It is a sad and inevitable fact that we all must eventually pass on and leave this world behind. Our story will end, the final credits will roll, and everyone who was a part of our personal story will carry us in their hearts until they, too, pass on. We, my wife, myself, and our circle of friends and family, recently lost someone of great importance to us and it got me to thinking about the dead and booze...
Mourning is a very personal act and one that expresses sorrow, not for the dead, whatever is going on for them, they don’t need your sorrow. No, mourning is for the living, to be sad that they must continue on without that bright spark that was their loved one. Cultures the world over have different ways of mourning their deceased, and much of it involves drinking to one level of numbness or another.
Oh all the time that e'er I spent,
I spent it in good company;
And any harm that e'er I've done,
I trust it was to none but me;
May those I've loved through all the years
Have memories now they'll e'er recall;
So fill me to the parting glass,
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
The Irish are most famous for combining booze and remembrance with their wakes. It’s not a funeral, far from it. It’s a party to “wake” the sleeping stories of their departed. There is dancing, music, cheer, and drinks. They hold one last hurrah for their loved one and send them off to whatever comes next with love and laughter. This appeals to me, personally, as I hate seeing my friends depressed. I’d much rather them drink too much, make out with someone completely inappropriate, and have a hazy story to tell the next day.
In Mexico, the tradition of the velario takes place. Here, the deceased is placed at home and over the next 24-48 hours, food and drink is served to all who come by to pay their respects. It’s a family affair and the dead are treated as much a part of the family as the living. Eventually, the deceased loved one travels on to the graveyard and the whole family will continue to visit their grave on November 1st, All Saints Day. For Mexico, just because you’re dead doesn’t excuse you from the family. All Saints Day is a family outing with children and oldsters, all picnicking and sharing the year’s gossip with their absent relatives. I’ve always loved this tradition, as it lessens the fear of death. If you can be assured that you will still be loved long after you pass, and, if there is anything after death, you’ll be there to welcome family and friends when it’s their turn to cross the Great River. Besides, who in their right mind would turn down free tequila and endless tamales? No one, that’s who.
Oh all the comrades that e'er I had,
Are sorry for my going away;
And all the loved ones that e'er I had
Would wish me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot
That I should leave and you should not,
I'll gently rise and I'll softly call
Goodnight, and joy be with you all.
Every person, every culture mourns differently. Personally, I’ll be raising some Irish with one hand and a flauta with the other. The important part, whatever your toast of choice may be, is to hold the memory of your loved one up to the light, to not let your sadness overshadow all of the joy you had together, and to keep those memories deep in your heart where they will keep you warm for as long as you walk in the world.
Take care, my friends, and cherish your loved ones with every minute you have together.
Jeff has been a professional writer, bartender, and clown, sometimes all at once. He grew up along California's central coast before disappearing into the wilds of San Francisco. He appeared sporadically in those foggy mists as a featured artist for the Ramshackle Farm art gallery, a founding writer for Mockery Press, and an actor and clown on the Embarcadero and in a number of local theater companies. He tended bar in a range of dive bars before heading East to travel Europe and drink in those sights, and he does mean "drink". After his bank account and his liver required a break, he dropped back into the City and was astonished at how much rents had gone up.
Jeff currently resides in San Francisco and is the proud protector of two apartment-sized animals and a rent controlled apartment lease.