Señorita Manners

“The Mexican … frequents it … caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it … he confronts it face to face with patience, disdain or irony.” Octavio Paz on death

People die everyday and sooner or later you will hear of the passing of a good friend, business associate or employee. What is the appropriate response. Is it ok to go to the funeral? Should you wear black? Send flowers? When is a good time to visit the family to pay your respects?

Funeral homes are practically non-existent; one finds funerarías, shops that sell manufactured coffins or build modest wooden ones upon request.

Here, when people die, they are returned to the family home, covered with a white sheet and placed either on the floor or on a table, four lighted candles outlining a rectangular perimeter around them. For the next 24-to-48-hour period, family and friends maintain a prayer vigil known as a velorio, from the Spanish word for candle, vela. Children are not excluded from these events; from a very young age they grow familiar and comfortable with these customs.

Visitors gather in the home of the mourning family; food (often full meals) and drink is served to all who stop to pay their respects. It is customary for visitors to bring a gift of money or food. Many guests stay the night, seated around the deceased, joined in prayer. When the coffin is delivered to the family’s home, the deceased’s clothing and belongings are placed inside with the body. That the dead will make use of these items in the afterlife is fitting with the belief that not only do they live on, but that they return annually in spirit, provided their loved ones anticipate their arrival.

The funeral is usually held in the cemetery and people are buried in coffins in the ground or above ground in cement tombs. It is not necessary or expected to wear black to the funeral. Go with an open heart and sympathy and you can’t go wrong.

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