::written circa. Summer 2014.
As an Americanized Filipino, I find that my understanding of death, within the Filipino culture, to be quite dual-sided. With that said, the determining factor really depends on who the person is and where he or she is located. How death is socially processed, may slightly deviate from an Americanized Filipino to a nationalized citizen of the Philippines. Nonetheless, thankfully, I myself haven’t been well experienced with too many deaths. However, I do have an understanding of how Filipinos handle this inevitable part of life.
When someone passes in the Filipino culture, a “wake” period typical begins. A wake period is essentially a time of mourning that lasts approximately a week. During this time, the body is placed in an open casket, at the house of an immediate family member. For family and friends to visit, knowledge of the death is typically verbalized throughout the local society (especially in remote areas of the country, where access to technology is very low). As a result, many people come to pay their respects to the dead and those who have lost the loved one. Lastly, at the wake, many prayers are typically offered. And much like in wedding rituals, some sort of monetary donation is offered, during this time.
After the wake period, the day of burial usually begins with a grand Mass session for everyone. The local priest typically comes to the house to offer his/her services. And once the mass has ended, the casket is closed and prepared for a “burial march.” During the march, the casket is either placed in a hearse or often carried by immediate male relatives/family members of the dead. The march ideally runs from the house all the way to the burial site. Simultaneously, the priest continues to offer his/her prayers, throughout the whole walk; ensuring that the dead begins a safe ascension into heaven.
Once at the burial site, the priest offers his/her final prayers. At this point, the casket is placed into a concrete tomb, made above ground. In contrary to the American culture, concrete tombs made above ground symbolizes a closer relationship between the dead and God (Heaven).
Post burial, families and friends typically continue to mourn, as they have not fully accepted the lost. However, as time continues on, the dead is never forgotten. Often times, the dead and loss of loved ones are celebrated, as a peaceful passing. Traditionally, families continue to gather for death anniversaries and offer their prayers once again. At times during Halloween, members of the Filipino community would celebrate in graveyards; not with monstrous and horrifying ideals (as in the American culture), but rather a peaceful time in gathering alongside with the dead. Furthermore, the religious Catholic holiday of All Saints Day is celebrated, as a national holiday. And during this day, Filipinos would celebrate by remembering the dead and offering prayers.
Personally, and thankfully, I have not experienced too many deaths in my immediate family. However, as I have said previously, I do understand that it is inevitable. Throughout my life, my parents have always reminded me of All Saints Day. I was in my early childhood, when my mother’s mother past away. I could only remember the process described above faintly. I remember tons of tables everywhere with many of the men drinking scotch and/or some other alcoholic beverage. I also remember an array of musicians, with acoustic guitars, setting the consoling musical tone. My mother would occasionally tell a story or two about my grandmother’s strong pride and how she struggled to financially support her throughout school. And at those times, she would be very emotional. On the other hand, I have never seen my father shed a tear. My father’s father also past away, roughly 4/5 years ago. And till this day, my father rarely talks about his father’s death to me or my brother. Perhaps just not in front of me. My parents rarely stress any of this to me, nor do I get punished or shamed on for my cultural ignorance (as I am Americanized). They don’t necessarily expect me to follow or know any sort of the cultural ritual and practice. A general sense of respect for the dead would suffice. I would like to note that I don’t intend to be cold hearted, towards my grandparents. I do love them. I was just never maturely and physically around during those times to fully understand the depths of death.