Saturday, October 16, 2010

Honduran Funeral

Our neighbors are the owners of the house we live in, they have a son who is about our age. The mother of his grandmother died last week. She was 102 years old. She had been living with the family. This is one of the things about Honduran Culture that I really like: there are no retirement homes or nursing homes here, when a family member becomes old or sick the family takes care of them in their own house.
The funeral is not an event it is a process. First even before she died, when her condition was "grave," the family had visitors and extended family came in to town. Friends and extended family cooked and shopped for the immediate family as they stayed by the bedside of the great-grandmother. When she did pass away at 10:00 on Wednesday night, the family stayed up all night with her. This is the custom in Honduras to always stay awake and stay with the loved one until she/he is buried. When we tried to explain the what we do in the States, their question was "you just leave them alone?"
So the next day was the visitation part of the funeral. All day people come by the house and bring flowers or candles. Large candles were continuously burned until she was carried to funeral part of the funeral. The entire house was full of least 50 different people all day as people would come in and out and give their condolences. The body was placed in the center of the main room with the candles and flowers and people all around. We brought a plant and sat with the family a good while. They were planning on doing the funeral part of the funeral in the evening but a grandson had been trying to fly back from the States and had not arrived yet. So they decided to wait until the next morning. Which meant that the entire family was going to stay up all night to be with their loved one.

So Kalin and I thought we would visit with them and stay up as long as we could. So we spent the night talking with the family about their grandmother, how life was in Gracias 50 years ago, how life was 90 years ago. About the time when they had didn't use the currency of Lempiras that they have now; they used something that sounded like "unnas." We told ghost stories and drank pepsi with rum, and later on as the Grandson from the states arrived pepsi with vodka with the family. Kalin helped serve food and talked with the women of the family. The kids of the family were allowed to stay up as long as they could. Most of them were still awake when we got two sleepy around 1:45 am.

The next day was the funeral. The entire procession began at the house as they carried the casket in the back of a decorated truck from the house about 8 blocks to the main catholic church. The procession walked along with the truck to the church. In the church seemed like more of a mass then a funeral service; as the Great-grandmother was mentioned and talked about but the service was not focused on her, the standard parts of the mass: standard songs, standard readings, the Lord's Supper, all took place which to me put the focus on God. From there the entire procession walked the 10 blocks to the Cemetery. There was no service at grave site just a member or two form the family thanking all of the people for coming and being so supportive and then a spontaneous song about Jesus started by one the older Ladies as the buried her. The graves as you can see from the picture below are usually quite decorative and rarely are very deep. To the left of where she was buried you can see one of many little houses constructed over the grave sites. Her grave however was a modest concrete enclosure.
It did not end there, though the family and us included all went home for nap. That evening and for the next nine evenings they are having memorial services at their house. I think the ninth one will be at the grave site. The memorial services that I saw were all well attended, and similar with candles and flowers.
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Lee said...

A funeral as an event is not just a Honduras thing, it happens here in Kenya as well. I also attended an all night funeral celebration where people also stayed up and chatted with the family while they could keep their eyes open. There is also a lot of dancing, more of the party starts after the body is in the ground. So much of what you wrote is exactly what happens here. Your friend posed a good question, you mean you leave your family member alone?

Shannon said...

That was so fascinating. I love hearing about the Honduran culture.