Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Italian Family

My sister-in-law is from an Italian family and although her mother lived in the UK most of her life and married and English man, she passed down a strong sense of her Italian roots. Sadly she died a few months ago and nothing could have brought home her Italian Catholic background and contrasted it with her English life more sharply than her funeral. It took place on a cold winter morning (as all funerals do) and was dramatic from the start. My brother called me at 11.00 the previous night and asked if I could bring my mother as he had found he had a house full of Italians who needed a lift. The Italian family knew it was their duty to send a representation and three men arrived from their village near Rimini. They were of varying ages from late thirties to fifties and arrived in their jeans, warm jackets and sun glasses; (although it was cold it was sunny). There was apparently a family drama as my sister-in-law's mother had specifically said that she didn't want a full burial mass as she didn't want to think of all the congregation bored and cold. The priest was not happy and whether it was because of this or some other issue, some family members or friends had been excluded from the service and told not to come. As my sister-in-law's mother arrived (I realised I never knew her first name until the priest read it out during the service) the three Italian men walked forward, picked up the coffin from the hearse and carried her in to the alter. As they placed her there they crossed themselves and shed their own public tears. I realised then why they had been chosen as the family representatives as they were the most able to be able to undertake this duty. After the ceremony we went to the cemetery. My mother and I were desperate to wee but with no toilet in sight we climbed over a fence and went on the edge of the cemetery, unfortunately not quite far enough away from some graves. I hoped the dead would understand out needs! The priest, who was waiting with us for the arrival of the coffin, realised what we had done and thought it was quite funny. At the burial ( I had never been to one before as most non-Catholics are cremated) my brother seemed a bit shocked to be handed something that I assume was holy water to sprinkle over the grave. After the burial we went to a hotel for some food. I couldn't talk much with the Italian relatives as I don't speak any Italian and they don't speak English but it was somehow a bit reassuring to feel that we were almost related.

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