In order to protect the privacy of the deceased, I won't go in-depth on some issues, but instead will try to give you a few anecdotal observations. Be aware that this is merely my reporting on one single death, and is not meant to be a comprehensive study of how things are always done here. Hopefully, there won't be any more deaths in my village, because I don't want to become an expert on this topic. Heck, I do not even consider myself an expert on the death culture of America!
The body was removed from the house last Sunday and taken to one of two mortuaries on the island. On Wednesday evening, I was invited to the home of the deceased for a prayer meeting. Once family and friends had arrived, those who could fit inside gathered within the deceased's bedroom, while the rest of us huddled near the bedroom door and the surrounding area of the house. One of the respected women from the church led the gathering.
I'm still new to this whole Catholic religion, but I assume that she was reading from “the book of prayers.” It was punctuated with lots of short group prayers that the others knew by heart, as well as scripture readings and hymn singing. Upon completion of this somber ceremony, everyone shared cake and drinks before departing down the hill.
The funeral itself was held on Friday afternoon at our modest Catholic church. With no funeral home in this tiny village, the visitation and viewing was held prior to the funeral service. The open casket was located at the front door of the church, so that everyone passed by on their way into the service.
The funeral mass was similar to what I've witnessed in the United States, albeit longer than most because it included communion. The absence of air conditioning and the sound of the omnipresent village roosters crowing just outside were noticeably different than a typical American funeral. It was somewhat similar to a standard Sunday service here, and included a collection to defray the funeral costs. Family members and friends were given a special badge to wear for the service (mine is shown below).
Here in Dominica, the tradition is that the deceased's family is responsible for entertaining visitors with food and drink. In other words, if you make the effort to visit and console the family, then they should reward you with food and drink that the family has prepared or purchased. It is just a different way of doing things than I have previously experienced, but that doesn't make it wrong. In some respects, this responsibility may give the family something to do rather than overly focusing on their loss.
It is partly because of this practice that there is an emphasis on funeral pre-planning and insurance here. Funerals can be expensive for your survivors, so many Dominicans make the arrangements in advance and pay for them by installment plans. I think many Americans might benefit from contemplating their own death and preparing funeral service plans, wills, etc., even if they don't have to host their own guests.
Dying is a part of life, regardless of one's location on the globe. However, I hope that deaths are a rare occurrence in my village (as well as back home), and that this will have been my last opportunity to write about this topic. In the meantime, make the most of each day you have. I know I am trying to do just that!
Notice how the holes in the cement blocks on the back wall provide ventilation.