Funeral rites, dying in hospital

If you have read my book you will know that for Italians, dying at home is the preferred place.  They don’t use Funeral Homes like we do, the law here, while flexible if you know the right people and have ‘pull’, some things can’t be changed.

My father in law died in a hospital in Frosinone (the capital of the Province) on June 1st at 3pm with his four children by his side.  From the time of his last breath until today, June 3rd we have barely stopped to take a breath.
The law states that after a hospital death the body cannot be touched for 2 hours.  Enzo (my husband and the oldest son) went with his nephew to make arrangements with the Funeral Director in Isola Liri.  I was phoned and told to get out the brand new clothes and shoes we had already prepared before we left for Canada.  Peppe’s Identity card would also be needed.  Gian Carlo dropped Lorenza off to help me then will return to pick up me and Lorenza and the clothes and take us to Isola Liri where Enzo would be waiting.  Time was short as after 2 hours rigor mortis would set in and it would be difficult for them to prepare Peppe before the hospital closed for the night.  Since the next day was a national holiday the church had to be arranged and I was asked to call on Peppe’s ‘conmari’ (friend) who is very active in the church of San Rocco.  Since the hospital will only allow the body to remain on their premises for 24 hours and the law will not allow for us to bring him home the funeral service must be arranged for the next afternoon or disaster will strike.  This would mean arranging for the body to remain in the church overnight or be placed in the mortuary at the cemetery.
Fortunately the funeral was arranged for 4:30pm.  The priest is doing another funeral mass at another of his parish churches at 3pm so we may have to wait for him to arrive.
In the mean time Lorenza and I start making phone calls to advise people of the arrangements.  The Funeral Director is printing up notices and these will be pasted all over the town in the next few hours.  We need to be on top of this for relatives at least so they are not surprised by seeing a notice before they get our call.  I don’t know most of these people so Lorenza is going through our phone book but she makes me make the call.  She doesn’t want to do it!  Thankfully most of them don’t answer.

It is almost 6pm before GianCarlo returns to pick us up and Enzo is phoning frantically to find out what the delay is as the Funeral Director is still worried about rigor mortis. GianCarlo had decided to take his wife and kids home before he came for us and since he had our car Enzo could only wait for him to return.  Since the hospital visitation rooms close at 6pm any receiving of friends will take place tomorrow from 8:30am until 3pm.

Early next morning we set off for Frosinone and found the ‘camera mortuaria’ in the basement of the hospital with an entrance off the main road with the only available parking right on the road.  The entrance was an untidy courtyard with just enough space for the undertakers vehicles to load their charges.  The surrounding bushes were overgrown and the driveway was covered with cigarette butts since no ashtrays were provided. Inside were 4 rooms.  Imagine utility rooms, concrete floors and walls painted and not too clean.  The funeral service is forbidden to provide any hangings or back drop as they would in a home and no stands for flowers are permitted.  Even the holy water for sprinkling is not allowed.  Three utility benches are provided in the room we are assigned and Peppe’s coffin is laid on a bench with wrought iron base that is dusty and has cobwebs hanging from it.  Another bench in the room is not in use and I commented to Lorenza how fortunate this was. As friends and family start arriving Lorenza decided that we should begin to say a rosary and one of her friends agreed to lead the prayer.  About half way through two men push their way into the room with another coffin with no respect for the prayer we were saying.  They unceremoniously heaved the coffin onto the other bench and left.  They were immediately replaced by about 20 members of the deceased family who were distraught with grief.  He was a relatively young man who had died from a brain aneurysm and their grief was loud and unremitting and had no respect for our grief or our prayers.  As we finished they opened the glass doors to admit even more of their friends and family.  This for me was completely unacceptable for both parties but there was no alternative.  The other rooms were occupied and we had no where to go.

The day wore on, our backs were sore from sitting on the hard wooden benches, our feet from standing outside and pacing up and down.  At 2:45pm Anna and Gigi arrived to pay their last respects.  The grief of the other family temporarily suspended while they stared unbelievingly at two easily recognised ‘stars’ in their midst.  Both Anna and Gigi were visibly moved and shed some tears before the Funeral Director was required to begin the work of closing and sealing the casket for its journey to Sora.

The cortège left without incident and thankfully the traffic was light due to the holiday.  We moved in unison through the town and down the highway to Sora where the funeral car, Marco and us made the final goodbye and drove Peppe up the driveway that he constructed to his family home.  We parked, the coffin was slid out slightly and prayers were said before the journey to the church was resumed.

The church was full to overflowing, Peppe would have been proud of his friends, family and associates.  A rosary was said while we waited for the priest to arrive, then the service began.  A sung mass had been arranged which I understand is pretty special and it was very nice.  Last goodbyes were said, condolences given and kisses exchanged before we left the church under overcast skies with rain just beginning to fall.  As we moved once more in procession through the town, the skies darkened ominously and in the 2 kilometers distance a major storm blew up out of previously sunny skies, accompanied by thunder and lightening.  Umbrellas were hurriedly located and we ran into the cemetery getting a light drenching in the process.  Peppe was placed in the ‘holding’ room along with an elderly woman who had died just months before her 100th birthday.  They would be companions for the night before being placed in their respective ‘niches’ in the morning.  More teary goodbyes were said while the storm increased in intensity and we were left to run for our cars through the drenching rain which had already left the courtyard under 10 centimeters of water.

As we drove home though the town’s flooded streets we joked about Peppe’s displeasure at something we had done or forgotten to do.

Enzo and I went home followed by Lorenza and Tonino to prepare for a family dinner that would be supplied by Enzo’s cousin later that evening.  As we entered the house it was apparent that the power had been off during the storm and Enzo went into the garage to turn it back on.  As he did so the security alarm, installed by Peppe several years earlier and never used in the last few years, was tripped and began to sound the alarm.  As the alarm screamed we ran around frantically trying to locate the special key in the darkened rooms.  I eventually found it and ran to the old entrance where I knew the alarm button was concealed behind an old switch plate.  I pushed the key in place and the alarm was finally silenced.  For 30 seconds before it resumed its noise even more furiously.  I didn’t know what to do next, it had only gone off once in all the time I have been here and I only watched casually as Peppe silenced it.  Enzo arrived swearing furiously and started putting the key in and out while I frantically punched buttons.  The alarm would stop mysteriously for a few seconds then begin again.  Just as Enzo was ready to pull out the wires it stopped.  We are still not sure what we did but all sighed with relief as we realised that Peppe had had the last laugh after all!

The next morning at 8:30am we were all at the cemetery to watch the workers seal the tomb in Peppe’s chosen place.  Flowers were left at the side and we pulled flowers from the remaining wreaths to take to his wife, his brother in law, his mother and others ancestors places. The next day a photo was chosen for the tombs cover plate, bills were paid with the money he had left in the basement safe and the paperwork started that would close the book on a life that began on July 29th 1929.  On July 29th 2010 a mass will be said in his memory and then the entire family will go out for a meal together at his expense according to his wishes.  His final goodbye!

One comment

  1. I just finished reading your book and I am so sad to hear that Peppe died. It makes sense but I feel like he should still be around because I just finished reading about him. He is adorable! Thank you for updating his story and letting us know what happened to him.


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