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Sunday, May 19, 2013

International Funeral Customs

I was very close to my grandfather, and when he died, my mother phoned me up to ask me to be a pallbearer. When I got off the phone, I told my husband about my mother's request, but he wasn't sure what I was talking about, being Japanese and having grown up in a society in which cremation was the norm. So I explained to him that I would be helping carry my grandfather's casket, and that this was a way that I could honor him and his life. I launched into a discussion on what it meant to be a pallbearer and what the duties were and so on and so forth.

"Will you be wearing a special costume?" asked my husband.

While I thought his choice of words was odd, I was used to his non-native-English-speaker slip-ups and assumed he meant a special outfit. I told him that I would wear what I normally wear to funerals, a conservative outfit.

"Well, you'll at least be wearing white, right?" he persisted. No, I said, I would be wearing something dark, although not necessarily black since people aren't so strict about black in the West these days. I then launched into a mini-lecture on how this differed from Japan, where a certain dye lot of black is the only acceptable color for funerals--not just any old black, but a very specific light-annihilating black with its own special name that you must ask for when buying a funeral suit. So I explained that in the West we no longer wore only black, but usually favored somber colors, though not always, and that I'd even seen my second cousin wear a summery floral print to her grandmother's funeral. On and on I went.

When I finished, my husband again asked, "You're not going to wear white?" He was fixated on this point.

I assured him that no, I was not wearing white.

He was still clearly perplexed, and I thought to myself, Well, our customs are really different; I guess it's going to take him awhile to get used to the idea of a Western funeral.

My husband thought things over for another minute, and then said , "Okay, I give up. Why is it called being a polar bear?"


Tressa said...

I have a visual of a polar bear pallbearer!

Belatedly ~ sorry for your loss and happy for your memories.

Chris said...

I love this story. And here's a P.S. of sorts. I started to tell it to my Japanese wife. I asked her if she knew what a pallbearer was? "A polar bear?" she asked.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Tressa. As you surmised, it's a bittersweet memory.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Chris, I love that your spouse responded so similarly to mine!

Anonymous said...

A lovely story, thank you for sharing it.
Anne B

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Thanks for taking time to comment, Anne B.

Karen J. Weyant said...

I'm very sorry for your loss, but thanks so much for sharing this story. When I read your post out loud to Anthony, we both had to laugh.

Thinking and sending good thoughts across the ocean!

Jessica Goodfellow said...


Glad you and yours enjoyed the story.

Leslie Jam said...

Late to the party but I LOVE this Jess and I love your wonderful grandparents too. They are truly treasures.

Miss and love you!

p.s. do you realize we met for the first time 3 decades ago. Luckily we were 10

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Hey Les! Yes, three decades ago (how is that possible?). Also, yesterday would have been my grandfather's 100th many things to reflect on.