Celebrating life or mourning death?

If you happen to be unlucky enough to attend a Colombian funeral there are a few things to be aware of before assuming its a celebration of the life of the person that’s died.

Quite the opposite, its a time to feel sorry for yourself and everyone else, a time to cancel any plans that you had over the next 2-3 days and suddenly re-unite with thousands of family and people who you haven’t seen in many many years or possible not at all.

I’m my experience, when someone has passed away, there’s always a week or so, sometimes longer before the body is either buried or cremated (whether this is to organise all the legal side of things or to give people notice of the funeral date so they are free I don’t know), But here in Bogota when the person has passed they have the Wake the next day.

Yesterday I attended a wake expecting it to be in a house or similar of the family member, but it was in fact in a ‘chapel of faith’, a building equipped with function rooms that they hire out to the family’s, there’s many rooms so quite often there are 3 or 4 wakes all going on in the same building but in different rooms – which gets confusing to know who belongs to which wake and who your expected to speak to when people are wandering around the building and hanging around outside smoking.

In the room, the body is there in the coffin, not open, but on the top of the coffin is made of part glass, so those who want to see the body can.

As you can imagine there are hundreds of family members and friends attending, all who have made it a priority to go even at half a days notice which I think is lovely. in fact there were more people at the wake I went to yesterday than I’ve seen at most British weddings! I just love how everyone comes together here in times of need.

Theres no food, drink or music at the wake, its not like back home where you expect an hour or so’s silence and sadness followed by a “lets get drunk its what he/she would have wanted!”, no here there is no celebration at all its purely a time to mourn.

Once you’ve been around and said hello to all the family you’ve not seen since you were a kid, and caught up- all the while trying not to sound too happy about how good life is for you right now, you make your excuses and leave.

The Funeral, as in the actual burial or cremation, is then usually the very next day – Unfortunately I will not be going to that today so am unable to comment, but I am aware that its typically not somewhere you will take a child unless you absolutely have to, Its not seen as something children should be around or learn about. I think its important for children to go and see what happens and be a part of it, there’s no shame or superstition in death, its a natural part of life after all. I wonder if I was able to go how people would react to me taking Niko?

Marina (my mother-in-law) has a tradition which I’m not sure is a family tradition or a national tradition, but after she has been to the funeral she will not come near Niko or any other children or touch them until she has either washed thoroughly or showered if possible, as she feels she is carrying some sort of negative vibes that she doesn’t want to pass on.

Its the same here in the graveyards, it actually makes me chuckle a little, that graveyards are supposed to be horrible, depressing, and not to be enjoyed places, you go there only to see the person you want to visit, say your prayers, water the flowers then leave again. Pigeons which hang around the graveyards here are seen as a scary bird as they are the bird of death! With this in mind can you imagine how the family reacted to me taking pictures, feeding Niko and admiring the graves! Its not that I was trying to make the family feel uncomfortable, its just its hard not to find the cemetery here amazing and colourful places, So big and wide, made of white marble and each little grave place (a slot in the wall) decorated so nicely with the brightest flowers ever and priests and monks sat at small shady tables offering personal prayers of luck and hope for the family.

If only they could see a grisly graveyard back home, usually dismal and rainy, with old cracked gravestones, dead flowers and big dark trees overhanging the grounds behind old and creepy churches, and that never scared me, why should this big bright and fancy places they have full of sunshine and colour?

I think with time, people wont fear death here so much and hopeful in the future people here can take a leaf out of the British book and start celebrating the life’s of those who have passed instead of dwelling on it.

But for now, just to save them the culture shock, I think ill wait a few years before I tell the family here that when I die, I don’t want a single person wearing black and I want everyone to have a huge party in my honour!

I’m not saying that my idea of celebrating the life of the dead is the best way but to me it just seems like the right way of doing things, but I’m sure there are people who think my ideas are really insensitive, There will never be a right or wrong way……….

But what do you think?

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