Grieving Together

- A tradition of Mourning - 

Conversation between Andreea Vlăduț, Zamfira Ludovica Mureșan, Filip Veronica, Filip Sanfira and Filip Victoria on the ritual of mourning. 

Original Audio Language: RO
Transcript: Andreea Vlăduț 
Translation: Andreea Vlăduț
Date: 15. 08. 2023
Location: Satul Cupșeni, Maramureș county, Romania

I arrived in the village of Cupșeni together with Zamfira Ludovica Mureșan, where we met three women whose voices seemed to have passed through all the experiences of life, interspersed with knowledge about the traditions and customs of the village. For two hours, we spent time talking about life, the challenges they faced, and health, touching on memories of funeral rites and the role of mourners within the community.

Filip Veronica, Filip Sanfira and Filip Victoria from Cupșeni, Maramureș are the ones who continue to take care and practice the village’s customs. Through their voice, they spread the knowledge of the ritual of mourning and a shared vulnerability that helps people to cope with loss.

Zamfira: Of all the customs in the village, each is different and has an importance within the community.  However, the cult of the dead is the one most likely to disappear, rather than merely undergo transformation. For example, the wake has been excluded from the funeral rites, along with the customs of preparing the deceased. In the past, relatives and neighbors would attend the wake whole night long.

Filip Sanfira: At the funeral, children would come and play. They would wrap a potato in a cloth and pass it around the feet, while the others had to jump over it.

Filip Veronica: Oh, God what was there! The elderly would climb on crates to stay out of the way.

Zamfira: And what else were people playing?

Filip Veronica: They also played cards. And they costume themselves as
moși. În moș și babe.1 When I was a child. Nowadays, such traditions have faded away.

Andreea: From what I remember, jokes are still practiced at the wake. Have you been called to the dead to take care of the rites? To wash, embalm, dress, mourn the deceased?

Filip Victoria: For each of the customs, there is a separated woman.

Filip Veronica: Those who wash the deceased, don't mess with food, with handing out the knot-shaped breads (

Filip Victoria: This is where the kinswomen, relatives, and those close to the departed mourn. Even a woman from the village, who has lived well with the one who has died and wishes to bid farewell, goes to the coffin and mourns.

AndreeaIs there a specific number of women who participate in the mourning ritual?

Filip Sanfira: No.
Filip Veronica: When you cry for the dead, you mourn for a year.
Filip Victoria: You're in mourning. And we don't say funeral, we say

Andreea: I had a conversation with Zamfira about
cântecul de petrecut mortul4. Is there any versified lament that you perform at a funeral?

Zamfira: In the southern part of Romania, some women sing a very long song that can last for up to two hours.

Filip Victoria: Also, here in Maramureș, there is a versified lament composed by a skilled person, but it is not sung. It is read before the cemetery.

Andreea: Is it read by the women or the priest?

Filip Victoria: By the deacon.

Zamfira: Deacons also sing on the road. On the road only the deacons sing, and, of course, the women who mourn the dead.

Andreea: During the burial procession, on the way to church, do you stop at the crossroads?

Filip Veronica: Yes, at all seven stops. We make seven stops, from the moment we leave home until we reach the grave.

Andreea: And do you throw coins?

Zamfira: They are placed inside of the knot-shaped bread. The coins are not thrown away.

Filip Veronica: There are 8 knot-shaped breads, 7 with money and one without money. The knot-shaped breads are placed in one bag, and the one without money is positioned at the bottom of the bag. At each stop, you hand out the one with coins, and the one without coins continues to be carried in the bag all the way home. When you arrive home, you throw it in the attic. My dad has been dead for over 44 years, and the bread is still in the attic, remaining intact with no living thing having touched it.

Andreea: Is also the hen thrown over the coffin?

Filip Victoria: No, it doesn't. It goes over the coffin and back under it.

Andreea: Does the manifestation differ according to the age of the deceased?

Filip Veronica: It doesn't differ too much...only for children, young people, the unmarried ones. In our country one makes a flag, a one makes a wreath and a young person takes it to the cemetery and from there to the church and stays there.

Andreea: Is there specific clothing for young people?

Filip Sanfira: They are dressed in bride or groom clothes.

Andreea: How can you access the feeling of sorrow so easily? I was watching Zamfira during the rehearsal, and instantly, she could express her pain through lyrics and tears.

Filip Victoria: This is our microbe: the tradition.

Zamfira: I think it comes naturally. It's very common in the community. At the beginning, it was very hard because I was afraid of making a fool of myself, of people talking about me. At first I sang softly, so the old people wouldn't hear me. It's not easy at first; it's very difficult. But with time, once you get used to it, it becomes easy. For some people, mourning outside the funeral ceremony is considered to bring bad luck. I've seen old women in the cemetery mourning their close ones who have been dead for more than five years. And then it means you can sing anytime. When you remember your dear ones, you can externalize the pain anytime.

Filip Veronica: I told you that my dad has been dead for 44 years. For a year, every day I went to the grave and mourned, until I had a dream with him, in which he told me to stop.

Filip Veronica and Filip Sanfira, photo credits: Sara Piñeros

Andreea: This can be defined as a premonitory sign. Are there any signs that appear before someone dies?

Zamfira: Someone said about the bird of death that if it sings, it brings death. Eg.: The cuckoo... or the rooster singing while staying in specific positions.

Filip Victoria: When my father died... one day before his death, on a Tuesday, I went to feed the horse, and it started to neigh strongly. It also laid its head on my shoulder. I knew something bad would happen. The next day, my father died.

Zamfira: Another sign is the dogs howling. Non-human agents perceive the energies around them differently than we do.

Andreea: What about the mirrors? During the funerals the mirrors are covered.

Filip Veronica: In our house the mirrors on the wall are turned backwards. The rest are covered.

Zamfira: When my grandmother died, she was smeared on her cheeks with wine. I wonder why...

Filip Sanfira: The deceased is usually smeared on the whole face.

Filip Veronica: At our place, every morning, we wash their faces with wine. After that, they are anointed with wine. It is said that wine, being the blood of Christ, is applied to help them cross the borders.

A: What type of candles are used during the funeral?

Filip Veronica: The candle, the size of the deceased, is lit every time the women chant—three times a day, in the morning, midday, and evening. The candle must burn when the church bells ring. After the funeral, you take it and bury it with the dead. It is called the light of the body.

Zamfira: There's another custom here when people go home after the burial. After the funeral procession at the cemetery is over, they start to spread to all the heads of the cemeteries. At first I thought that's where people were living, but I found the scattering very strange. They all went one after the other in a row and suddenly spread out, but very organized. In the old days they used to have alms after the funeral and all the participants had to get to the offering. Now it is no longer done after, but during the funeral, which is very strange. That you stay with the dead in the house, and you eat.

Andreea: When was the first time you started mourning at funerals?

Filip Veronica: Since I was a child, I sang to everyone—neighbors, friends. I wished to share and heal the suffering with my dear ones.

Zamfira: Amongst the close ones, only my grandmother died. I mourn her quietly because I didn't have the courage to sing out loud. However, I thought about how to express the pain, and now that I was involved in this project, all the laments were dedicated to her. I remembered what I was going to say. My grandmother, when she was angry with me, used to say not to mourn her at her funeral—that was the punishment. And when we made up, she'd say, 'Mourn me when I die!' Why is it so important to mourn the deceased?

Filip Veronica: Why is it important? Because that means you are important to that person.

Filip Veronica performed a lament for a neighbor and friend who died in 2020, the last funeral that she has mourned. The lyrics won’t be translated into English due to the loss of meaning.


Zamfira: Usually when you mourn the deceased, do you improvise the lyrics or do you compose them beforehand?

Filip Veronica: I am usually improvising.

Andreea: But were there times when you forethought them?

Filip Veronica: No, when you are in a deep sorrow, you can transpose the pain through lyrics. And now, I also composed the lament on the spot.

Andreea: I am thinking how much we repress our feelings (our generation). We can't access and express our emotions, our pain.

Filip Sanfira: You connect with the departed one and your own sufferings.

Andreea: It's very hard to exteriorise your feelings. Have you ever mourned together?

Filip Victoria: There's no singing in the choir at the funeral. It is sung separately, and each sings their own dirge, their own grief. Grief takes you and makes you externalize. It gives you the courage to continue your life.

The second lament was performed by Filip Veronica for her departed brother.


Andreea: Are there specific gestures associated with mourning?

Filip Victoria: Depends on how much you're suffering, but it's easier when you place your hands on your head.

Andreea: Are the gestures uncontrolled, involuntary?

Filip Veronica: Yes, yes. We're usually walking around the coffin and crying.

Filip Victoria: There are gestures that you cannot control.

Andreea: What about the corners of the house? What is the representation?

Filip Victoria: Well, at the corners of the house...we mourn when the deceased is in the house and when the bells ring.

A: Thank you very much for the conversation and all the interesting and relevant information that you shared with me / us.

The conversation continued, but we spoke more about health, household matters, and life's affairs. Our meeting concluded with a
priceasnă5 performed by Filip Veronica, Filip Victoria, and Filip Sanfira.

1. The representation of the symbolic masks in funeral rites takes place during the wake. The masks, as ancestors of the dead, establish the link between the two worlds. In the magical manifestation there is a couple of people who wears maks in form of moș-babă.
2. Knoted shaped bread required during the funeral procession;
3. archaic word - Funeral procession;
4. Funeral song with a fixed and structured verse. During the mourning ceremony, there are women who sing in a choir with an antiphonal interpretation of specific funeral songs and laments such as Cântecul Zorilor (The Dawn Song) and Cântecul Bradului (The Fir Tree Song) and Petrecătura. These three lamentations contain mythical representations specific to the neolithic matriarchate (e.g: direct address to The Mother Goddess and The Bird Goddess);
5. Priceasna is a chant performed at Orthodox and Greek-Catholic liturgy during the communion of the priest or, by generalization, of the faithful.