Tag Archives: Mexican funeral traditions

Descanse en paz — Rest in Peace

Did you know Descanse en Paz uses the imperative form and therefore is a command to the deceased that they not wander about lost in the afterlife but “Rest in Peace”; whereas Descansa en Paz is simply a commentary that the soul of the deceased is at rest, as in the dearly departed “rests in peace”?

The Monday before Revolution Day, my husband’s brother J was found alongside the road unconscious.  Someone who knew who he was contacted his sister T who has the tortilleria in town.  She had their brother B and their dad go and pick J up and take him to the hospital.  Later, he was released into his wife’s care.  She brought him out to La Yacata saying she could not take care of him.  I suppose she panicked thinking that she’d have to care for an invalid husband the rest of his life.  She couldn’t have known that the rest of his life was just a few days.

We didn’t know J was up the road at his dad’s until Wednesday.  I don’t know what the big secret was, but my husband’s family is weird sometimes.  His 70-year-old father was doing the best that he could, but J was rigid and unresponsive.  He was conscious and could open his eyes, but that’s about it.  

On Thursday, his sister T came to see him.  One look and she called the ambulance, which took its own sweet time getting out here.  The police came along, like viejas chismosas, (busybodies) to see if a crime had been committed. There hadn’t been. (We haven’t had any positive experiences with the police).   My husband was out with the goats when the vehicles pulled up so didn’t see them.  I had just gotten out of the shower, so threw on some clothes and hurried out to take command of the machete and animals so my husband could go up the hill.

They loaded J up and took him to the hospital, which refused him.  He was taken to the community clinic where he was reluctantly accepted and allowed to stay overnight.  The doctor explained there was nothing that could be done.  J was suffering from multiple organ failure from chronic alcoholism. The clinic didn’t want him to die on the premises, too much paperwork and bad for their statistics,  so the next morning the ambulance brought him back to La Yacata.

J died early Sunday morning.  Suddenly there was a flurry of activity.  The death certificate needed to be obtained in order for any of the funeral type activities to be completed.  His dad and sister L went to the hospital to see about that while his sister P and I stayed with the body.  The hospital didn’t want to issue a death certificate.  He hadn’t died there after all.  So L knew a doctor who would come and declare J dead and fill out the certificate for the right price.

Meanwhile, the funeral home was contacted and P and I were instructed to dress the body for burial.  J didn’t have any clean clothes.  I dug around my husband’s and son’s wardrobes and found something that I thought J would approve of.  He was always a snappy dresser when he was sober.  However, I didn’t think we should dress the body until the coroner arrived. Furthermore, isn’t that what the funeral home was for?

While we were debating the pros and cons of dressing the body, L called again to say don’t dress the body until the coroner arrived.  Well, good then.  So we waited.  It was nearly noon when the funeral SUV arrived.  They had gotten lost on the way over.  Fortunately, they had come across my son with the goats and he directed them to us.

We asked the funeral people if we should dress the body.  L called and said the coroner wasn’t coming so to go ahead and do it.  Then my husband called and said he was with the coroner and they were on their way.  Then L called and told me to call my husband and tell him not to bring the coroner. Whatever.

The funeral people, having experience with hysterical families, took over and began dressing the body.  Unfortunately, they couldn’t see very well.  J was in an interior room lit only by candles. Remember, there’s no electricity in La Yacata. I hustled down to our house to get our solar lights and sent my son back up with them (he’s faster).  

A few minutes later, the coroner arrived.  He had such a bad case of the DTs that when he checked for J’s pulse, his hand shook so much that my husband thought it was J’s hand shaking even in death. My son and I lit the way for the vital confirmation and it became official, J was dead.  Then we held the lights while the funeral home finished dressing J and placed him in the coffin.

My husband’s brother B showed up with the sabana santa (the holy sheet) that was placed over J in the coffin.  I was wondering about this part–their mother was dressed as a Saint for burial but I didn’t think men wore dresses to be interred, this is Mexico after all. So my doubts were laid to rest with the arrival of the holy sheet.

J, now in his coffin and tucked in his holy sheet, was taken to L’s house where the wake and novena would take place.  I offered our home, as J had always been welcome there, but apparently, L had decided the location several days earlier.

I had to work, so did not accompany the body to its new location.  The funeral home went and set up the tent and chairs for the mourners and the mourning commenced.  Typically, the viewing and wake last all night with friends and family dropping in to pay their last respects and sit with the body.  The immediate family is there throughout the night to receive visitors.  As our presence was deemed unnecessary, my son and I went home to get some sleep.

At about midnight, I was awakened by some banging.  I thought maybe one of the sheep had gotten stuck under the feeding trough because there was some borrega carrying on too.  I wound up my cranky lantern and went out on Joey’s roof to check things out.  Only I couldn’t see anything amiss even though the banging continued.  It suddenly stopped and I went back inside.

The next morning we discovered that the front gate was bent like someone had taken a crowbar to try and force it off of its hinges.  The back door was also damaged like someone had been hitting it to break the lock.  AHH!  That explains the banging.

Fortunately, we have fiberglass instead of glass on the back door window and it wasn’t as easy to break as the would-be intruder had hoped.  I believe they (there had to be at least two with all that banging going on) knew that everyone was at the wake and thus our home would be easy pickings.  They didn’t count on the gringa (me) wimping out on the all-night vigil and being home. Desgraciados!

J was not embalmed and therefore needed to be buried immediately.  L went to the church in town to make arrangements, only funeral mass couldn’t be held during the day because of the Revolution Day parade.  So services were held in the late afternoon.  I don’t know why the mass had to be done at that particular church.  Any one of the smaller churches would have been fine.  It’s not like J was a well-known member of the community like Maestro Rene, whose funeral service overflowed the church and town plaza with mourners.  The cavernous building just emphasized how few mourners there were.

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From the church, the procession moved to the panteon (cemetery).  J’s sister T bought a boveda (crypt) for his remains to be laid.  Interestingly enough, had his mother been dead 6 years instead of 5, he could have been interred in the same boveda (crypt).  As it was, he got his own slot.  

The novena continued for its nine days, but because it was scheduled the same time I worked, I did not attend.  Furthermore, I don’t believe J would have wanted a novena.  When he arrived in Moroleon right before his mother’s death, he was sober and born again.  All the pomp and circumstance of the Mexican Catholic funeral proceedings made him decidedly uncomfortable, but as the only non-Catholic among the siblings, his wishes were overruled. Well, I guess you don’t care much once you’re dead anyway. Carry on.

Then there were the expenses to be divvied up.  T paid for the crypt, the mass, and the holy sheet. She is the oldest after all.  The funeral, including casket, taxi service for the deceased, tent and chair rental, all came to $10,000 pesos.  I assume this was the economy package because it in no way compared to the lavish hooplah my mother-in-law enjoyed upon her death (but of course all of that was paid for by the presidencia (town hall) to avoid a lawsuit.) That expense was covered by the relatives still in the US.  

For our contribution, my husband wanted to tile the front of the crypt and put up a plaque but he needed to get a permit in order to do that.   So we went to the main cemetery in town to ask about that.  He was told that he needed the proof of purchase, which we didn’t have.  So we went to see T and to find out who had that.  Apparently, L had it.  As L would not give the receipt to my husband, we asked T if she would strong-arm L into getting it so that my husband could get a permit to tile the front of the crypt.  Nothing doing.  There was some hysterical screaming.  L was going to adorn the tomb as she saw fit.  Whatever. I suppose J doesn’t much care anymore anyway.

J leaves behind a wife and 3-year-old son.  His father, grandmother Mama Sofia, 4 sisters and 5 brothers survive him along with a number of nephews and nieces.

I have to say that death here is so much more up close and personal than what I’m used to.  There’s a lot of touching of the body and these extensive mourning rituals that still confound me. I’m not sure that it makes the grieving process any easier though.  Maybe the busy-ness of it all is meant to keep the bereaved minds occupied on things other than loss.  Maybe these traditions are a form of self-comfort.  

All I know is that regardless of the goings on, we miss the gentle humble soul that was J and I, for one, believe that he finally descansa en paz (rests in peace).

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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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La Novena and el Luctuoso

la novena
Then began the novena, 9 days of prayers for the release of my mother-in-law’s soul from purgatory.  This was held where her body had been viewed, with the leftover candles from the funeral.  A candle must be lit at all times and no one may sweep, since this would be rushing her soul out of the house. (See Mass and Burial)
Each child took a day to sponsor the novena, providing refreshments for those that came to pray.  I thought my night of hosting went well.  I had to be signaled that the prayer was over and hurried to the kitchen to serve the flan, jello, and juice that I had bought earlier in the day, my son and husband helping to serve.  I hadn’t had time to prepare anything traditional or home-made, but that’s why supermarkets were invented right?
A woman named Socorro did the prayer reading for each evening.  It seemed to be her calling, presiding over novenas when asked.  She isn’t paid per se, the refreshments each night being given in compensation for her time.  (See Parenting Challenge–When someone dies)
Each night, Socorro and her echo, another religious woman, intoned prayers from a little booklet.  It’s important that everyone  sit in the same seat each night, but I didn’t understand the reason for this, just that’s the way its done.  The prayer session lasted about an hour since every few minutes there was a round of choral recitals of Padre Nuestro, (Our Father), and Ave Maria pleading that if my mother-in-law’s soul be found at the gates of purgatory, that she be pardoned as well as any other souls found with her.  Apparently, her eternal damnation or salvation would be based on the strength of our prayers during the novena while her soul was wandering around in purgatory.
A glass of water and a white towel were set out the first night.  This was in case the soul was in need of refreshment.  If the soul visited and drank the water, the towel would be imprinted where it had knelt.
As this was my first novena, I’m not sure how smoothly it goes, but it seemed to me that we had more than our share of issues during the 9 days.
The first night, the little children, who were exempt from the prayer meeting, locked themselves in one of the bedrooms and we had to break the door down to rescue them as they became more and more hysterical on the other side.  Not a very auspicious beginning to the novena.
Then another night all the sons came drunk to the novena and interrupted the prayers abruptly and repeatedly in order to use the bathroom.  Again, not as it should be.
Then the night D was in charge of the refreshments, not only did she not have enough for everyone and I had to supplement with some flan left over from my hosting, but her husband refused to help her serve, demonstrating what an ass he was to all.
Then L was had a screaming fit because my father-in-law had asked where the money from the presidencia was (nearly 3000 pesos) that she had spent on rent for her apartment and local although it wasn’t her money to spend but meant to defray funeral costs.
Another night, I was called away from the novena by the mother of one of my students who happened to be a judge.  She had been given a copy of the lawsuit that Chuchi sent and wanted to speak with me immediately.  As she isn’t the type of woman you say no to, I hurried to her house.  She explained some of the legal terminology and wanted to know for sure if we had answered the charges as there was only a 10-day period to do so.  If the charges were not answered, Chuchi wins by default.  I called R and he assured me that they had.  I wasn’t satisfied so went to the office of Super Prez and asked him.  He gave me a copy of the respuesta (answer to the charges) and I hurried back just in time for the opening prayer.
Then J was to make the traditional corundas for the last night, but B said he wanted enchiladas, and to please him, his sister P made them although it was extra work and angered her own husband and was contrary to tradition.  The three sides of the corunda represent the trinity and the eating of it as a sort of holy communion in honor of the deceased.
The final novena was a 2-hour session.  Not only were the final day prayers said but the dirt that was in the form of the cross on the floor since the viewing must be lifted.  It couldn’t be swept up and had to be scooped by hand in a prescribed manner.  First the right side of the cross, then the left side of the cross, then the foot of the cross where the three Marys wept, and then the head of the cross.  Flower petals, candle wax, and dirt were all scooped into a yellow shoe box.  More prayers were said and the rosary was placed on top.
ceramic statue novena
Each attendee was given a small ceramic crucifix, like a party favor, with the following poem on the back:
Fin de novenario
“Muero pero mi alma no muere los amare y los bendeciré en el cielo como lo hice en la tierra”   Agradece Padre e hijos
Loosely translated it read:
End of the Prayer sessions
I die but my soul does not.
I love you and bless you in heaven as I did on earth.
With appreciation: Father and children
panteon
The following morning we gathered again at the panteón (cemetery). The sacred dirt in its shoebox, candles, photo, cross, the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, some sacred saint prayer cards, rosaries, the glass of water and the white cloth were all stuffed unceremoniously in the windowed front of the crypt.
The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

The altar of El señor de Escapulitas Catholic Church in Moroleón

But that wasn’t the end of it.  The next week there was a mass en el Templo del Señor de Escapulitas.  The priest was paid to say the names and ask for special blessings for those recently departed, but my mother-in-law’s name was accidentally left off the list.  So it was rescheduled for Saturday.
Then there was another mass in another church in the wealthy section of town.  I misunderstood where this mass was scheduled and my son and I went to the wrong church and then arrived late for the services.
Then there were masses scheduled every month.  My son and I went to the first few, but as the sons would be there either drunk or hung over, which in my opinion was shameful, I refused to go to anymore.
B made a vow that he would not shave until his mother had been gone one year.  I’m not sure if this vow was meant to be a bargain made to ensure that his mother’s soul left purgatory for heaven or not, but the result is that for most of the year looked like a ungroomed Mexican dwarf with a beard halfway down his chest. The night of the first-anniversary mass, he arrived completely bald and clean shaven.
So this week there was a mass to mark the one-year anniversary of her death. It’s called el primeto luctuoso (which as far as I can translate means the first anniversary of a person being called to the light).  An ad was placed in the paper for the first luctuoso.  This year, the masses will only be every 3 months.  An ad will be placed in the paper for the second luctuoso.  Next year they will only be performed every 6 months.  An ad will be placed in the paper for the third luctuoso.  After that, there will only be one mass per year until eternity.  Each year with its own newspaper ad.
Again, I discovered that the quality of the misa (mass) is dependent on the money you pay.  My mother-in-law again was given the basic package service.  I can not imagine how much money the church earns through this system since the masses continue for all perpetuity.  Death is quite a profitable business after all.
first anniversary
As souvenirs, the few attendees were given escapularios (small sewn leather charms to be worn around the neck) and a poem.  This one reads:
Te damos gracias, Señor, por habernos dado la dicha de tener una madre ejemplar y disfrutar de su amor.  Tu la llamaste Señor y ella no hizo sino tomar tu mano; al escuchar tu voz.  Agradecemos su asistencia, Esposo e Hijos.
Loosely translated it reads:  We thank you, Lord, for given us the honor of having an exemplary mother and of enjoying her love.  You called her, Lord, and she did not refuse to take your hand when she heard your voice.  We thank you for your attendance, Husband, and Children.
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