Oaxaca mural

Oaxaca mural

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Death - Mexican Style

In the 45 years that I have been traveling to Mexico I have observed or even participated in many of the traditions of the country.  However, I wish that a funeral had not been one of them.  It seems to me that the Mexican funeral customs are a grueling marathon that places an immense burden upon the bereaved.  Nevertheless Alejandro told me later that psychologists have said that the Mexican manner of dealing with death is the healthiest.  It is already a blur in my mind, but here are the events as I can best remember them.  

As Alejandro's mother was breathing her last breaths around 3:30 on Sunday afternoon, her son read verses from the Bible and led those gathered around her bedside in prayer. 

As soon as María Luisa had passed away, everyone got to work preparing for the "velorio"... the wake... which was to held in the house that very evening.  The front room was cleared of furniture.  The carport / courtyard was scrubbed clean because the overflow crowd would be seated there.  Folding chairs for the visitors appeared from somewhere.  People from a funeral home came with a casket.  María Luisa's body was dressed and prepared for viewing.  Amazingly by six o'clock everything was ready.  Alejandro's mother rested in the casket with lighted, tall tapers at each corner.  Flower arrangements from friends had magically appeared in that short time.  People began to arrive.  Some brought big kettles of coffee; others brought bags of sugar for the coffee; others brought packages of Styrofoam cups.  I went to the corner store and bought a dozen large bottles of soft drinks.

The front room and the courtyard were soon filled with family, friends and neighbors.  Lay people from the church did readings and led the others in prayer.  Later, member of a religious community came to say the rosary.  Then a couple of guitarists arrived, and there was singing... hymns at first and later popular songs.  

I went to bed around midnight, but I got very little sleep.  When I got up Monday morning there were still around twenty people there.  A couple of the women had gone to the market and bakery to buy tamales, quesadillas, bread and pastries for breakfast.  As the morning progressed the doorbell rang constantly as more people came to the house.  It was eventually standing room only.  Prayers were recited in the front room.  In the afternoon a dinner of chicken and rice was served to everyone.  Around three o'clock a priest arrived and said mass.  A hearse had arrived at the house, and after the mass the casket was carried to the hearse as the crowd applauded.

María Luisa's wish was that she be cremated.  Even at this stage she was accompanied by family.  A contingent of us followed the hearse to the cemetery crematorium.  There we sat in a waiting room for a couple hours until the container with her ashes was presented to Alejandro.

But it is not over yet.  For the nine nights, beginning tonight, family members, friends, and neighbors will come to the house to say the rosary.


  1. There is no doubt that all these traditions give the family closure in a way that American final traditions don't always do. I know this is difficult for all of you, but you'll be glad you gave Maria such a meaningful farewell. Abrazos, Gail

    1. Agreed, but it still seems a burden on the family. Last night there were 25 people at the house to say the rosary, and it was 10:30 before they had all left. That is going to continue for eight more nights. According to tradition, on the last night, the family is supposed to serve dinner to all those in attendance. (I have no idea if they will follow that tradition, or if people will bring food.)