Loss

Timing is everything sometimes.
On a Monday my (Swazi) grandmother tells me her granddaughter passed away.

That Friday my Grandfather from America passed away. On Saturday, just a day later, my Swazi family and I attended the funeral for the granddaughter. We were all, together, grieving a loss of a loved one. Losing a family member from the states while abroad is a very isolating feeling. Hearing my mom on the phone, hearing her pain, made me want to get on a plane back home. Fortunately, I was surrounded by my Swazi family, where there was love, laughter and a place to feel safe. 

The story- I arrived home after a night away from my community, when my gogo came up to me and told me “Nobuhle, Tuliele has died” in SiSwati. I was caught off guard and didn’t know the appropriate response other than, I’m sorry gogo. Tuliele is my gogo’s grand daughter and a semi-frequent visitor on our homestead. The few moments after gogo told me the news, I remember that she just visited us all last week. Neighbors, family members from all around came to our homestead that week to sit and sing SiSwati mourning songs with my gogo. It was a somber time, and later that week I learned that the lady who passed had taken her own life. She left behind four children and a husband. My make told me the funeral was on Saturday and that I could join if I wanted. This was my first traditional Swazi funeral. The funeral was at another family member’s homestead, still in the community where I stay. We arrived, by car, at about 8am Saturday morning to start cooking. Over all, the aunties and I cooked four meals for over 60 people that were attending the funeral. Cooking was my main job for the entirety of the funeral that lasted for the whole day on Saturday, all night and until twelve noon on Sunday.

 When I wasn’t cooking, I spent most of the free time I had talking to this enthusiastic girl. She really wanted to understand what it was like for me to live in the United States. Her big 12 year old eyes stared at me and asked, “No really tell me what a “normal” day was like for you there?”. I was shock because that is the first time I was asked a concrete question like that; instead of the normal, “do you know Obama?” or “One day I wish to go to America, so that I will be rich”. This 12- year old girl was asking me (I think) more eye-opening questions about my life from the USA than I have been asked in my whole service here. She asked other things like, “What were classes in college like?”, “How much does a person get paid?”. I talked to her for about an hour and was so impressed by her English and her poise as a young women. My make told me a few minutes after I began my cooking job again, that this 12 year old girl was one of the children who just lost her mother to suicide. Her mom didn’t die from cancer, or a car accident, she made the decision to end her own life. I thought, How is a girl, just starting to develop into a women going to handle that? All the aunties at the funeral kept saying “she will bounce back, she’s still young”. I hope the light and curiosity stays within her, and never stops asking those good questions.

 How this traditional Swazi funeral started: The close family members most effected from the loss come to the homestead a week or so before the funeral, sometimes right after the death occurs. They all sleep in one room together on sleeping pads, mourning together day and night, until the day of burial. The funeral is a weekend event, people arrive anywhere from Friday to late morning on Saturday. Early Saturday, the men set up the large tent for the all-night vigil to be held in and dig the hole for the casket. The women, cook, clean & are always tending to those who are mourning in the large room. The guests enter in the house to the large room to greet them, cry with them and sympathize their great loss. The body arrives in the afternoon on Saturday and is set in the middle of the room where everyone is staying. At traditional Swazi funeral’s people believe the deceased body must rest a full night at home, before it is buried. Thus, why the funeral service is all throughout the night. When the night comes, dinner is served to everybody. Late night, about 10pm, the casket is opened for viewing. I tried to stay back during this process and for most of the service, as I said my own thoughts and prayers to my Grandfather who just passed. 

 The night vigil consisted of singing, drinking tea, and staying warm. At about 5am the casket with the body is brought down to the burial site. Most burials happen on the homestead in which the person lived. More singing, praying, and mourning take place there. The casket is then lowered into the ground, as men pile dirt on it and stomp the dirt down. I think that was the weirdest part for me, watching people stomp on top of the grave to pack the dirt down. The men that were doing it actually seemed to be dancing as they stomped their boots to pack down the dirt. A final prayer was said, during this all the women sit down as the men stand up. I didn’t ask why, maybe too tired to do so. Another serving of food was distributed as the people left and went home the next morning. Exhausted after being up for over 27 hours I slept the rest of the day on Sunday. In a way I felt closer to my family back home, as they were mourning, I was doing the same thing half a world away.

My sisi & the girl I talked to at the funeral laying together, looking up at the stars at 3am

4 thoughts on “Loss

  1. Ally, you gave a good discription of the mourning and funeral over there, very different from your grandfather’s memorial that we were at last Sunday! Did anyone ask you what a funeral is like over here?
    Years ago when I was a young girl, I faintly remember my grandmother’s casket layed out at her house and sleeping there in the next room. I think it was cheaper to have a person layed out in their home instead of the funeral parlor in those days.

    Like

    • Thanks Grandma! People did ask me how it was different. I told Swazi’s about cremation and they thought I was lying.
      That’s crazy that you can remember your grandmothers funeral! It is definitely a cheeper option and more personal feel to a funeral as well.

      Like

      • That was my Mother’s mother that died when I was quite young and her family was poor. My grandma Galanski( my Dad’s mom ) was in good health and lived a long life, I traveled with her to California one time.
        We love reading your stories, keep them coming!

        Like

      • Thanks Grandma, I will try. It’s always hard to define what I want to write. I feel like I could ramble on for days, but I like bringing more specific examples of my life here to light when I find the inspiration to do so!

        Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s