Honoring our loved ones
The physical separation and the pain that comes when a loved one passes away is one of the toughest moments anyone can experience in life. For those who have gone through this pain, there are certain rituals that family and friends carry out to help our loved one transition peacefully to the afterlife. Many of the rituals are based on culture, beliefs, and local traditions. Here I will write about those general practices, in particular those done in Tanggu, a small city in Tianjin. I will also mention the practices done in Nicaragua, my home country.
According to the practices of some Chinese people, in particular, those living in the Tianjin area, when a relative dies and, depending on the time of passing, (whether is before or after midnight) the wake period can last up to 3 days. Right after the person’s death, he/she is dressed in a special shroud and kept either at their home or the funeral place for 3 days so family, relatives, and friends can pay their respect. On the last day of the wake, there is a ceremony where someone from the family will speak about their loved one. Then people attending the ceremony will make offerings of paper money, paper food, paper furniture, and other items that symbolize possessions for the afterlife.
The dress code for the relatives can also indicate the relationship they had with the deceased. Some people may dress according to this. For example, the closest relatives wear black. Some may wear a white hat with a red or blue decoration on it which indicates whether they are children, brothers or sisters, or grandchildren. Most people will wear also white or light-colored clothing. Wearing anything bright or colorful is considered to be disrespectful to the mourners.
After the burial friends and relatives are invited to a reunion dinner to thank them for their support to the family. The coming days will typically include the practicing of these rituals to continue honoring their loved ones. The period takes up to 49 days in which every 7 days there is a special ritual of burning paper money. This is only done during the first, second, third, and fifth periods of the 49 days. Other families may observe a 35-day period performing offerings or burning of the paper every 7 days. Paper money is only burned on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th period of these 35 days.
For close relatives, the mourning period can last up to 3 years, and it may happen that some of these families won’t celebrate the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) for the next three years. They also won’t put up red decorations in their homes. Some families will burn paper instead on the Spring Festival, Qing Ming Festival, July 15th or Ghost Day and October 1st.
Regarding the practices in my country, Nicaragua, when someone dies there are many rituals as well. If the person has been gravely ill, there are already preparations done by the family members to bring peace to the person’s soul by performing some religious rituals. For example, they will summon a priest to come for confession or have a talk with the person about what things they feel troubled by. Many times, these visitations will allow for the priest to perform the anointing of the sick, a catholic sacrament. At the moment of death, the preparation for the wake and burial of the loved one begins. Most people in Nicaragua choose to have the wake service in their homes. Relatives, neighbors, and friends are all welcome to attend to show their respect to the mourners. The waking period is 24 hours from the time of passing until the burial. Because Nicaragua is mostly catholic, some families will have a mass service with the funeral procession before the person is laid to rest.
There is also an old tradition of having 9 consecutive days of prayer after the burial day. This usually happens in the evenings at the home of the family. On day 9 of the prayers, the family organizes a big meal and snacks for the service in which relatives, friends, and neighbors will attend. The event can last up to three hours as they pray three rosary prayers. Some families hire ladies who devote themselves to this type of practice called “rezadoras”. During the prayers, there will be lots of mention of the deceased invoking repeatedly their name to help with a peaceful transition of their soul to the afterlife. However, this old tradition has been modified nowadays. People will only have a 3-day church service avoiding the nine-day prayers and all the work of cooking and preparing meals for many others. Some say it has become very expensive to do all of the traditional rituals.
The dress code for mourners is similar to those practiced in China. The closest relatives will wear black or white colored clothing. During the funeral services, most people will wear black, white, or light-colored clothes. In the past, widowers will dress only in black for a whole year. Nowadays people follow this mourning period but may not be wearing only black for a whole year.
All over the world people follow their beliefs, traditions, and customs that brings them hope that their loved ones are at peace and taken care of in the afterlife. We do everything we can to have the comfort that our beloved will attain their eternal life.
Thank you to the Zhang and Jie family for sharing with me their own experiences honoring their deceased relatives.