Tag Archives: funeral traditions in Mexico

Mass and Burial Mexican style

coffin
Typically, a person dies, his or her body is taken to a family member’s home or the funeral home for the viewing.  Mass is the next morning with burial following.  As my mother-in-law’s body was not released until late afternoon, and the entire family, my father-in-law and his children, were required to report to the Public Ministry Office the following day at 11 and were there until late afternoon again, they felt that they hadn’t had time to properly mourn, so she was returned to the house for a second night mourning after mass.   (See Viewing and Wake)
The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

Mass was scheduled at 9 a.m. in the morning so that the family could be at the 11 a.m. hearing.  The funeral car came to pick up the body and we walked from the house to the church, El Señor del Escapulitas for mass.  The sons and my father-in-law stood with the casket in front of the alter during mass.  The daughters stayed with their families in the first few pews.  My son and I knelt when every one else knelt, stood when everyone else stood and said amen when everyone else did.  I can’t say that the mass was in anyway personalized from what I understood.  Nothing about her life was mentioned, just the solemnized intonations of ritual prayer.  My mother-in-law’s coworkers from the Presidencia came along with a good group of teachers from the school I was working at.
I, unfortunately, experienced another death later in the year when my friend, el maestro (teacher) died.  The mass said over his body was an entirely different affair.  The Padre (priest) spoke about the fullness of his life and quoted beautiful and hopeful passages from the bible.  There was music and singing.  And when his coffin left the church, the masses that had gathered in the Centro gave el maestro (teacher) a standing ovation.  My mother-in-law’s funeral paled in comparison.

So I asked about the differences in the misas (masses) and found out that the church offers levels of services, at different prices.  The basic package was what my mother-in-law was given, very little personalization.  The deluxe package costs more, of course, but has the spectular effects of el maestro’s (teacher’s) services.

We walked back to the house behind the funeral car after mass. The plan was that my mother-in-law’s body was to spend one night in town and the second night in La Yacata, however the town children protested due to the fact that there wasn’t running water and electricity in La Yacata.  So her body stayed in town.  Although it seemed to me that my mother-in-law wouldn’t have minded the lack of services anymore, the convenience of the mourners kept us in town. This cause general confusion and attendance was scanty at best the second night, most having believed the body to be already interred or to be in La Yacata.
To top it all off, R arrived the morning of the second day to have me sign papers for the lawsuit from Chuchi.  So there I am, outside in the blazing sun, reading the 3 page paper (because it just wouldn’t do to sign and not know what you are signing) that stated that 1) Chuchi was not president at the time he made the contract and therefore not legally representing La Yacata 2) the pozo perforation is outside the boundaries of what is legally registered as La Yacata  and 3) no water rights were ever purchased that would make a pozo a legal possibility. (See Demanda 1 and Demanda 2).
My husband and I went out and brought 12 rotisserie chickens to feed the family and group of mourners that stayed throughout the day.  We also bought more flowers so that everyone would be able to leave a flower when we took the body for burial.
Tradition requires that the body not be left alone or the soul the deceased might be offended but the second evening, through the pure exhaustion of the family members this was allowed to happen unintentionally.  There also must not be any cleaning up.  The multitude of mourners left their Styrofoam cups and napkins littered about, but we were not to sweep.  All the trash had to be picked up by hand until after the novena, since sweeping would be an insult to the soul, a way of saying that it was unwelcome here.
Having very little rest, the family and mourners drank some coffee for energy before the long walk to the panteón (cemetery) the following morning.  As it is outside of town limits, but within a stone’s throw of La Yacata, often the funeral home arranges for public transport from mass to the cemetery, but as we had gone from the church back to the house the previous day, we were about half the distance already.
Another small band of mourners joined us for the walk from the house to the cemetery that morning.  I didn’t think to bring an umbrella for shade, so ended up with a headache and slight sunburn.  Our walk brought us past the courthouse.  Not one guard was outside, perhaps warned to stay inside, as the sight of a uniform might enrage the mourners.  But from the windows they could watch us as we passed and take a good long look at what “one of their own” had done.  (See On Life and Liberty)
At the cemetery, the casket was placed in an open pavilion and opened for one last viewing while the crypt was prepared.  At this point, physically and emotionally drained, her daughter P fainted. She was moved to the shade and rubbing alcohol was applied to her face until she came around.
The children were distraught and took turns caressing and kissing her body.  I told my son that we would look, say our goodbyes and he could leave a flower with her body but that he should not touch her skin.  I didn’t want his last memory of his grandmother to be of her cold dead flesh, but of the warm embrace she gave him in the hospital when she said “My niño” (her special endearment for him) before slipping into a coma.   (See Parenting Challenge–When someone dies)
 IM000608
When the crypt was prepared, the sons carried the casket over the uneven ground, past the plots, to the corner where rows of crypts had been built.  The casket was slid into the middle row #19, about at eye level.  The cemetery workers bricked up and patched the hole while we looked on, again in the now midday sun.  I am surprised we didn’t have more casualties from heat stroke.  The wreaths were stacked against the wall and the flower arrangements placed nearby.  And that was that.  Nothing doing but to go home.

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Filed under Death and all its trappings

El Velorio Viewing and Wake

Today marks a year since my mother-in-law was killed by the police. (See On Life and Liberty) The horror, shock and grief have abated for her family some and as death is a part of life, it is necessary to understand some of  the customs surrounding it.
After my mother-in-law’s body was released from the hospital, she was taken to Yuriria for an autopsy since there were legal charges pending.  Her daughter L went in search of clothing to take to the funeral home, where they would clean and dress the body for viewing once the autopsy was finished.  I thought she would need to head out to La Yacata to pick up some clothing from my mother-in-law’s wardrobe, but I needn’t have worried.  L went to a special tailor to have a green and pink satin dress made and a crown of plastic flowers for her head.  Her body was dressed as the Virgin, possibly Santa Gertrudis, in what I thought was burlesque and even for this area was not common, although when I asked locals, they said they had heard of that being done.
Funeral homes come and set up a tent like this one to shade the mourners.

Funeral homes come and set up a tent like this one to shade the mourners.

The funeral home came to pitch a tent for the mourners outside the house before they brought the coffin.  There are funeral homes and salones de velación (places for the public display of the body) in Moroleón, however the poor still open their home for the viewing and wake, as inconvenient as it may be.
cofin 2
Her coffin arrived in the late afternoon and set up in the area adjoining the kitchen.  Large pillar candles were placed one at each corner and remained lit during the entire viewing. As the viewing was extended an extra day, we had to buy another set of candles.  Mourners brought more candles and flowers.
Squash was cut open and placed underneath the casket along with a dirt cross and rosary.  The squash was there to suck out the “cancer” from the deceased.  The nearest I was able to understand is that the squash removes the bad humors from the body in preparation for the spiritual awakening and that as the squash shrivels, the body is cleansed.
Every once in awhile, the women passed inside to rezar (pray with rosary beads) and I was included in this as daughter-in-law of the deceased.   Being not only foreign, but non-Catholic, I was not expected to lead the prayers and I just stood respectfully in silence.  However, the inclusion was a first and demonstrated an acceptance from the ladies of the family that was not extended to M’s American wife, who stayed outside with the men.
The casket was open but my mother-in-law was kept under glass, or rather plexi-glass.  Her 88 year-old parents, Mama Vira and Papa Rique, came from Cerano, as did my father-in-law’s mother, Mama Sofia and her husband Tío Felipe.  Everyone was concerned that the viewing and wake might be too much for them at their advanced ages, but instead it was her niece, daughter of her sister Lucia, that had difficulties.  Later that night, she was rushed to the hospital after having miscarried.  Doctors said that the fetus was malformed and the body took care of it on its own, however the everyone nodded and said it was only natural that my mother-in-law’s spirit did not want to go alone and so took one of the family to accompany her.  Pregnant women are discouraged from attending for this reason.
In the evening, mourners arrived to accompany the family in their grief.  Some brought flowers, some tequila, some sugar and coffee or bread, as it is custom for the family to host the mourners, providing a beverage and light repast.
Mourners the first night included representatives of the various political parties, PAN, PRI/Verde, PRD, with their candidates very visibly and ostentatiously positioned.
Flowers sent from the PRD candidate, later elected President of Moroleon

Flowers sent from the PRD candidate, later elected President of Moroleon

(See Politicking) My mother-in-law was PAN and although she wasn’t able to participate in this year’s elections, she was well known for past services and honored with a corona (wreath) from the party members.
flores de pan
Super Prez also came to the viewing with secretary R and his brother and the community’s lawyer R2.  Super Prez sent another corona (wreath) from the colonos de La Yacata.
flores de la yacata
My mother-in-law’s coworkers at the Presidency sent a third corona (wreath).
flores de sus companeros de trabajo
Not to be outdone, her son B bought a corona (wreath) twice as big as any of the others and at the crypt positioned it to eclipse the other wreaths, although as the heaviest it unbalanced and broke the stakes of the other wreaths.  I guess that proves that he loved her best.
flores de su familia
Mourners stayed until the early morning hours.  Family members took turns serving coffee and sweetbread to the women and tequila to the men.  Every two hours or so, there was another session of prayer.  In the early morning hours, there was singing.

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Filed under Death and all its trappings, Religion