The traditional Hispanic culture of death and dying reflects this demographic group's values and religious faith. Funeral and burial rituals reflect the culture's high regard for family.
Hispanic Culture and Family
In Hispanic culture, relationships with immediate and extended family members is very important. Family members look to each other for emotional support during difficult times. Part of this support is in the form of family members caring for loved ones who are ill or dying as opposed to looking to professional caregivers to take on this role.
Caring for the Dying
In traditional Hispanic families, the bulk of care provided for a terminally ill family member is performed by female relatives who are unlikely to ask for outside help to cope with the stress of looking after someone who is close to death. Some Hispanic families may resist the idea of placing a seriously ill family member in a nursing home or other type of facility. Ideally, the ill person is cared for at home until he or she passes away someone with a family member remaining by their side until the end. Spending time with a family member who is close to death also allows relatives to resolve outstanding issues within the family.
The news that a family member is seriously ill may trigger anticipatory grief in close relations. The surviving family members start to experience feelings of loss before their loved one dies. While it is acceptable for women in this culture to show emotion after someone dies, they may not feel comfortable breaking down in front of the terminal patient. The knowledge that a person will die combined with the uncertainty of not knowing when the event will happen can be very stressful for family members.
The majority of Hispanics are Roman Catholics. The Church teaches that the soul is eternal and continues on after the physical body has died. This religious faith also treats all human life as sacred.
Pain and illness may be seen as a test of the individual's and the family's religious faith. In some cases, the patient's and family's faith in God may interfere with the patient agreeing to comfort measures, such as pain medication, that might make him or her feel more comfortable.
The family of a seriously ill individual may reach out to the local priest for support in the time prior to death; once the person has passed, the priest will provide support and assistance with funeral arrangements.
A Catholic, on his or her deathbed, is given last rites by a priest and is anointed with holy oil for this purpose. The priest hears the dying person's confession and offers absolution. The patient, when able, receives Communion and a blessing from the priest.
Holding a Wake
Once a Hispanic individual has died and the body has been prepared for burial, the family will hold a wake. In this culture, the wake is much more of a social event than the traditional one in which family members sit with the body until the burial. Instead, this is a time for friends and family members to share memories of the deceased.
Food is served during the wake and some attendees play cards or dominos. Conversation turns to remembering good times and laughter is part of the occasion. Flowers and candles will be placed in the room where the visitation is being held.
Funeral Rituals in Hispanic Culture
The funeral process will likely include a Mass held in a church. The casket carrying the deceased is transported to the location and close family members take part in a processional as it is moved close to the altar.
Open expressions of grief are acceptable for females in this culture. For men, breaking down after a death is not the norm. They are expected to be strong and keep their emotions in check.
A traditional burial usually follows the church service. According to beliefs in this culture, the dead return on certain days of the year and are remembered through special events. The body must be buried for this to occur as cremation is not a common option in the Hispanic culture.
Friends and extended family members commonly accompany the immediate family to the cemetery for the internment. Afterward, the mourners gather for a meal and reception. This time is for comforting those who are dealing with their grief and to share stories about the deceased.
Spirits Live On After Death
The Hispanic culture of death and dying believes that when a person passes, he or she has moved onto a different phase of life. Their loved ones live on in spirit and are very much a part of the family, even if they are no longer in this realm.