Funerals are fairly frequent in our little town of Petritoli. This doesn’t seem to be unusual in the hill top villages around here, perhaps because many young people have moved away so the majority of the population are over seventy…(I’m just guessing) although having said that the primary school and the middle school seem to be well stocked and thriving.
The way funerals happen here is the way I remember them happening when I was a child in Ruislip, Middlesex, back in the late1950’s and early 60’s. If a funeral procession passed by then people would stand still and take their hats off as a mark of respect and not move on until the tale of the funeral cortege had gone. The hearse and all the following cars would move very slowly and no other car would dream of overtaking, they just drove patiently behind. Well, that is exactly what it is like here. The hearse waits at the bottom of the town and then drives at a snails pace up through the old cobbled streets to the church in the centre. Behind the hearse the mourners follow on foot with close family members leading the way. It is quite something to see and when we first came to live here I was quite taken aback but found it easy to conform and noticed that in the short time of waiting and watching I had time to reflect on close family and friends that I had lost; a moment to remember.
When someone dies in Italy, posters are put up in the town announcing the date of the death and the day and time of the funeral, which is normally within two days. It is quite common for a photograph of the deceased to be on the poster, which is actually rather helpful to us outsiders, because often a person can be recognised by sight but not by name. The Italians also put photographs on the graves in the cemeteries; I think both ideas are rather lovely.
What I have noticed is that in Italy and particularly in the rural areas death is totally accepted as a natural thing to happen, especially to an older person. The funeral is well attended and the departed person is given a respectful farewell and most importantly people take the time and care to show their feelings and support the bereaved family. Everything slows down; people are open with their comfort and with their grieving, but it doesn’t last long, it doesn’t feel depressing.
Having said all that, what prompted me to write this blog was an incident in town today. I had left the house early and then had to park outside and walk up as it was market day and on these days the traffic is stopped from driving through the old centre as the stalls are spread across the road and there is no room. Particularly at the moment while the Water Board are doing major repairs it isn’t possible to drive into town one way and out the other but the vehicles have to turn around in the middle. As I was walking up I saw quite a number of people walking down together, I thought it was strange that the Petritoli Market was so popular and why was everyone leaving at the same time? Imagine my surprise when I realised a funeral was taking place…the chaos was unimaginable with our local police woman trying to direct everyone. But of course, everyone just paused for a while and let the funeral continue as if it were the most natural thing to be happening. The market and the shopping carried on once again after the hearse and followers had left the town and made their way to the cemetery. Imagine this happening in London or anywhere in the UK in fact.
Market Stall Opposite the Church