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Whatsapp In a rollicking pub on the edge of the Bronx, an Irish-American enclave clings tight to the tradition of celebrating, rather than mourning, their dead. They talk about how the dead loved the Yankees, or going to Cape Cod. They talk about anything except the body at the front of the room. I remember scenes like this from my childhood, when Irish relatives close or distant passed away.
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I remember the happy parts of deaths: The salty discharge was more about the void left by the person: There were also parties between wake sessions and after long days of sitting in funeral homes.
We celebrated the beginnings, the major events, and the ends of our lives here, and continue to do so. The party started off in a somber mood but, as most do, became animated with stories. The author on the steps of St.
Everyone shuffled around the room, from group to group, telling stories and catching up. A relative, who will remain nameless, slipped me sips of beer. As a fifteen-year-old I felt mature. All the family and friends came together to celebrate a life, to remember their brother, son, cousin and friend.
It was a Sunday and I remember hating everything on the 2 train as I rode from Brooklyn, through Manhattan, and into the Bronx.
I hated the darkness of the subway tunnels. I hated the sunlight on the elevated track. I hated every child, every adult, every teenager. I arrived minutes after she passed. My family was sad, emotionally drained, and relieved. My grandmother had been sick for the entire year; by the time of her diagnosis, realistic treatment was too late.
She had to wait out death in pain. After my family said their goodbyes, we stood around the hospital waiting for the next steps. On Wednesday and Thursday we held wake sessions in the Bronx at Riverdale On Hudson funeral home, two blocks away from where the house at West st Street, on the corner of Liebig Avenue, that my grandparents purchased out of foreclosure, renovated, and raised their seven children in. As each session progressed, as the attendees filed past the body and took open seats, the mood lightened.
My extended family shared good food and cold beer. The planning was over and I feared the next day. The funeral and burial were the only things on my mind, but right now, I tried to focus on the apartment, on my family, on how different it felt without her there. Irish-Americans, over the course of a century and a half, have migrated northwards from the Five Points area in lower Manhattan, up the East Side, into the Bronx, and now a large contingent sits on the very northernmost edge of the city.
Although the tradition is not unique to Ireland, the use of alcohol and tobacco to pay homage to the life lost is. In traditional Irish wakes, the house is set up with food of all kinds: The clocks are stopped and the mirrors are covered as signs of respect. Next, they are welcomed by the relatives of the deceased and offer sympathy.
The visitors are offered food, drink, tobacco, and snuff during their visit. Men go to the kitchen, or outside, to celebrate and share stories of the dead.
As the drink, tobacco, and snuff is ingested, the party becomes more animated. This was and is what drives the important social aspects of the tradition—the stories shared among loved ones and newfound friends make the celebration intimate and unique. The Rosary is recited once at midnight and once toward the morning, usually led by the local priest or community leader. Around midnight most people leave, but close friends may remain with the family overnight.
Traditionally, wakes could go on for two days. Many plates of food, bottles of porter and whiskey, and stories are shared and consumed.
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We had a mother of a child who was in Riverdance. She wanted the music from Riverdance played very softly inside and her child did a little dance. Miles, she wanted it that way and she got it that way. Sometimes we get hundreds of people across the street here.
People like to be seen and offer respect to the family. This is the time when you hear more stories than you ever heard before. People will tell you about something that happened sixty years ago, something good he did or maybe something bad, something funny, whatever. They spend two or three days talking about them.
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Every person I spoke to about the tradition expressed the same idea: Follow him on Twitter garrettpmcgrath. Brendan Leach is a Brooklyn based cartoonist and illustrator. He used to drive a Zamboni in New Jersey, but now he writes and draws comics. David Kimelman is a New York City based portrait, documentary and fine art photographer.