The grandfather of a member of our staff who has become a friend at Los Islotes died earlier this month.
Dalys’ granddad, Bocho, was 80 years old. He lived his whole life in La Loma de Quebro on Panama’s western Azuero coast. He was a leader of his community, respected and loved.
“We are expecting 300 people to come to say good-bye,” Dalys told me, “from all over the country.”
Dalys explained that, after someone dies in this part of Panama, family and friends travel to the deceased’s home for a vigil that extends over nine days. The closest family members sleep in the house together.
“We leave all the doors and windows open all day and all night so everyone’s prayers can leave and so Bocho’s spirit can come and go. We believe that, during this time, the deceased is walking all around his house, inside and outside.
“The first night after the death,” Dalys explained, “a kind of altar is made with white cloth, white flowers, a rosary, and a cross. Some people place a photo of the dead person at the altar.
“The neighbors and relatives who come to support the family stay awake all night each night. One of them takes responsibility for leading the rosary.
“The day after the death, a funeral mass is held.
“Over all nine days, everyone gathered recites the rosary together. Each night when the rosary ends, the family shares bread, coffee, and tea with the people who came to pray. Then, again, everyone gathers around the altar and stays awake until dawn.
“On the ninth day, the entire group meets one final time in the house of the deceased. We slaughtered a cow to feed all the guests who came for Bocho.
“When night falls on the ninth day, we pray the rosary one final time, then the altar is dismantled little by little.
“We have a moment of silence while the spirit of the deceased walks for the last time before finally leaving.”
The cost of these ancient traditions is great. The family of the deceased is expected to feed everyone who gathers over the nine days.
Lief and I weren’t able to participate but were with Dalys and her family in spirit.