Death and burial customs have been practiced by many civilizations since the beginning of time. Though there are many different beliefs and ways in which the many civilizations carry out their ceremonies, some concepts might not have changed all that much and might in fact have some things in common. Music just might be one of those things that tie cultures and their people together in their funeral practices. It is a very important part in peoples lives and it has many uses. It can help calm nerves, or give people the urge to dance, or in this case, help remember a loved one. In this essay, I will introduce you to two different cultures through three generations that over the years, have had differences and similarities in their funeral practices, in the music that helped them remember their loved one, and in their attitude toward death.
I only have one grandparent alive whom I love very much. She is my grandmother, Mima, my mothers mom. My brother gave her that nickname since her actual name was hard to pronounce when he was a little boy. That name kind of stuck with us and our cousins throughout the years. She was born and raised in Cuba, but came to the Americas when she was about 32 years old, with her husband (my grandfather) Oscar, who we dubbed Pipo, and my mother and aunt. I told her about my essay and she told me that she would help me as much as she could since these events happened so long ago. She had lost her grandmother in Cuba when she was about my age; I am now 18. In Cuban tradition, they would usually hold a wake, also known as the velorio in Spanish terms, inside the persons home in the living room so that people can pay their respect to the body and pray along with the family. However, they did not have the same medical advances as we do now. In the United States there is a process called embalming, which is an injection of a preservative that helps the body from decaying. Instead, they would just leave the body as it was and move it to the living room for viewing. In my grandmothers experience of this, her grandmother began to swell up and turned purple since she was left for viewing for three days. After this, they finally buried her in a cemetery and the period of mourning began thereafter for three years. In this case the women did most of the mourning while the men did not participate. Those closest of kin were to wear all black for a period of one year. They consisted of her grandmothers sisters, daughters, and nieces as well. After the year was over, for the next two years they would alternate the colors in their dress with black, white, and gray.
I also asked my grandmother about any music or song that she might remember to have being played during anytime in the ceremony. She actually replied that there was absolutely no music being played along with no celebration of the sort. I also asked if she remembered any song at the time that reminded her of her grandmothers passing, but her answer was also no, however, she did have a song for another special loved one. In this case, it was my grandfather Pipo. He died of cancer in 1990, and he really was her first and last love. She said that the song by Felipe Pirela (a well known Spanish Bolero singer) "Cuando Estemos Viejos", reminded of her of her late husband. It was his favorite song and every time she heard it, a tear would come to her eye. Although that song or any song in that case, was not played in his ceremony, it still helps her to recall of his passing since it was around that time that the song had hit the airwaves. The song actually embraces the real life fact of getting older and being able to share it with a special someone; and when each year passes by, they learn to love each other more.