September 24, 2009

Traditions Surrounding Deaths

This past week, our new friend Denise's grandmother passed away. Amber and Denise have grown close, so they have been talking about the traditional funeral arrangements for Catholic families Paraguay, and I've been spending time with Denise's mother. The girls are also buddies with Denise's younger brother, Ever.

The grandmother (a small lady in her 70's, with complications from Parkinson's Disease) passed away Sunday, and she was buried Monday morning. The night before her burial (she wasn't embalmed, of course), the family sat up with her body all night, receiving guests. Each day for nine days after her death, the family and friends from the neighborhood gather for about an hour, to perform rezas (prayers). There is a sort-of staircase set up in the room where the body was, and each of the 9 stairs has a lit candle and some cut flowers on it. On the ninth day, the prayers last all day and a meal is served to the community, mostly the children.

For 1 year and nine-months, the children of the deceased mother wear black. This is because she carried the child for nine-months before birth, and then in her arms approximately one year before the child could walk on his own. Grandchildren wear black for 6 months. The clothing doesn't have to be head-to-toe black, just the shirt or the pants/skirt, although many daughters choose to wear total black. Forbidden colors are those that signify happiness (red, purple, pink, or green). Denise told me today that it's very important to show the public how much you respect your family members, by demonstrating your grief by this sort of outward showing.

This particular neighborhood (a neighborhood is considered a couple of blocks) has experienced several deaths in just the past two months, so there are lots of people wearing black now.

The family is open in explaining the traditions to us, and in sensitivity, we are curiously learning without refuting the beliefs we don't agree with. However, several doors have opened when they question us about our own beliefs in death and the afterlife, and why we DON'T think our prayers after death will usher the deceased person from purgatory into heaven, and also why we don't have saints and altars to them in our homes. Please pray for us to be salt and light without offending these dear people in their grief.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely practicing patience and waiting on the right timing for ministry.
    It's one of the things I'm praying God for,"Lord let them ask the questions, and God lead me to the opportunities you open."
    We haven't seen first hand 'catholic' funerals but 'day of the dead' (aka Halloween) is coming and i'm sure I will see some of the catholic traditions then.


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