Real life in beautiful and ugly Guadalajara.
categories: By Fiona Sullivan, culture, society

From abroad, we somehow discover two days of supposed significance in Mexico – 5 de Mayo and Day of the Dead.  The first, in terms of modern cultural relevance, warrants  no more mention than already given here.. and about the second so much has been written that you could literally read yourself to death with it.  There’s so much literature on the subject  in fact that it’s difficult for the gringo or European to escape the idea that Mexicans adore death and openly welcome it.  But I haven’t met anyone that fits that profile where I live.  Death is just as dreadful a topic here as anywhere else.  And that one Day of the Dead, fascinating to the foreigner as it may be, each year comes and goes as swiftly as the moon passes over from dusk to the next morning. 

I have yet to experience the inevitable misfortune of witnessing a funeral here (the two or three weddings I’ve been to I don’t suppose really count).  But a friend of mine has.  She mentioned that it was quite different than any she’d attended in the UK.  Yep.. that’s where she’s from.  Maybe you can silently read this in your best imaginary Margaret Thatcher sensual tone of voice (and then tell me about wishing for death!!).  But don’t hold it against her – we have no control over where we are born, and even less over where we go when we die.  You may find yourself knocking on her door to borrow a cup of sugar in the afterlife.

My first experience of a Mexican funeral was a close-hearted one. My boyfriend’s grandmother had died.  He went to the wake, and his family then asked me to come to the funeral.  Out of respect, I did not refuse.  It was a truly different experience.

We first had to attend the funeral home, where there were many people mourning the loss of a devoted grandmother.  The silence was incredible.  People praying with their rosary beads, people trying to control their emotions, a room of silence. Outside the room was an eating area, I was amazed to see people laughing, and talking about the past.

There was a man who worked at the funeral home who was gay, and many of the women were laughing also at this as the man was trying to touch the men.  In a macho considered society, the men were acting very quickly to the man, sometimes I suppose you need some humour in a time of much sorrow.

I met his uncles, aunts, and other family who found it hard to cope and to talk.  Sometimes I wonder if the words “lo siento” are good words to use, in any language, at such a point in time as the death of a loved one.  When you say those words, and give a hug of support you can feel the emotions of pure, deep sorrow. Even for the men, it was hard for them to keep it together, and control their emotions….

Some people were sleeping next to the casket, for respect of this cherished woman who had now left them, leaving only the good memories behind.

The children are those who don’t fully comprehend what death is.  Some of the questions were:

“Why is gran sleeping?”

“Why won’t she talk to me?”

“Why is everybody crying?”

Such questions are never asked at the right time.

I remember the father saying, “Your gran is with God, and with the angels,” and I remember seeing the child’s reaction – pure silence and staring wide eyes.  I feel the child quickly realised her gran would never come back……………

It was finally time for the devoted gran to be lain to rest.  Everyone helped get the flowers, and put their gran in the funeral car. Everyone else got onto the bus.

Never in my life have I felt and seen so much silence.  All you could hear was one baby crying, the mother quickly trying to calm her.

Being a foreigner at the funeral made me stand out, many people trying to ask me questions, but many people deciding not to. Otherwise, as I was told, it would be disrespecting the death of their loved one.

We finally arrived at the cemetery, a huge cemetery.  In the UK, we don’t have big extravagant cemeteries.  Here there were houses, tombs, etc.

The walk was long, on a hot humid day. Every section we passed, the Marachis would ask if we wished for them to play at the burial site. The family agreed to this at the final point.  Upon reaching the site, the casket was rested on top of the tomb, where the family members could pass by and say their final goodbyes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

The Mariachis began to play.  As they passed by, the screams of the women left an impression that will never leave me. They were haunted screams.  In the UK people cry, but this was something quite different.  So much sadness, one woman fainted, and many more were deeply ridden with sorrow for this devoted and beloved gran…..

Children then had their chance to say goodbye.  The shock on their faces was incredible.  They all realized they would not see their gran again, some of them running away crying, finding it too hard to cope with mortality.

The casket was then lowered into the tomb. Many others began crying.  All the men were wearing sunglasses, although most you could tell were crying.  But being a machista, one considers it a weakness to cry in front of the women, so it does not surprise me most of the men wore sunglasses.

The shocking part for me was, once inside the tomb, cement slabs were placed on top of the casket, and you heard the bang of these cement slabs, almost as if they were being thrown down.  For me, it represented such a stark finality, a harsh pang of recurring realisation that their gran had now left them.  It just seemed a bit distressing, observing how people put the slabs on top of the casket in front of the mourning family, while surely they are still coping with the loss of a loved one.

In the end, I understood more clearly. The reason they cement the casket in is so that it is ready for the next burial, as each tomb or grave can hold up to 6 people.

The silence was so grave when it all was finished.  Children shocked, now aware that death is a part of life.  Death makes us all think about the choices we make in life, maybe good choices or bad choices, but a funeral still reminds us never take life for granted.  For me the experience was a good experience.  It made me understand the care and consideration that Mexicans have for the death of a loved one, but also how important family is to the Mexican people.