Conversation with Lucero from Mexico
Kasia - I know you are going through a difficult time because your mother’s and uncle’s deaths are very recent. What makes you feel better and what comforts you right now?
Lucero - All the deaths that I have experienced so far are different. My mother died of a degenerative disease, I saw her fade little by little, with severe pain, and I felt helpless not being able to comfort her. It was very sad to see her like this because she was always a woman full of life, very hard-working and active. Answering your question, the fact that I have been present in her illness, going with her through its stages and helping her as much as I could makes me feel better.
Kasia - It seems to me that if someone loses a loved one in a very unexpected way, for example in an accident or a heart attack, they might often think 'I wish I had known they were going to die'. When your mom passed away, you had some time to prepare. Did it help you to know that she was going to die?
Lucero - Facing death will never be easy. There are people who reach a complete understanding of it in a few days but in my case it was definitely not easy. My mother had an illness that was consuming her and "being present" helped me to become aware of the whole context of her state. I imagine that it is difficult to assimilate death when it is sudden. 3 weeks before my mother’s death, her brother, my uncle, passed away. I can't tell you that his death hurt me more, but it shocked me a lot. With my mother I had the opportunity to be with her for a week when she was in intensive care and that surely makes me feel better because I had the opportunity to say goodbye to her and accept her death.
Kasia - Is it easier to deal with the feelings of grief knowing what the bereavement process consists of? Or every time you are surprised and it seems to you that it is equally difficult although you have already lived it?
Lucero - Surely your perspective changes. Several important people in my family have died and I already know what the process is like in the first days or the first year. From all the good or bad experiences you learn, even from a death event you can learn a lot. Every time I have had a loss I have understood one issue or another, I have matured in aspects, I would not call it the ease of overcoming losses, I would call it maturing.
Kasia - I wanted to ask you about the support you have received from your friends. Very often the people around us want to support us, but they don't know how. How was it in your case?
Lucero - I think that for friends supporting someone who is grieving is also very difficult. I have been on the supportive end and really sometimes I did not know what to say and how to support my friends because these are very complex situations. I have many friends but when my brother died 4 years ago, some of them that I have known for years, stepped back a little. And I have to say that this bothered me quite a lot for a moment because I wanted to talk about what had happened. When we saw each other again, they told me that when they lost a relative, they wanted time and space and they thought that it was how it would work for me. They were very frustrated because they did not know how to help me and make me feel better. Now, after my mother’s death, it was the opposite. I wanted to be alone because I was so tired. But I always value a lot when someone wants to offer support. This can be a walk in the park, going out, or just a hug. In general, when I am stressed or sad, talking helps me massively. There are people who try to give me advice but I feel that the fact that I talk about my situation once, twice or three times makes me find the answer I am looking for. So for me, the greatest support a friend can offer is to listen to me.
Kasia - You just said that after your mother’s and brother’s deaths your needs were totally different. After your brother’s death you wanted to be surrounded by friends and after your mother’s you wanted to be alone. These two situations show me that for friends who know you, it can also be a challenge to offer adequate support because each loss in our life requires another type of approach. The solution that comes to mind is to remember that the needs of a person who is grieving change and to ask more openly what kind of support can be offered. Asking means that as friends we care and we really want to offer adequate support.
Lucero - Exactly! It has happened to me that I was so overwhelmed that sometimes it just helped me to go out for a walk. Sometimes walking didn't help, but rather smoking a cigarette or maybe talking, talking and talking.
Kasia - How do family dynamics change after the death of a family member?
Lucero - Obviously many things change. Situations and family roles change. Sometimes it happens that one person in the family takes on the role of the person who passed away. In my case it has happened with the death of my brother. My brother was a real joker and I started to make my family laugh so that they would not miss that touch of humour. But that was not my job and doing so I did not live my grief. I truly believe that it is important to be present as much as possible in the life of the person who is dying. If there was an absence at that stage, it is difficult to accept something that you did not see and that you did not know. Years can go by and you don't believe it or you keep questioning it.
Kasia - I would like you to tell me about Mexican wakes. To tell you the truth, I would love funerals in Poland to be a little more joyful.
Lucero - How are the funerals in Poland?
Kasia - Well, if it is a Catholic funeral, it begins with a mass that is quite sad and serious. After the mass everyone who has come, goes in a procession to the pantheon. Also sometimes a meal is organized in a restaurant for the closest family. And that's it, basically.
Lucero - In some movies I've seen from the United States, when someone dies, they bury them a week later. Is it like that in Poland?
Kasia - Yes, in Poland it is similar. Normally the funeral takes place a few days after the death occurs to give the family time to prepare the ceremony and contact those who want to participate in the funeral. What is it like in Mexico?
Lucero - One day after or the same day. It depends on the time a person died. Generally the wakes here, within the sadness that we have, I could describe them a little as a touch of folklore of joy. Throughout the Mexican Republic there are different traditions and customs and it varies a lot depending on who the person who has died was. For example, my brother was a very popular, beloved person and a lot of people came to his wake. It was very moving to me when we left the church and I saw a ride with many horses from some groups he attended and a parade of motorcycles. He was truly fond of motorcycles and horses.
Kasia - So, it was a very personalized celebration.
Lucero - Exactly. A wake is a celebration of the life that this person has had. Normally when the body is delivered, it is watched in a funeral room or at home. We watched my mom here, at home for example. During this time people pray, bring food and accompany. And then there is the mass that lasts an hour. After the mass you go with the body in procession to the pantheon. Here in Mexico the Mariachi are used a lot. The procession goes and the Mariachi go behind. It ends by leaving your relative in the cemetery and then everyone returns to the home of the person who died to continue the celebration.
Kasia - I really like that Mariachi are engaged. I would say that I associate their music with happiness and joy.
Lucero - Well, there is a mariachi music played at funerals that makes you feel twice as bad. But I remember that before my father’s funeral, I was very little, my brothers approached the Mariachi and said: "We would like you to play only happy music, don’t play sad songs." But I have to tell you that I have participated in wakes that seemed like a party. There was music, alcohol, some gunshots to say goodbye to the soul, people dancing.
Kasia - It seems very natural to me, because, if we want it or not, life and death come together. It's great that these two concepts can be brought together in one celebration.
Lucero - Of course it all depends on the person who died and the family and what they allow, but it is generally celebrated between laughter and tears. This is how I can describe wakes.
Kasia - Celebrating in a very joyful way does not mean that it does not hurt that this person has passed away. And the wake is a perfect occasion to remember how this person really was, probably the last time with all the people who loved them.
Lucero - I guess you've heard of the Day of the Dead. In most countries it is Halloween, here we celebrate the lives of those who are gone. It is a national holiday, the streets are full of colour, music, it is also a very nostalgic time. But for me, as a Mexican, the most important thing is not to stop believing that once a year those who have died come to celebrate with us the life they had here.
Kasia - Have you seen the animated movie called Coco?
Lucero - Of course I have. It reflects 100% the Mexican culture and families. I was impressed with this movie.
Kasia - And how exactly do you celebrate the Day of the Dead?
Lucero - We start the celebration on the 28th of October, which is the day of people who died tragically, due to violence or accidents. The 30th and 31st are days dedicated to children, the 1st of November is All Saints' Day. We celebrate all those who led exemplary lives. The 2nd of November is the day of the dead. Here in Mexico during these days we put an altar in our houses. An altar is a tribute to the people who have passed away. Normally from the door a path full of yellow marigold flowers is placed that serve as a guide that the souls follow to the altar. The altar has 7 floors and every day, starting from the 28th of October, something is placed there -flowers, salt, an object used by the person who died, a photo, a favourite food. Each thing has a meaning. It is a celebration that your loved ones who passed away are coming to see you. Basically, it is as if you were waiting for a visitor and you no longer see it in a context of sadness. Well there are always tears but it is more about the joy of waiting for them.
Kasia - So, after having experienced many important losses in your life, what has changed in you and your attitude towards life?
Lucero - All good and bad experiences help you grow. I keep working on improving things, which I know I have to improve to enjoy more the time that I am here. I don't want to argue, I want to work on negative thoughts, pay more attention to positive things in my life. A reflection has come to my mind that is closely related to what we have talked about so far. I know that when someone dies a piece of you goes away. But I also think that the way you live your grief is the way you will see your life. If you have good grief, your perspective on life will change for the better.
Translated from Spanish by Kasia Borowczak
Corrected by Jen Fearnley