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?
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