Paying for your tears

It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.
― Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Another Sunday. Another Sunday starting and ending exactly in the same way as all Sundays in the last year.

Boring, I know, but it is when you are bored that all sorts of things come to mind, as if your brain wants to give you something different to think about, to replace the usual “what can I cook for lunch/dinner?”, or “should I do the fifth re-watch of Friends?”.

And this morning, while I was sipping my coffee and I was starting to plan my lunch, my brain clearly had enough and reminded me of prèfiche.

Prèfiche were professional mourners, women that were paid to cry at funerals. This job has very ancient roots, starting from Ancient Egypts and China, but was practised up until the ’80s in the South of Italy.

These women would go to the house of the defunct and start crying and shouting in a very dramatic way, scratching their own faces and pulling their hair, obviously dressed in total black. Behind all these noises, there is not only a way to take part to the family’s grief, but it was also believed that the spirit of the dead would be scared away by the yelling, and this would guarantee that the ghost wouldn’t come back.

The shouting would intensify while transporting the coffin from the house to the cemetery, and also any time somebody would go to visit the family of the defunct, that for up to 9 days would stay in the house with the windows and shutters closed, using only candles to get some light.

Thinking about it, it is so different compared on how death is perceived nowadays, in a time when grief is meant to be experienced as quietly as possible, preferably with a post on social media.

I would like to find out more about funerals and grief around the world, if you have any stories to share please let me know in the comments!

#life

24 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Wow, what a ritual that must have been! I certainly don’t have any stories to compare. Funerals when I was growing up used to be held with an open casket at the wake. When I was very young, my grandfather died and I asked my mother why we had to look at him like this. She told me it was part of the grief process that we needed to see in order for our hearts to really believe that he was gone. I think there may be something to that, but most people around here choose cremation.

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  2. We actually still have them in Romania. My grandfather’s sisters used to do this, they were called “bocitoare” and I have to say it’s a quite intense practice, I personally am not very fond of it!

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  3. My very early childhood in a nutshell! I can remember my great-grandmother, grandmother, aunts and other female relatives and/or friends I barely knew, perpetually dressed in black, wailing at the funerals of loved ones (or not so loved, in some cases) “Lancia mi in tomba cun ellu!”, which translated from Sicilian is “Throw me in the grave with him!”. Highly dramatic and extremely traumatic for those of us who were three, four or five years old. I will always remember being forced to kiss the hard, cold forehead of my deceased great-grandfather before the casket was closed – an awful memory for a child to bear. There were times when I couldn’t fall asleep at night knowing there was a dead relative laying in a coffin in my living room downsairs! That’s the way it was done back then and probably still is in many areas of my parents’ hometown and elsewhere around the world. These are just memories now and, while at times they caused nightmares when I was younger, they have faded. This is a part of my childhood I’m glad has disappeared. My children never witnessed this and my grandchildren certainly never will. In my mind it’s a terrible memory for kids that last many years. There are other peaceful, kinder and gentler ways to remember our lost loved ones.

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  4. Wow I have never heard of that before. We have visitation, usually at the funeral home with open or closed casket, a short service and then off to the cemetery. We follow the deceased to the cemetery and there is a short blessing there. Afterwards everyone goes to a social gathering with food.

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  5. This cultural practice sounds very interesting. My husband and his family are Jewish, and when his mother passed a few years ago, the Rabbi invited all at the graveside service to fling a shovel of soil onto the casket after it was lowered. The ritual, he said, is the act of accepting the death and begins the process of closure. It felt like a meaningful way to honor her, almost like closing a book at the end of the life story.

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