Oct 13, 2007

A Difference in Cultures

Thursday afternoon, Rosita's mother died. They brought her home from the hospital and dressed her in her funeral clothes. Then she laid in the living room of Rosita's home for a couple of days, until the funeral, which took place today, at about 1 pm. During that time, friends and relatives came to spend time with her - all night and all day - sharing drinks and telling jokes, reliving the times they had with her while Rosita feeds them all. They will continue this through the weekend, and then on Monday, everything will be back to normal.

It's a little different than what I've experienced. I'm not really sure that it's accepted to leave the body in the home for that amount of time, in the US. And I think usually the morticians prepare the body for burial, so they want it as soon as possible. Here in Peru, it seems like there is less done in the way of preparing the cadaver for burial, and the family does it all. Apparently there is no embalming done and most feel that when the body passes into the hands of someone outside of the family, there is a loss of respect for the dead person.

It took me a little time to sort through my thoughts about death and customs surrounding it. O and I went for a few hours to visit with Rosita and her husband, Pastor, but we didn't stay all night, and we didn't have any jokes to tell about dead bodies. And I felt no compunction to kiss the dead woman's cheeks or smooth her hair. In discussing the differences with a couple of friends here, one finds my experiences very cold and unfeeling and doesn't understand why anyone wouldn't want to spend as many days as possible with the body of a fallen loved one, while the other thinks it might be better if things were done a different way in Peru, though maybe not exactly as they are done in the US. I talked with O and told him that although I loved him, if he should die, I didn't think I could have him lingering in the living room for several days while the neighbors cracked jokes about him. That would hurt me much more than help.

I wonder if we in the culture of the United States really are that cold and unfeeling, or if we are viewed as such by the rest of the world. I felt that in my experience, everything was handled very gently and with the utmost respect for the dead and great courtesy toward the family, even though the body was removed from the house the same day of the death. I'm still thinking about that.

I know that there will be more differences in culture that take me by surprise or make me pause to think for a while as I spend more time here. I'm looking forward to finding out what those differences are.


wildtomato said...

You are having the adventure of a lifetime. I enjoy reading your musings on Peruvian culture.

I don't know if I could handle having a dead family member rest in my living room while the rest of us sat around comforting the living and toasting the newly departed. Death is so neatly packaged here in the USA.

Casdok said...

Difference can be interesting.
So sorry to hear about Rosita's mother. My sympathies to you all.