My twelve-year-old's Great-Aunt Eileen, from his mother's side, passed on Monday. She was one of twelve kids in a large irish clan, pretty much like mine. Only where we had and still have cops they have firemen, and where we did home repairs they worked in the construction trades.
So a lot of firemen at the wake and funeral in and out of uniform. And some trade union talk at the party after the funeral.
I dug Eileen a lot. She didn't beat around the bush, told you like it was, but also had a way of making you feel special when it was her, really, who was special. A one of a kind woman with two grown sons and grandchildren and a second husband she'd been with for close to thirty years who helped her raise her sons, an Italian-American mailman with a kind and giving presence in their community.
Good people, not stereotypes of anything, as most "real" folks aren't despite the so-called "reality shows" and the cliches that abound on them (think "Jersey Shore" on which most of the cast members—and cast is the correct word which should give the lie to any claims of "reality"—are New Yorkers mostly from Long Island, go figure).
It was a sad occasion, but true to the Irish tradition I grew up with, it wasn't a sad affair. People ate and drank and laughed and shared stories and caught up and as someone said Eileen would have loved that it felt more like a family reunion than a wake and funeral.
I'm grateful for many aspects of the Irish way of doing things and seeing things I grew up with (and still bridle at the aspects that led me to leave home as soon as I could, but thankfully have changed and continue to change, like one of the younger cousins there with her African-American husband and they couldn't have been more happy or compatible, or accepted for that matter, a wonderful change from my youth).
But the tradition I am most grateful for is our way of mourning and celebrating someone's passing at once, as if they were the same thing or of equal importance, which they are.