The living rarely have any knowledge of what to do in the event of a death. A consultative visit to your local undertaker is not on the usual agenda. The following information was obtained on your behalf with the assistance of Robert Groennou of the Funeraria Blandino (Abraham Lincoln No. 62, near Sarasota, Tel. 533-6222).
Should the death take place in a clinic, it is their responsibility to provide you with a death certificate.
If the death occurs in the home, you must have a medical practitioner complete and sign the form called the acta de defunción.
If the death occurs outside of a hospital, you will need to find the medico forense of the town to issue the death certificate.
The death certificate contains basic information such as the deceased’s full name, address and marital status. The doctor is required to enter the cause of death and a witness should be available to sign the document.
Once you have contacted the undertakers, they usually will collect the corpse within 30-45 minutes, day or night. This service is available every day of the year.
You will have to give them the original death certificate and they will remove the corpse for storage in their mortuary, until such time as the family decides on the form of the funeral. You may, of course, decide now, while your voice can still be heard; it is more difficult post mortem.
It is usual to send the clothes the corpse is to wear with the body, and the undertaker will do the necessary. Otherwise, you can dress the body yourself before it leaves the house.
The body will then be placed in a coffin and kept in a chapel at the undertakers. The lid may be open or closed as per the wish of the family. The public display of a corpse is purely a matter of choice. Usually a mass is said, but again this is optional.
The undertaker provides a constant supply of water and coffee for the mourners.
Several mourning ceremonies may be going on at the same time. So that you may be sure to enter the right room to pay your condolences to the right people, check the postings at the funeral home.
The wake continues until 12 noon the next day, followed by burial at the cemetery. It is the family’s choice to retire at midnight and return the next day around 7 am.
Many families follow on with a series of memorial masses held for nine consecutive days. When and where they will be held will be announced.
Any flowers required, and the announcement for the newspaper may be decided at the undertakers and they will place the order with the florist and book space. Payment may be made at the same time.
Should you require the corpse to be sent abroad, funeral homes have a special department which handles such international transfers and they will take care of everything on your behalf. You must, however, be able to provide a current passport, a tourist or residence visa and name of the party responsible for payment.
My Dominican friend says he must go to the funeral of a person he hardly knows because he has to “cumplir.” What does this mean? What is the custom here?
To cumplir is to act in accordance with the standard social procedures. It is expected that he should go to the funeral. He will do so, whether or not it is his desire; it is his duty.
To cumplir is important in this society. It demonstrates solidarity and signifies respect and caring.
When should I send flowers?
It has become less and less necessary to send flowers. You may do so if you are a close friend of the family. Often a donation to a charity is requested in lieu of flowers.
I noticed that at the undertakers there was a book to be signed by those attending. I forgot to sign. Is this important?
If you did not sign the book, it is quite probable that no one will remember you were there. The book is for the consolation of the bereaved. It is a reminder of the affection and respect shown for their dead relative or friend. It is a useful tool for the family that wishes to thank you for your presence afterwards.
I did not attend the funeral of a friend or business acquaintance. Should I call or send a note?
You may send a note or card any time after the funeral. As so many people have relations all over the world, some funeral homes will have a fax machine or Internet computer for their convenience.
When should one go to the nine-day masses?
Unless you were a close friend of the person or family, you are not expected to go to the masses, especially if you attended the funeral. Regardless of how close you were, it is not necessary to attend all the masses, unless you so wish. Nevertheless, if you were unable to attend the funeral you should go to one of the masses. Particularly, you should choose to go to the last one that usually will be announced in the press and marks the end of the mourning period ceremonies.
When should I go to the burial?
Only good friends and family are expected at the interment.
I did not attend at any point. If I meet relatives of the deceased on the street, what would be an acceptable excuse?
Being out of town would have precluded your taking part in any of the services, but sincerity will be your greatest ally in this instance.
If I barely know the person who died, what is an acceptable condolence?
If you wish to send your condolences under such circumstances, a very brief note or card will suffice.
I notice the people at the funeral were talking animatedly. Is this acceptable?
Latin Americans display a great deal of respect for their dead. But bear in mind that a funeral is an event that will gather people together, including family members, who may not have seen each other for a number of years. Inside the chapel, itself, conversation will be muted but outside, there will be a lot more liveliness almost reminiscent of a normal social occasion.
Keep in mind that there are several rooms at the funeral homes, with the names of the deceased posted, so that you may be sure to enter the right one to pay your condolences to the right people.