We got bad news today as we were on our way to the patron saint festival in Alegría. We heard that someone died in a car accident yesterday. It was Christian, someone who works for the Catholic Church and often is the driver for the priests. He was driving Father Cándido’s car when he had the accident. I’m not sure what exactly happened. He was young, probably about my age. And I’d met him a couple times. The mass and the burial were going to be today at 2pm. I wasn’t for sure who was going to do the mass. I know Christian was close with the priests at the church so I’m sure it would be difficult for any of them.
We heard the bells ringing the way they do when someone has died or a funeral mass is about to start. It’s a slow, gloomy ring that everyone in town recognizes. Blanca, Cecilia, and I walked to the church. By the time we got there it was completely packed and there was standing room only. We stood at the back of the church. As we were walking in I saw the gym teacher of the boy’s school where I work standing close to the entrance. He was crying. As I walked by I heard someone ask, “Era su alumno?” (Was he your student?). The gym teacher just nodded his head.
As I looked around the church I recognized several people. There were teachers from my school, students, people from the cantons, and many others. The mass was longer than any of the funeral masses I’d been to before. Father Jacobo said most of the mass, including the homily, but Father Santos also spoke briefly. The usual funeral songs, including “Entre Tus Manos” were sung. When the mass ended people were able to go up to the front to look at the body. Like most caskets here, there was a window at the top so people could see his face. Neither Blanca nor Cecilia wanted to go up.
But I did want to go up to the front. I walked up by myself. There were lots of other people around looking in the casket. I looked inside. He didn’t look like I remembered. Not because they’d made him up differently than in life, but because you could tell his soul had left his body. Also, most of the time here the deceased don’t have on makeup or have their appearances altered after death like in the US. So you could tell that he’d been in an accident of some kind. His right eye was still blue and there were visible cuts on his face. There was also the white cloth in his mouth that’s put in to keep the smell of the formaldehyde injection from seeping into the air.
After about 15 minutes they closed the casket. Several men picked it up and carried it down the aisle to the pickup truck waiting outside. The truck was filled with flowers and music was playing from the speakers on the outside of the truck. The casket was lifted into the truck and it began the slow procession to the cemetery. People from the church followed behind the casket as well as people who’d been waiting outside the church in the park.
As we walked, Blanca and I talked about looking at people’s bodies after they died. Blanca said she does not like to look in the coffin, and she said she prefers not to see dead bodies. She asked if I always looked in the coffin at funerals. I said that I did. I told her that when my grandma died when I was very young I climbed up next to the casket and leaned inside to rearrange my grandmother’s necklace. I feel comfortable looking at people after they’ve died. I guess that’s why I focused on gerontology and end of life care in my grad school program.
As we continued to walk I thought about the funerals I’ve been to in El Salvador. This is the fifth one that I’ve attended. I went to Jesús’ funeral in Río de los Bueyes. I attended the funeral of someone from Santa Cruz who died in a car accident in San Salvador. I went to the funeral of Benigno who was from La Llanes. In August was the funeral of Elmer Antonio from El Recreo who died in a car accident. And today’s funeral made number five.
When we reached the cemetery we stood outside while more songs were sung. Then we passed through the gates and waited until people began to carry the casket to the gravesite. As we were waiting I glanced over toward the entrance and saw someone sitting on the ground crying. He was surrounded by young men who gave him water to drink. I couldn’t tell who it was until he got up to walk to the gravesite. It was Father Santos. He was crying. I was completely taken aback. It was awful seeing him so grief stricken. Blanca gave him a hug as he passed by us.
It was foggy as we walked to the gravesite. We didn’t get really close but could hear when they started to fill the hole. Someone began to cry. We stayed to talk to a few people for a while. It was nearing 5pm when we decided to head back to the house. It started to sprinkle as we walked home. The earth seemed to be sad. It was a difficult day.