Growing up I had a friend whose mother owned a flower arranging business. I distinctly remember her preaching the superiority of fake flowers to the real thing, trying earnestly to convince me that while real flowers will die, the fake ones will last a lifetime. And with a little perfume, the fake ones can smell just as good or even better than those living beauties! As it turns out, Samoans are on her side.
Dressed in my best Sunday Whites and arms loaded with a large ring of fake purple and white flowers (ideal for the death of a man I have been told), I walked down the dirt road towards the church. The service was set to begin at 11am so Mina and I took a slow pace under her umbrella, leaving my house at 10:30. Of course we shouldn’t have bothered, as were we by far the first guests to arrive; the next coming almost an hour and a half later, just before the service began at noon.
When the train of cars finally pulled up to the front of the church, we joined the passengers and gathered at the churches entrance. Then, almost in wedding formation, the casket was carried down the center aisle to the front of the church, followed next by the congregation, then family, and last, those of us bearing flowers to drape around the table and casket. I was the last one in, not completely sure of my role in the progression. When I finally reached the front, I placed my flowers next to another beautiful ring make of blue and yellow. Avagas’ sister grabbed my arm and insisted I sit next to her in the front row. And like that, I knew I was family.
It was an emotional service and I understood more than I expected to. The choir had practiced some new songs for the event and they sang with strength I had never heard from them before. It was gorgeous. After a bible reading and some words from the pastor, Avagas’ sister took to the podium and weepingly read her speech. A matai followed, and then I was next. I had prepared a paper with what I intended to say and I had resolved that I would hold it together, but alas, emotion is a powerful thing, and my voice cracked as I began my first words. This being my first eulogy, I had not anticipated the rush of emotion that hit me. I spoke in English, starting with an apology in Samoan to those who would not understand my words. As my part finished I took my seat, trembling, and Avagas’ sister put her arm around me: “You miss your father, don’t you?” I smiled and replied, “ioe” (yes).
The pastor, also a dear friend of Avagas’, told many stories, amusing the audience with his perception of Avaga: “A Jack-of-all-trades, and a master of none.” Amongst his stories, he told one of my favorite stories about Avaga and I, where Avaga had given me his last-name. The congregation let loose in laughter, and my tears dried up as my fond memories overtook the sadness.
Following the service we went to Avagas’ house where a cement tomb had been build and Avaga was placed into the ground. Removed from the casket, he lay wrapped in blankets, and he looked at peace. Our flowers surrounded the tomb, and songs of farewell were sung. Then we loaded into cars and travelled to the family home where gifts were presented and food was served. It was a day of great sadness, but the love this village had for Avaga shown through and it will remain with me as a beautiful memory of a great friend.