I went to a funeral on Sunday. A lady I met through a mutual friend lost her grandmother and so I went to the viewing, the funeral, and the burial. Or the slottal -- that's what I am going to call it.
I have now attended funerals in 3 different countries. The United States, Venezuela, and Spain. I found that these experiences are unique to each culture, leaving me with many questions - not only about foreign customs, but our own customs in the USA.
Here is a short description of what I have experienced in each country. These are general experiences - possible unique to that particular family, etc. I am not implying that all deaths are handled the same way. (the Spain description will be what I experienced on Sunday).
United States: Someone dies on a Wednesday. We can probably expect the calling hours to be Friday night and Saturday morning, with the funeral immediately following. We know that the body has been embalmed or cremated. At the calling hours people form a line and make their way to the coffin, expressing sympathy. The funeral usually consists of the reading of the obituary, a poem, a prayer, memories of the loved one, a special song, a word of consolation from the minister. After that the people get in their cars and follow the hearse, with the family members in the first cars and the guests after that. Everyone turns on their headlights and they move slowly through town to the cemetery, upon which there is another short time of reflection and remembrance. Usually there is a dinner for family and close friends afterwards, whether it be at a local church or at a home. This whole process is generally quiet, orderly, and reflective.
Venezuela: Someone dies on a Wednesday. Wednesday night there are calling hours. Thursday morning or afternoon is the funeral and burial. The body isn't embalmed and sometimes it is cremated. The funeral consists of people standing around the coffin while the minister says a few words and prays. At the cemetery everyone is crowded around the hole and once the workers lower the coffin down, people throw their flowers in or some dirt on top. This whole process is generally quick and unorganized.
Spain: Miss Irene died on Saturday morning. On Sunday the very catholic cemetery had given the family the 3pm-4pm time slot for the visiting hours and the funeral service. When I arrived at the cemetery with my friends Pablo & Judi, we found the family mingling around, passing by the window with the coffin in it. I kind of felt like I was at an aquarium. Miss Irene was lying there, all zipped up to her chin under a white material. (I really wanted to snap a photo but my phone makes a really loud sound when it takes a picture.) Her feet were closest to the window and there where electric candles on either side of her head. At some point we headed over to the chapel, where the priest was waiting. We all sat down and then the service began. The priest rambled out a bunch of prayers and scripture. We stood up and sat down and stood up and sat down and stood up and sat down, etc. He took communion and sprinkled water on Miss Irene and did all sorts of other catholic things. When it was over they loaded her into this fancy cart thing and we all followed on foot until we arrived at Miss Irene's slot. Hence, the slottal. Below is photo of the slottal:The cemetery workers used a lift to reach the row and shoved the coffin into the slot. We stood and watched as he closed and sealed the opening and then carved her initials and date of death over the freshly covered plaque. He came back down and everyone hugged each other and left. Pablo and Judi and I walked around the cemetery and took in the sight of thousands of people who where slottalled there. We wondered how many of them, if any, were followers of Jesus. It was overwhelming. Overall this whole process was a somber, hopeless, and cold.
I have a Venezuelan friend who thinks we in the USA worship our dead -- referring to the way we keep a body for several days and all the attention we put into that body and drag out all of the crying and "torture".
I could go on and on about perspectives and culture and reasons and religion. But let me just ask a few questions for you to ponder on and invite anyone to feel free to respond with insight, opinion, memories, etc.
How do you want your post-death process to go? Why?
What are your first impressions of what you read about my Venezuelan and Spanish funeral experiences?
What do you think is a good way to handle the post-death process as a Christian?
Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.
Maybe some of you wonder what I will do here in Spain on this holiday unique to the United States of America. Maybe some of you have NEVER wondered this and find yourself slightly embarrassed that it has never crossed your mind what I or other workers do overseas on holidays. Don't feel bad. I haven't thought about it either until I sat down to write something in my blog for this week and realized that tomorrow is the big day.
Tomorrow I will do my normal routine: drink coffee, read, study, walk, run errands, eat whatever is already in the refrigerator, and maybe skype with my family. I will probably clean my apartment and put away my clothes if they are dry from washing them today. That's what my thanksgiving activities will include. Of course, all of that besides giving thanks. :)
Every Thanksgiving seems to get further and further away from why we celebrated it in the first place. We are pretty concerned with food preparations, Black Friday deals, and football. Below I have included a link to George Washington's thanksgiving address in 1789. It is beautiful and somewhat shocking in comparison to what we've done to Thanksgiving today.
George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation
I could go on and on about freedom and religion and all of that. But I'll spare you my thoughts and just say this: I am super thankful for freedom to worship. And I am thankful that I serve a God who looks at the heart which allows me that freedom no matter where I am in the world.
I want to be faithful in blogging every week - whether it's something Christ has done here, something I've been pondering, or just a a plain story about my week. This week's post falls under the latter. :)
I moved this week. I moved to a new apartment. I have new keys. When I leave my apartment I try to grab the doorknob to close it but my hand comes up empty because it's not where I am used to it being. The doorknob here is in the middle of the door. And the door to the front of my apartment building slams if you don't close it yourself. I wonder how many more times I will let it slam before I get it? I have a new phone number. I have a new router with a new password. I opened up a new bank account here. I have a new debit card with a new pin number. I have a new view out my window. New places to walk. New people to meet. Absolutely everything here is new. New for me, at least.
I met Angela, who owns the fruit store in town. I met Julian, who owns the Hardware store. I met Laura, a lady who has a little stand of candy and snacks. She and her husband have been married for 52 years...she was born and raised in this town. Emilio is the guy who opened my bank account and has been super helpful in getting everything set up online. These are the names of the new people in my life.
Sometimes I like new. Sometimes I don't. When I was making all of those trips back and forth to the car I didn't like new. When I skyped with my parents for the first time over my new internet connection I liked new. When I couldn't have my morning coffee because I didn't yet have groceries in my new apartment I didn't like new. But when I woke up yesterday and was sitting on my newly covered couch sipping coffee, thanking God for providing everything - I liked new. When I got blocked out of my bank account online because I kept messing up the password I didn't like new. But when I take my daily walk around the town and pray for God to reveal Himself to these people -- I like new.
I would imagine most people can't decide if they like new or not.
2 Corinthians 3:18: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
I guess it's better to like new than not like new...since newness is the business of Christ.
Maybe I should keep pondering these things over supper in a new restaurant. Maybe I can try something new, meet someone new, experience something new. I'm hungry.....that's nothing new.