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.
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.
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 a 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 plexiglass. 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.
(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.
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.
My mother-in-law’s co-workers at the Presidency sent a third corona (wreath).
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.
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.