Do you dare to confront your own mortality? Do you dare to dine with the dead?
Staring into the empty eyes of a skull on All Hallows' Eve, I agreed to both. "Yes" is the last word I uttered before sitting among friends and strangers attending my friend Adrian's annual Dumb Supper & Mourning Tea.
Adrian is an undertaker who recently turned his mortuary into a nonprofit that buries the poor, forgotten and homeless. As his tradition, he holds a Dumb Supper to honor the dead he's buried over the year, encouraging them not to return to bother him. While it's meant to keep new spirits at bay, it's also a time to invite the spirits of friends and family to dine with the living.
"It's usually a fleeting moment when you think of them," he says. "Not very often do we have time to sit down and have dinner with the spirits of our loved ones. Tonight, you should really think of them and spend time with them. The dinner is silent because, like them, we don't talk." Yes, the dumb in "Dumb Supper" means silent.
It always begins with a prayer outside of Adrian's family chapel. Then one by one, we each look into the eyes of the skull as he asks: Do you dare to confront your own mortality? Do you dare to dine with the dead?
Everyone must first agree before the sit-down dinner begins. Adrian recites passages about the event and pounds a heavy wooden staff three times to commence the seven-course dinner service. From then on, it's utter silence (and a lot of giggling). Adrian typically chooses music to up the spook factor, everything from Gregorian chant to Muzak versions of pop songs. Even more creepy this year, he added a pink casket to his decor, placed adjacent to our dining table.
Those attending were asked to prepare an item in memory of their loved ones, and this year I opted for an appetizer for my grandmother. The courses are then served in reverse, beginning with dessert in the form of chocolate chip ice cream served over a homemade cookie. And with every course, there's a new glass (cup) of wine poured. The head of the table is reserved for the guests of honor — the dead. They are always served first.
As we wait for everyone to be served, I close my eyes and reflect on my grandmother, a cook who had several specialties, including sweet and sour chicken, Chamorro style lumpia and pancit. The mussels were a last minute decision (sorry Grandma!).
As the dinner continues, more wine is poured and as quietly as we can, we raise our glasses to the head of the table and each other. By the last course - yeah, most of us are drunk. Thank goodness for the "Mourning Tea" portion of the evening, which we drank once the lights were on and we were allowed to speak. For the tea, our gracious host Adrian shared a pot of åmot (Chamorro medicine) he brought back from his Rota trip over the weekend. That really helped soothe the burn from the nasty shot of bourbon we took in the last course.
Now, why would anyone choose to attend a silent dinner in lieu of dressing up and adult partying?
All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween, is the first evening of the triduum of death, Adrian explains. It's followed by the Feasts of All Saints where we pray for those in heaven and then All Souls Day where we pray for those suffering in purgatory. You know how crazy we get here on Guam when it comes to All Souls' Day, heck, even the government shuts down.
Going back to All Hallow's Eve, it's also Samhain (pronounced Sahwin) marks the end of the harvest season, the Pagan festival where the veil between the world of the living and dead is at its thinnest, if not completely gone. It's why we put out jack-o-lanterns and other scary images to ward of wandering spirits, Adrian says. Thus, it's the perfect time for a Dumb Supper.
All kinds of cultures honor the dead, especially our own in Guam. We pray for our dead, here, visit their graves, talk to them as if they're still among us. Our ancestors would dig up the remains of relatives and place their skulls in the rafters of their home. "It's almost as if your grandma and grandpa are still with you," Adrian says.
I'm not sure how many years Adrian has been throwing a Dumb Supper, but in the future, he hopes to grow it into a paid event that would benefit his nonprofit. So, if you get an invitation to attend, he has a warning:
"The dead are very much among us," Adrian says. "Don't be surprised if you hear things, see shadows. People have had those experiences in the past."
Cheers to Adrian Cruz and friends for another spooky and crazy fun Dumb Supper!
About the Author
Guam born and raised, this contributor has an affinity for island life, people, food and culture. Got a story idea? Email her at email@example.com.Follow on Twitter More Content by Lacee A.C. Martinez