“Who are you here for?” the slim elegant man asked at the entrance of the Crematorium.
He had the “physique du role”.
Let’s call my departed friend “Mr D.”.
Direction were easy enough and I entered this big room, nicely decorated, with columns and a painted wall to give the importance of an old sacred place without being one at all.
It was full of people and the first things I noticed were the wooden, light colored coffin and a TV screen with his name followed by an exclamation point , “D.!” on it alternating with the brand “Pioneer”.
Soon after I noticed a very low voice mumbling something in Dutch. It was the sister, I asked, talking about him.
After her, many friends and family members took the microphone with arranged speeches in floating pieces of papers.
I couldn’t understand everything, but where my language skills didn’t arrive, my imagination contributed.
They were sharing anecdotes, stories, pieces of a lived life interrupted early, at age 52, after one night of Salsa dancing.
Very sentimental moments alternates with humorous ones – “He was always late!” – told the sister – “And not just a little, but a lot late!”. Everyone laughed at it, because everyone there knew Mr D.
“He liked good food and good drinks” a friend says, remembering how he used to BBQ maximizing the results and minimizing the efforts.
From the speeches it came up clearly that Mr D. liked food, drinking and women. Amen to that. No attempts to honor any good behavior accepted by society, but genuine memories of a friend from his friends.
A man started his speech with a “Godverdomme!”, a colorful expression defined in Urbandictionary.com as “The worst swear word in Dutch; first word English speaking people learn when they go to Holland”.
Every now and then, one of the bands where Mr D. used to play gather together to perform a piece.
Multiple folks remembered his ex Cuban girlfriend, and his many trips to Cuba.
Mr D. has been a professional photographer for many years, till he decided to stop and store all his pictures in the attic.
When I met him, 2 years ago, he was an house painter often showing up at the rehearsals with dirty hands and clothes.
I also have my own anecdote about Mr D.! He has been to Colombia some 20 years ago, when Colombia was really dangerous.
Like me, he crossed the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia. Unlike me, he took speed boats instead of a catamaran through the San Blas Islands and ended up to Turbo, a little doomed village that Lonely Planet suggest to pass by at turbo speed.
When he arrived, the major of the place asked to see him:
“Are you a photographer? We just got 4 beheaded bodies, can you take some pictures for the police?”
Surely his stories inspired me to go to Colombia (avoiding Turbo).
Another laugh, another tear, a performance from the Brazilian percussion group he was part of, and then the mother saying thanks to everyone for being there.
Touching to see both his parents surviving their son.
Then the doors open, and everyone could leave passing close to the coffin for the last greeting.
We gathered outside, waiting the rest of the music band, and I shared my cultural shock for my first Dutch funeral. They warned me: “they are not all like this, this was very nice!”. “It was light and humorous”. A friend said a big truth: “I know him more now than one week ago.”.
A Dutch funeral seems to me like the last chance, the last opportunity to know someone and to remember him all together with the good and the bad things.
But what do I know about funerals, anyway? I was in Corsica here when my grandmother Dina died, and I was in U.S. when my grandfather Franco died.
Being emigrated to Holland, I could not be to a lot of others funerals of relatives that passed away.
I remember Italians funerals like the utmost sad moments, lead by a priest, in a gloomy church, surrounded by sad people, God forbid laughter!
Then we proceeded all together to the pub. Yes, the pub!
Mr D. liked drinking and enjoying life, right? So let’s honor him with a toast.
I entered the pub and found a big sign: “Mr D.” with an arrow pointing right. I followed the arrow and I ended up in a big room full of people, a waiter asking me “wat wilt u drinken?” (a formal “what do you drink?”) in front of coffee cups and whine glasses.
A buffet with sandwiches was waiting in a side of the room.
The trick here has been ordering a coffee first, not to look like an alcoholic longing for that moment.
I was sharing my culture shock with a musician friend and he shared back with me. “My father’s funeral was great. We had a lot of fun with the family, drinking and telling stories about him. It was great!”.
I’m not judging. I know the effect that this made on me, because I grow up in a culture where death is seen as a defeat, as a disgrace and as something to mourn as a way to show how much the person was appreciated.
I remember not longer than 12 years ago a colleague dressing black for months, mourning his father’s death.
Widows in south Italy dress black for years, possibly the rest of their life, indicating that they lost their husband.
The longer they dress black, the more someone scream and shout at a funeral, the more indicates that the person loves the departed.
And there I was, looking at the parents of my deceased friend dancing Salsa.
Yes, because Mr D. was a musician and also a passionate dancer. So in the party in his honor a DJ started playing Salsa music.
Suddenly a man shouted “Attention please!” with a boot in his hand. A colorful plastic boot that, for my biggest surprise, served the purpose to collect money to help the family paying the funeral bill.
I ended up doing networking in the funeral. I got introduced to a band that is looking for a new conguero, so I started chatting the Aruban singer and ended up dancing a couple of songs with her.
The “funeral job interview” ended up exchanging numbers and philosophizing about life and the absence of it.
And talking about absence, it will truly be weird next Tuesday, when the band will gather together to start the new season and Mr. D won’t be there on my right playing cow bell and bongos as usual.
Doei Doei Diederik.