Except for a few rare cases such as the grave marking above, I do not believe that any of us would be able to tell this cemetery apart from a cemetery near our own homes. Great care is taken of the monuments and of the grounds. The cemetery is a very sacred place. On November 1, the families will come and decorate the graves of their beloved dead. We do the same on All Souls Day in the Catholic tradition. What is different here is that the families will often gather at the graves on this day and share a meal.
You will notice that all of the monuments and graves areas are white. On the day following this walk to the cemetery, we witnessed a funeral procession. All of the persons were dressed in black. This is the tradition unless the person being buried is a child, in which case, all wear white.
It is the law in Guatemala that a person be buried within 24 hours of death. There may be a few more hours added if the person dies in the middle of the night. If the person dies in the hospital, the family carries the body of the person home from the hospital in the casket in which he or she will be buried. In either case, the immediate family prepares the body for burial. Embalming is not performed in Guatemala. The body will then be in the house of the family until burial. There is a funeral home in Guatemala as well as traditions begin to change.
In the funeral that we witnessed, there was a Mass held in the Catholic Church. This is a service that lasts 30 minutes. Afterwards, in this case the body was put into the back of a station wagon which drove very slowly down the streets from the church to the cemetery which is quite a distance. Immediately behind the station wagon the immediate family walked. Off to either side, friends of the family walked. Police helped to direct traffic so that the lengthy procession would be undisturbed. In other cases, the casket is carried in front of the procession to the cemetery.
The cemetery has a special place for the burial of children as we do in our country. The handwritten marker is for a child. This particular marker touched me deeply.
My teacher said that the women will gather for nine days after the burial to pray in the home of the deceased or the immediate family member. On the 9th day a mass will be said for the deceased. Prayers will again be said on the 40th day and on the one-year anniversary of the death.
Sr. Pam Buganski
Sr. Pam joined SewHope as our first American Project Coordinator in 2012