we were enjoying ourselves at my uncle's funeral. We loved my uncle and we grieve his passing. My Eldest Aunt wept during the service -- she loved her younger brother. But in the space between, the living were just being themselves, doing strange things like looking for lucky numbers. It felt bearable, being with my extended family during the funeral.
Cousin G. drove us home after the cremation. On the way G's mother started gossiping about the other relatives, and other families. G understood that her mother is one of the "Vicious Aunts" I have always tried to avoid.
G's mother spoke badly about how some children from a particular family grew up reprobates. How they take drugs, have tattoos, and two of them have homosexual relationships.
That was when I shut off mentally. People die, and the living just continue being themselves.