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Things we never talk about

Hey, you! 🙂

So I recently lost a loved one (click here for the post) and on the way to the church, I was riding in my sister's car when her husband asked me how it is in the Philippines when you lose a loved one. For example, the funeral arrangements, cremation, and etc ...

It's not something that we usually talk about, but I thought it was an interesting discussion to have. Culture is not just food, arts, and language. There are also other traditions like burying our dead.

I have experienced both - my mom passed away in the Philippines and my dad passed away in France and both experiences were very different from one another.

Let me first share with you my experience in the Philippines.

My mom passed away in 2002 in a hospital in the Philippines. My dad immediately contacted a funeral home and they took care of my mom. At the time, cremation was not readily available in our hometown and anyways, my mom wanted to be buried. Not a lot of people want to be cremated in the Philippines and I believe it is because of religious reasons. The main religion in the Philippines is Roman Catholicism by the way. Anyways, at the funeral home they take care of the body such as injecting products and they also change the person and put on make-up and transfer them to a semi-close coffin. A semi-close coffin is a coffin that is closed but the face area is open. There is a glass which prevents any contact. You can see the person's face, but there is no way you can touch them.

My dad had the option of having my mom stay in a funeral home for viewing or at home. He chose at home because it was more convenient and practical. We arranged a part of our home for my mom to rest. Her coffin was set against the wall and she had lots of flowers around her and candles. And people too. Philippines tradition says that there should always be people near the coffin at all times. It's very important. She stayed at home for 9 days, which is the minimum time because we have a novena prayer every evening. Praying a Novena for the Dead is a wonderful 9 day prayer to honor a loved one who has passed away. It seeks to help them through their journey to the afterlife. Also, after the novena prayer, a snack is provided or sometimes a full meal (I guess it would depend on the budget). Our house was full of people all the time. Family members slept over, outside even. It is common to play card games until the wee hours. I think that unless you're Filipino, it might hard to imagine all of this.

After the 9 days novena, the body can be buried. The funeral starts with a mass, then we move to the cemetery. Of course, there's a lot of crying. After the ceremony, food is usually distributed, like a snack. I guess it depends on what time the burial is.

Forty days after the funeral, family and friends get together again and pray a Novena Prayer for the Dead. This is usually followed by a meal together. Oh yeah, there's a lot of eating.

Especially because the forty days after the funeral following the burial is considered a grieving period. Traditionally that means no partying, no going out, no wearing of red and flashy clothes, just to name a few examples.

Here's my experience in France.

In 2013, my dad passed away in a hospital. We called a funeral home and they took his body, put on the clothes we had chosen, and he was transferred to their funeral room. He had his own funeral room where he laid on a bed. No coffin, no glass, nothing. He looked like he was sleeping and you could touch him if you wanted to.

The funeral home has opening hours so family and friends can stay the whole day if they want to, but after a certain hour, they have to leave . All you can do in the room is sit, stay quiet as much as possible, and eventually whisper if you have to talk. It's very rare for families to stay the whole day. There is no specific number of days but the body usually stays just a couple of days.

The day of the funeral is the hardest for me. They have what they call in French "la mise en bière". This happens an hour before leaving for church. The funeral home employees come to the funeral home to pick the body up and bring it to church. But before that happens, they have to transfer the body to a coffin. So they give a few minutes to the family members to say their goodbyes, then they ask the family members to leave the room a few minutes. When they were done, we went back to the room and we saw that the body was in a coffin without the cover. The final goodbyes are really sad. They then cover the body with the coffin cover, drill the nails shut, and then seal with wax some parts of the coffin. I think this is the part where I cry the most. And then finally, it's time to go to church.

By the way, if you wish to see the body and say your final goodbyes, it is better to do before la mise en bière because once the body is in a coffin, closed, and seal, there is no way to open the coffin unless ordered by court.

Family and friends usually follow the funeral homes car to the church. There's a mass and then if the person chose to be cremated, like my dad wanted, the body goes with the funeral home people to a crematorium. We can't go along for that, instead, people gather for a cup of coffee and finger food such as mini pizza, quiche, or cakes. If the person wants to be buried, then the group proceeds to the cemetery. After the burial, coffee and finger food are provided.

The ashes are given a few days after. It is now forbidden in France to keep ashes at home or to spread them in nature. So either it is buried in the cemetery or at a specific space in the cemetery. Only close family members get together for that.


So yeah, I've had both experiences, which were very difficult. Losing someone you love is hard. With my mom, it felt very long and I remember barely having any sleep. There's never a moment where you can just be alone with your thoughts - you're always surrounded. At times, I just wanted to be on my own and I really struggled with that. But I had to wait for everything to be done because that's the way it is. And when I finally had my grieving period and I felt like I was doing better a few weeks after, that was about the time it was the 40th day so there I was opening the wound again.

With my dad, it all happened very quickly so I was able to immediately go into my grieving period even when we received the ashes. It was easier in that aspect. But the fact that I could see him in a 'bed' out in the open was very disturbing and the mise en bière is something that takes a lot out of you. I went through it with Lulu last year and my uncle recently and it's heartbreaking. I could have chosen not to, no one forced me, but it's just something I felt like I had to. But once that's over, then that's it, you can grieve on your own and most importantly at your own pace.

These are things we never like to talk about or talk about in general. Like making funeral plans for example, it's very rare in the Philippines for people to make arrangements while they're still alive. Nowadays, people buy funeral plans, but not too many decisions are made. In France, people think of doing it but only once they reach a certain age, usually when they're retired. But the reality is, anything can happen at any time. From what we recently went through with our uncle, I was glad that everything was all planned out. Not only was it easier for us, but most importantly, we knew what he wanted for his after life and that's what meant the most for us.

So yeah, what are some of funeral traditions in your country?

xoxo Elodie

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