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The Additional Cost of a Catholic Death in Rural Mexico

More than 83% of Mexicans are Catholic. Catholic mourning customs will add to the expense of the funeral whether you have a casket or an urn as your final resting place. If el difunto (dead person) isn’t Catholic, but the family is, expect a Catholic funeral. 

As the host or hostess, you’ll need to provide refreshment for the attending mourners as the familiar representative of the deceased, both during el velorio and the subsequent novena. The most common food is pan (sweetbread) served with cafe de olla (coffee made in a large pot) or tequila for the male attendees. Usually, mourners that have come to pay their respects bring sugar or styrofoam cups or even alcohol along with their condolences and floral arrangements to help offset the cost. Nonetheless, there is a cost and depending on what you serve and the number of attendees, it could be a nice chunk of cash.

La novena (9-day prayer session) is usually not as well attended. The family often divides up the host responsibilities to provide some sort of nourishment for those that attend. The woman who is in charge of the prayers during the novena, and it is always a woman, must also be taken care of. She may refuse money but a gift of some sort is appropriate.

After el velorio, the body is often taken to church for the misa (mass). Although Pope Francis exhorted the Catholic priests to not charge for the requiem for the dead, it isn’t a free service here in Mexico. The la misa de difuntos for my brother-in-law costs $300 pesos and then whatever was collected when the collection baskets were passed among the funeral attendees. 

If the body will be on display during the mass, it is announced as la misa con cuerpo presente (mass with body present). This is the most common situation. If the person died en el norte (in the United States) then the body may not have arrived yet. Or if there were some unforeseen delays, the body may have already been buried before the mass. 

For instance, if the church was unavailable for the funeral because of a prior booking, then other arrangements may need to be made. The misa for my brother-in-law couldn’t be held in a timely manner because the festivities of Revolution Day were taking place. His misa and burial were able to take place just before the mandatory 48 hours. Mama Vira’s funeral service was moved from the church in front of her house to the church in the center of town for similar reasons, overbooking and all. 

There are different levels of service provided by the church, but I don’t have a price list since it often varies from church to church. My mother-in-law was provided the basic service, which was, well basic. However, when my teacher friend Rene died, being a pillar of the community and all, his many relatives and friends paid for a more lavish funeral service. The entire church was redecorated just for the funeral, like they do for weddings. There was music. The service was about 40 minutes long, praising his virtues. Of course, the service was standing room only in the church and the crowd spilled out and filled la plaza, so there’s no surprise that the extra effort was taken.

The church isn’t done with you or your wallet yet. At the one month anniversary there is the misa del mes (one-month mass) which includes another service with a minimum “voluntary” donation of $300 pesos. 

Then at the one year anniversary there is the el primero luctuoso (first year of mourning) with another yet mass. In our area, it’s common to take out a half-page newspaper spread to announce the time and place of the celebration. After the mass, attendees receive a recuerdo (souvenir) which of course you pay for. Each subsequent year has another mass, el segundo luctuoso, el tercer luctuosos and so on, for perpetuity, or as long as someone is paying for it. 

If you happen to belong to a religion that makes up the other 17% of Mexico, there are still services to pay for, but it might not stretch out for years to come.

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The Cost of Dying in Rural Mexico–Funeral Services

Last week I convinced my husband to head to a funeraria (mortuary) to ask some questions about funeral services. It’s not like I’m planning on dying anytime soon, but death comes to us all and I wanted to be a little better prepared in case next time I had to make the arrangements. 

I learned there are lots of integrated pieces involved in being buried in Mexico and that you will be charged for each and every one of them. The particular funeraria that we visited has a sort of burial insurance that can be purchased for 800 pesos per year. 

The package included:

  • El ataúd de madera (basic wooden coffin) or la urna básica (simple urn)
  • 120 sillas para el velorio (chairs for the wake)
  • 2 arreglos de flores (flower arrangements)
  • 70 piezas de pan ( sweetbread pieces)
  • 40 sillas para la novena (chairs for the 9 days of prayer)
  • Los spots de radio (radio announcements informing the general public of the funeral times)
  • Traslado del cuerpo (transfer of the body from home/hospital to where the wake is held to the church for mass to the cemetery for burial or to the crematorio)
  • Ayuda con los tramites (help with the documentation)

Of course, if I don’t die for 40 years, the funeraria gets a grand total of $32,000 pesos. So I decided to ask about the individual costs of the items. The following prices are estimates for 2020. 

An average coffin costs about $14,000. An urn for cremated ashes costs approximately 800 pesos. If you have the seguro (insurance) but want a different urn or coffin than the one included in the plan, you pay the difference in price. If you wish to be cremated, you still have to rent the coffin for the wake. 

Cremation can be done locally in our area, so it ends up being less expensive of a service than it might be in other areas. A funeral service with cremation will cost about $10,000. 

The average funeral service with the velorio and novena in the home costs about $6,000 plus the coffin, not including cemetery and church service fees. If the velorio and novena are to be held in la sala de velatorio, also known as la sala de velación o velorio, then there is an additional rental fee for the space.

In order for a funeral to proceed quickly, and since embalming isn’t commonly done here a quick funeral is better, a coroner needs to sign off that the person is actually dead. If the person died in the hospital, then the last attending medical personnel typically handles the paperwork. If the person dies at home, then the funeraria has someone on call to take care of examining the body. 

The funeraria may or may not “arreglar” the body. When my brother-in-law died, the funeral guys only dressed the body because I didn’t give them a chance to say no and I sure wasn’t going to do it. I did provide the clothes though. On the other hand, my mother-in-law was coiffed and make-upped so much that she didn’t even look like herself. Again, the clothes were provided. Both Mama Vira and my mother-in-law had specially made “santa” dresses. You’ll need to pay about $200 pesos to seamstress for that as well. 

In the event of a violent, suspicious or sudden death, and in case of a miscarriage, the body is often taken for an autopsia. The medical examiner on site conducting the autopsy will fill out the paperwork. The funeral home typically takes care of transporting the body to and from the autopsy site, which in our case is more than an hour away in Yuriria. 

When our nephew’s murdered body was found, his autopsy was done in Celaya, three hours away, since it was part of an open criminal investigation. The paperwork was not ready when the funeraria came for the body, so someone had to return to pick it up the next day. Nothing could advance in the funeral procession procedures without that paper.

When my husband’s cousin miscarried at my mother-in-law’s funeral, the fetus was taken to Yuriria for an autopsy to ascertain that she hadn’t intentionally aborted the baby since abortion is still illegal in most of Mexico. She had to wait two days before they returned the little body in a shoe box for her to take back to Cerano and bury. 

This paperwork is essential in order to have the Acta de Defuncion (death certificate) drawn up in el Registro Civil (Civil Registry). Other paperwork involved that the funeraria will help you with includes getting permission for burial in the cemetery or cremation orders. 

Estimating expenses we now know that a funeral service with casket will run you about $20,000 pesos if you hold the services at home and a cremation service about half that at $10,000. If you shop around, you may be able to find a less expensive setup. You can use this checklist if you like.

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Filed under Death and all its trappings