Feature photo by lgranier

As much as we Mexicans like to joke about death and write little funny poems about it, we take dying very seriously. I never gave much thought to it until the first time I attended a funeral in the United States. I was surprised at the seeming levity of it all. The casket in the middle of the church aisle, with the many flowers around it and the people chatting before the service started. Everybody dressed in their best church clothes, clothes of many colors. There was a degree of lightness in the room that I could not understand, the body of a man lying dead in the room while people spoke about the weather. After the funeral, we headed to the church basement for refreshments. There were little sandwiches, punch and green jell-o with little floating chunks of pineapple. People were chatting and laughing, and I just did not know what to think of it all. Everything seemed so . . .  happy.

In funerals in Mexico, everything happens so fast. There is no waiting for family to come from around the country, whoever can make can make it and that’s it. No preserving of the body for a week while funeral arrangements are being made. One dies and within 48 hours the body goes into the ground.  A black ribbon tied into a bow goes on top of the front door’s post, and the neighborhood knows that someone has died in that home. The body arrives to the funeral home, and the close family gathers for the wake; they stay up all night with the body, drinking coffee to stay awake. People slowly pour in to pay their respects, some in the middle of the night, some early morning. The crowns of flowers arrive to the funeral home and so do the mourners, all dressed in black, faces bare and somber. People’s voices like a rumor inundate the space, along with an uncomfortable silence. People cry. In the old times, women called “plañideras” were paid to attend funerals to cry. I suppose that in some way, the depth of the loss is measured by how many tears are shed. After the burial people go home to continue mourning. No refreshments served. No small talk about the weather.

Tomorrow is November 2nd, “Dia de Muertos,” and the cemeteries are as crowded as the market on Saturday mornings, all the bustling and hustling of the selling and buying of flowers, of the music being played right at the grave site, of the food eaten in honor of the loved one. It is a true celebration. Perhaps it is that when someone leaves us, we only know how to grieve by crying, and it is only with time that we can turn all the sorrow into one big party honoring life.

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