Sunday, October 08, 2006


I have written here about death and mourning rituals in Sicily. During the past week, I have become more closely involved in them as, sadly, a friend in another town has lost her mother.

On Thursday I went to pay a "mourning visit" to her home and to view the salma [body]. It was, I have to say, a very peaceful scene. Never having witnessed such a sight before, I didn't know quite what to say, but people were talking mostly about how serene the lady looked and commenting on the coffin and undertakers used.

I was asked about the different traditions in Britain and said that probably the main difference is that most families do not have the body in the house. My friend asked where family, friends and acquaintances go to view it and then someone else chipped in, "Oh, I expect you go to the undertaker's ". I did not have the heart to tell them that only the deceased's nearest and dearest do this in Britain and that sometimes even they may not wish to, preferring to remember the person as they were. I also explained that we don't put up death notices on the wall of the house or in the town and was asked how people know when and where the funeral is. I replied that we usually phone them and / or put a notice in the newspaper. I've also observed here that a notice of condolences from the bereaved relative's place of work often appears underneath the death announcement on the walls or notice boards - a gesture of sympathy not displayed in Britain.

On Friday at the funeral the hilltop church was packed, something else that does not usually happen in Britain. Only the family wore black and other mourners were not dressed up; Sicilians think that the important thing is that you are there and they are right. Just as the coffin was being carried out of the church there was the most glorious burst of sunshine and I think that lifted all our hearts.

I do hope all that is true about eternal life; we are indeed to be pitied if it is not.


Maria said...

So sorry... all the best. ~M

Ballpoint Wren said...

Me, too, WL, my hopes are that the soul lives on. It's hard enough thinking that we have to wait to see our loved ones again, without thinking that we'll NEVER see them again.

Since we are the land of immigrants, we have many different traditions for funerals, from "open casket" to "closed casket" to "holding a wake" and even viewing the cremation. Talk about running the gamut!


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