The Pastoral Team got a phone call yesterday that a young man named Josué from the canton of Santa Cruz had been killed in a car accident in San Salvador. He left behind his young wife, mother, and brother. Everyone who lives in the cantons here is poor, but Santa Cruz is especially poor and lacks resources available to other cantons. His family is worse off than others in the canton. His brother’s young children are very sick and aren’t able to afford money for the medication they need.
The funeral was to be Tuesday sometime but we didn’t know when. Josué’s body still needed to be brought back from San Salvador. Cecilia, Kathy, and I went out to buy pan dulce, plates, and cups for the family. The family was going to be returning from San Salvador with Josué and then going to their home in Santa Cruz. As with most deaths here, the deceased stays at the house during the night. There the deceased is cleaned and dressed. The family stays with them throughout the night to mourn the loss. We bought the pan dulce for the vigil they would be having.
After we picked up the bread Cecilia called to see when people would be stopping by to pick up the bread. They were still in San Salvador and wouldn’t be arriving until around 1am. So Cecilia went to bed early so she could get up when they came to the door. This is common here. If someone won’t be arriving until late at night or in the wee hours in the morning the ladies will go to sleep and the person will call when they get to the house. We weren’t sure when or where the funeral was going to be held but Cecilia said she would find out when they stopped by that night.
This morning Cecilia told us they’d stopped by around 1am but still weren’t sure about the funeral plans. So I went to school and Kathy said she’d call when they heard something. She called around 9am saying the funeral was going to be in Berlín at 10am. I left school around 9:30am and walked home. As soon as I got home Cecilia, Kathy, and I began walking to the cemetery.
A somber feeling passed over me as soon as we arrived. When we walked through the gates I heard women singing. The casket was in the middle of the entrance and a couple women were off to the side weeping uncontrollably on the ground. It was his young wife and other family members. I felt my face get red and my eyes filled up with tears. Seeing his family in so much pain was overwhelming. I wanted so much for this event never to have happened. I wanted everything to be the way it was a week ago. I just stood there in silence trying to make sense of it all.
Several people I knew from the cantons had come to show their support and pay their respects. Many had brought flowers to place on the casket and grave. One couple walked up to the casket and laid white roses on it. The rest stood nearby holding an assortment of flowers. Most of the flowers were the kind you’d find at people’s houses. Here, people don’t necessarily go to the store to buy flower arrangements for funeral or order them over the internet. They use the natural beauty they find around them.
Daniel from San Francisco was there to lead everyone in a short service at the cemetery. For a while my mind drifted as he spoke. Then I heard him talking about a grain of wheat that falls to the ground and I was brought back to the present. I remembered hearing similar words a few weeks ago but couldn’t figure out when. It was a Bible verse from John: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” –John 12:24
Also, the theme of fallen grains of wheat is present in a beautiful song called “Entre tus Manos” (In your Hands), which I heard people singing today:
Entre tus manos está mi vida Señor,
Entre tus manos pongo mi existir,
Hay que morir para vivir.
Entre tus manos pongo yo mi ser.
Si el grano de trigo no muere,
si no muere, solo quedará,
pero si muere en abundancia dará
un fruto eterno que no morirá.
In your hands is my life Lord,
In your hands I put my existence,
We must die to live.
In your hands I put my being.
If the grain of wheat does not die,
if it does not die, it remains,
But if it does die, in abundance it will give
an eternal fruit that will not die
As I stood listening to Daniel talk and people crying at the same time a couple contrasts stood out that differentiate funerals in the US from funerals in El Salvador; more specifically, the cantons of El Salvador. Clothing was one of those contrasts. In the US people get dressed up for funerals. They may wear darker colors or something conservative. At today’s funeral no one was really dressed up, including the family. People wore their regular clothes. A couple of the women still had their aprons on. The funeral I went to on Saturday was similar.
Music is also different than many American funerals. Many times it’s recorded music. If not recorded then someone playing the organ or piano. Maybe a choir singing. Today at the cemetery a group of women were singing It wasn’t anything formal. They may or may not have planned ahead what they would sing, and anyone was welcome to join in at any time. No one had any music. All the songs that are sung are ones people recognize because they’re the songs people have been singing their whole life. I recognized a couple because we’ve sang them at church before.
Most of the caskets for sale here in El Salvador have little windows with a door in front of them that can be opened and shut. The window is small and positioned so that people can see the face of the deceased. Sometimes it’s opened so people can walk up and look into the casket. Other times it’s closed, but anyone is free to go up to the casket and open the window. It’s not considered inappropriate to open the window yourself even if you didn’t know the deceased very well. I chose not to look. Even though it’s perfectly acceptable I still felt like it would be invading their privacy. I feel my looking would have been done out of morbid curiosity instead of more pure motives.
As Daniel was finishing what up he was saying another group of people arrived at the cemetery with a casket in their pickup. There were three internments today at the cemetery and it was time for us to continue on. Several men hoisted the box onto their shoulders and we began the walk to the gravesite. It was quite a trek. Unlike cemeteries in the US, here you have to navigate through weeds, over branches and other debris, and around fallen headstones. It’s not the simple walk to the grave that I normally associate with burials.
When we arrived at the gravesite the young widow stayed back a little ways from the grave. She was in so much pain. The other family members stayed with her. It was there I learned that Josué’s mother had not come to the cemetery. She was sick with grief, her loss too much to bear. The hole had been dug ahead of time, and Daniel said a few more words before the casket was lowered into the ground with ropes. Then several men took their shovels and started filling the grave. At that point I could hear the widow sobbing again, and Josué’s brother became weak at the knees. Several of his friends had to help him walk away to get some air.
There were lots of sounds around us while the grave was being filled. Some I associated with funerals and burials such as songs and weeping. Other sounds, such as dogs and turkeys, seemed out of place. I could hear the dirt hitting the casket and the family crying. Someone was cutting down weeds nearby with a machete. A man came around trying to sell ice cream, ringing a bell to announce his presence. As with the funeral on Saturday, I felt annoyed at the person ringing the bell and thought it incredibly rude.
Soon after this we began walking back to the house. We’d spent most of the time at the cemetery in silence. I wasn’t sure what to say. I was still processing everything that had happened. It was a sad morning.
Later in the day I was listening to some songs performed by Susan Boyle. As I was listening to the song “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” I began to think about the funeral today and I started to cry. The sadness of it all rushed back to me. It’s a beautiful song, and similar to the Bible verse in John it talks about dying to bring about eternal life. Below are the lyrics to the song:
Make me a channel of your peace.
Where there is hatred let me bring your love.
Where there is injury, your pardon, Lord
And where there's doubt, true faith in you.
Make me a channel of your peace
Where there's despair in life, let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there's sadness, ever joy.
Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love with all my soul.
Make me a channel of your peace
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned
In giving to all men that we receive
And in dying that we're born to eternal life.