Tag Archives: funeral traditions in Mexico

Papa Rique

Descansen en paz Mama Vira y Papa Rique

Descansen en paz Mama Vira y Papa Rique

Thursday morning, December 15, 2016, the patriarch of the Gonzalez-Trejo family, Papa Rique died. He had been feeling poorly for the last week or so. He wasn’t able to get out of bed and had fits of trembling. Not getting out of bed really aggravated Papa Rique. He was used to wandering around town for hours every day.

In fact, the last time we saw him was on November 2 during one of his wanders. We were heading to the panteon (cemetery) to visit with Mama Vira on the Day of the Dead and there he was, heading out of the cemetery. We tried to convince him to go on back in with us, but he was having none of it. He was irritated at the women folk and was going home. So we said our goodbyes and watched as he headed up the road, turtle slow, nearly getting clipped twice in less than 15 minutes by passing trucks.

So, being bedridden was absolutely unacceptable to him. He said he was feeling bad enough to head to the hospital. That’s saying something! The nearest hospital is in Uriangato, more than an hour’s drive away. So he sent word for his grandson to take him in his truck. This being a first for a hospital request, the grandson came on the run, leaving his bread deliveries left undone.

Here’s where the story gets a bit confusing. Although he went to the hospital, he died at home a few hours later. I don’t quite understand why he wasn’t admitted to the hospital. Maybe the doctors decided at his age, 90, there wasn’t much they could do for him and sent him home. From what I gathered, he had another trembling fit at home with two of his daughters present. The daughters held onto him until the trembling passed and sat him in a chair. Then both of them left the room. A little later, a granddaughter came into the room and found him dead. Someone was sent for the local doctor who declared Papa Rique had died from a heart attack.

 

In Cerano, the dearly departed are stacked, lego style in cement boxes. In the plot where Papa Rique was to be buried, the bottom tier was inhabited by a granddaughter who died from complications associated with drug use in 2012. The second tier housed Mama Vira who died in 2014. So now the third tier needed to be built. My husband volunteered to help with the crypt building.

Papa Rique had the rebar and some sand just lying around his house and we had brought some more sand that had been leftover from B’s house construction. However, the cement, mortar, and cal needed to be bought. So we did. My husband spent $500 pesos from the sale of a goat and I ended up spending about the same amount, but the materials were bought and the building of the boveda (crypt) commenced.

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The neighbor, a cousin and two other guys were there as well. There was quite a bit of discussion at the beginning, but after a bit, each maestro (head bricklayer) had a section to complete.

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You can see the quality of the workmanship differed. My husband’s work is on the right. The other guy’s work is on the left.

As the day had started to heat up, my son and I went to the store to pick up some drinks. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed in since the store resembled a cantina (bar) more than anything, so I sent my son in. He came back with some cokes for the guys and a bottle of water for me. BUT when we got back to the gravesite, half the crew was gone. Supposedly, they had gone for more material. Several phone calls and an hour later they returned, with you guessed it, caguama (liter-sized beer bottles).

I needed to get back to teach classes, so we left about 2 pm. My husband told the neighbor that if he needed more help, to call. Sure enough, he called. The crew had been lost to a drunken haze and it had started to rain and he wasn’t going to get the top on. So my husband went back to Cerano to work another 2 hours. They finished the actual building, but not the enjari (cement spread over the bricks as a sealant).

The mass was planned for 4 pm the next day, however, there were no slots available at that time what with Las Posadas and all. So, the service and burial were moved up to 10 am. Of course, the tomb wasn’t finished yet. So we headed to Cerano in the morning and arrived just as the funeral station wagon pulled up to collect Papa Rique.

Building material and the flower arrangements were loaded into the back of our truck. My son and I joined the procession of walkers. I had forgotten an umbrella for shade yet again. I’m really not prepared for Mexican funerals. My husband followed behind with the supplies.

It wasn’t far to the church. The service lasted about 30 minutes. Various family members took turns standing with the casket. Papa Rique was praised for his Catholicness and for raising his family in the church. Otherwise, it seemed to be a pretty standard funeral mass.

Then the procession headed to the cemetery. There we found my husband and his cousin, who although not 3 was certainly at least 2 sheets to the wind, working like madmen trying to get the walls of the crypt covered. As the cement was already mixed, they had to keep working, even with the open casket present.

As you can see, the cousin took his shirt off since he was slopping cement EVERYWHERE! That's the cousin's dog climbing the crypts.

As you can see, the cousin took his shirt off since he was slopping cement EVERYWHERE! That’s the cousin’s dog climbing the crypts.

Soon, the family had enough viewing and lifted the casket into the third tier. My husband sealed the opening. The brother of the cousin took over the work saying that the job would take 20 minutes no more, but with cousin #1 working, he’d be at it all day. Before too long, it was finished.

One of Papa Rique’s daughters asked if my husband would place a Christ image on the front of the tomb, which he did. The flowers were arranged to everyone’s satisfaction. And then there was nothing to do. So we went back to our daily lives, one person less.

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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 altar during mass.  The daughters stayed with their families in the first few pews.  My son and I knelt when everyone else knelt, stood when everyone else stood and said amen when everyone else did.  I can’t say that the mass was in any way personalized from what I understood.  Nothing about her life was mentioned, just the solemnized intonations of ritual prayer.  My mother-in-law’s co-workers 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 were 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 spectacular 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 or 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 bought 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 and 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)
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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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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.
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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.
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 co-workers 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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