DARE TO ASK: Passing out from grief at funeral?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
What is the origin and significance in Hispanic culture of grieving (weeping)
until one passes out after the death of a loved one? This was widespread after
the death of a popular local girl.
J. Cook, 43, white, Fillmore, Calif.
Wow! Passing out. This girl must have been truly loved and the people around
her very emotional, but I think to relate this event to "Hispanic culture" is
generalizing a bit too much. It could probably be a custom in a certain region
of Mexico, for example. What if you don't want to cry anymore? Should you keep
going till you pass out, to stick with tradition?
N. Agelvis, 29, Latino, Venezuela
I don't know the origin of weeping until you pass out at funerals, but I saw
it among my aunts when I was younger. I believe some people are more emotional
and not afraid to show their sorrow.
Cindy R., 37, Chicana, Los Angeles
How do you pass out from crying? Is that medically possible? I'm
first-generation Mexican, and this is the first time I've heard of this.
Al, 47, Mexican, Saudi Arabia
It is a very old Mexican tradition to weep at funerals. In small towns it
used to be common to hire "lloronas" (wailing or weeping women). It is not only
a reflection of emotions but a very deep root custom in smaller communities.
Guillermo, 40, Mexican, Monterrey, Calif.
Big-time wailing can be common at Hispanic funerals, especially for poorer
Mexican and Mexican-American families, says Velma Sue De Leon, owner of Memorial
Funeral Home in San Juan, Texas, 7 miles from Mexico.
"There is a lot of grieving, it's natural and there's no pretense. ... Some
people in Hispanic culture end up living together generation after generation,
so naturally when they part, it's a jolt," she said. "Hispanics are more
expressive. There are close family ties, and we have a hard time parting with
The University of Washington Medical Center's "Culture Clues" guidelines for
Latino end-of-life care state: "Wailing and the demonstration of strong emotions
at the time of death may be considered a sign of respect. While patients and
family members may exhibit stoicism during an illness, the stoicism may not be
maintained when a death has occurred."
But getting comatose about it?
"I've seen some passing out, but it's not common," De Leon said.
Other practices: requesting to cleanse the body, sitting with the deceased
long after death, burning candles, displaying pictures of saints, using rosaries
and "personalizing" the death.
"At one funeral they put a radio in the casket and left it playing, and as we
were covering the grave you could hear Mexican polka," De Leon said. "The person
who died was really into that type of music."
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers, or mail to
Phillip Milano, c/o The Florida Times-Union, P.O. Box 1949, Jacksonville, FL
32231. Include contact information.