Showing Respect in Mexico: We are in the season of cheer and joy in Puerto Vallarta and there is much to celebrate but for some, death arrives to put a damper of the fiestas. As foreigners, what can we do to understand and be of any comfort?
Our first year in Puerto Vallarta, we visited a family member of a friend at the hospital. Showing respect, as we would have back home, we brought a bouquet of flowers. They were quickly and discreetly whisked away and it was explained later that in Mexico, one doesn’t bring flowers to the hospital, as that could be a bad omen. Flowers are reserved for funerals and it should be noted, the more flowers surrounding a casket indicate the family’s high regard.
Mexicans accept death as a part of life in a way that we from outside the borders are not accustomed to, yet it’s a healthier was to teach children, and not shield them from grief. Mexicans see grieving as a natural process of life. Family and friends spend time with the corpse before burial and it’s not unusual for them to keep a body in the home for up to 48 hours in a simple coffin or shroud. Communion with the departed is of great importance, as is choosing objects to be sent with them on their journey to the next realm. It would be normal to see an expensive bottle of tequila, for example, in the coffin, along with personal articles, such as a hair brush, dominoes, photos of those left behind, and other sentimental things.
If you attend the velorio (wake), you have an opportunity to bring flowers. You can also bring food to share, as the family is likely to have members from outside Puerto Vallarta staying overnight and sometimes for several days. Cash is always a welcome gift, as funerals are expensive in any country. You don’t have to stay for long but in Puerto Vallarta, showing up at a velorio is the best sign of respect you can possibly pay. Candles are a big deal at velorios, so you might consider bringing them as gifts. They burn all night and are placed carefully at the specific corners of the coffin. Novenas are said for nine days following burial, to ensure a safe journey for the traveler.
Day of the Dead is a time for the departed to return to visit and they are welcomed and enticed by their favorite foods and mementoes.
It’s good to know the customs of any country one visits to avoid faux pas such as ours with the flowers.
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