It seems that Peter and I have been thinking about funerals a lot lately. (But don’t worry – this story is not about grief).
When we were in Italy in October, we visited the cemetery to deal with Peter’s deceased father. His body had been buried in the same plot for over 75 years and now, we were told, his time was up. They were running out of space and he had to move. Who knew that one could get kicked out of a cemetery plot, posthumously? We debated about having his body cremated and bringing the ashes back to Canada. But Pietro senior had never Lived in Canada. It seemed cruel to move him to a foreign land without his consent. A kind nephew solved the problem by offering us space – in his family’s crypt in the same cemetery – for Pietro senior. A gentle and respectful transition.
Back in Canada on a dreary winter morning, the phone rang. I rushed to pick it up until I saw Angela’s name on the screen. Oh oh! Angela is Peter’s Italian family’s news conduit. She calls us with details of births, marriages, and more recently, deaths. The conversation, in Italian, is always the same, beginning with a description of the deceased relative: a cousin of a brother’s niece, or a sister of an aunt on the grandfather’s side, followed by details of the visitation and funeral. No matter who it is, a relative is a relative, and must be honoured.
We prepared for the visitation; finding our black clothes and then driving to the funeral home. Inside we signed the guest book and made our way to the front of the hall where the body lay in an open casket. We waited our turn to kneel beside the deceased and say good bye to a person I had never met and Peter barely remembered. Then we rose and walked to the receiving line where we shook hands with the immediate family. We then moved along to seats in one of the rows behind the family, where we sat silently for several minutes. Finally we headed for the door, nodding to others as we left. The ritual was peaceful and reverend, but quite impersonal.
Then last week Angela called again. Oh dear, this was getting to be too much! We saw our social lives descending into everlasting days of funeral planning and line-ups at visitations. This time the deceased was George, a second cousin. But when Peter hung up, he looked a little puzzled. He said he didn’t recognize the name of the funeral home: Zitto Zitto. He translated the Italian: “Quiet quiet.” What kind of a funeral home was this?
The next day we put on our black clothes and checked Google Maps. We found Zitto Zitto in an Italian neighbourhood, on College St. There’s not much room for parking there so we left home a little early and found a parking spot a few blocks away. As we walked towards the address we passed restaurants, banks, pastry shops, shoe stores, but nothing resembling a funeral home.
Then we found the address. It was a …. Pub? Our faces brightened as we swung open the door and entered. In front of us stood an antipasto table laden with asiago and blue cheeses, prosciutto and salami, and slices of fresh baguette. Not far away the bar was set up with opened bottles of wine, and a coffee station nearby. As we carried our bounty around the room, we noticed photos everywhere showing George with his family: celebrating birthdays, hugging his beloved dog, opening Christmas gifts with grandchildren, and many more.
After a survey of the pub turned photo gallery, we found some empty seats and sat down with a couple who appeared to be about our age. We spent a happy hour sharing stories about life in Italy and our collective memories of George. On our way out, we signed the guest book and thanked George’s son, who told us it was just the kind of event his father wanted: not a sad gathering for someone’s death, but a joyful celebration of someone’s life.
The next time Angela calls, we are hoping for Zitto Zitto.