No day is ever a good day for a funeral. But having a funeral during such terrible weather seems to add insult to injury. José Manual, who was originally from the canton of Virginia, died yesterday in San Salvador. In San Salvador he leaves behind his young, very pregnant wife and his wife’s family. His sister, Elida, and their family still live in Virginia. Elida is a Delegate of the Word in Virginia and frequent visitor to the Pastoral House.
The family stopped by yesterday when we had no electricity to pick up sugar, coffee, and money for pan dulce that they were going to use for the vigil that night. The Pastoral Team also loaned them chairs for the vigil. As is custom here in El Salvador, the family stays with the body of their loved one through the night after their death. They drink coffee and eat pan dulce while mourning, singing, crying, and praying together.
We heard the slow ringing of the bells at the church around 10am this morning and knew the funeral mass was about to start. Since it was still raining, Kathy and I put on knee length skirts so as not to get our pants wet and dirty. We all grabbed umbrellas and headed out to the church. Although it wasn’t raining very hard the wind had picked up which pretty much rendered the umbrellas useless.
The mass had just started when we arrived at church. There were probably about 50 people gathered toward the front of the church. Several opened umbrellas had been left by the doors. Everyone was wet, and some people had arrived without umbrellas or coats. As if the rain and wind wasn’t bad enough, a mosquito fumigating truck slowly roared past just as Father Santos was starting his homily which created a lot of noise.
About an hour later the mass ended. The casket was lifted up onto peoples’ shoulders and carried down the aisle to a truck waiting outside. Normally the back of the truck is opened and adorned with flowers, but because of the rain they’d put a cover over the bed of the truck. We all filed out of the church and got behind the truck for the procession to the cemetery. It was a long, cold walk.
When we arrived at the cemetery we went just inside the gates to the place where caskets can be set on a tiled, cement table. There is a roof overhead but because of the wind, the rain came in anyway. As everyone gathered around the casket Elida led the group in saying the “Our Father” and the “Hail Mary.” The small door to the window at the top of the casket was opened so people could take one last look at José Manual before he was buried. Elida’s mother was devastated as she laid her head on the glass window and cried for her son.
After a short while the door to the window was closed and the casket again hoisted up onto peoples’ shoulders as we began the walk to the gravesite. Walking through the cemetery in Berlín is always a little like an obstacle course. The graves don’t seem to be arranged in any particular order and much of the cemetery is covered in weeds. There’s no way to avoid stepping on graves.
But the rain adds a whole new element. Forget about staying clean, forget about staying dry. I just wanted to get to the gravesite without slipping and falling. Some of the grave areas are covered in tile which makes them very slippery. Other parts of the cemetery are muddy and there’s the worry about stepping into a little sinkhole. Unfortunately, I stepped on a spot and my foot immediately sank down about 8 inches. But I didn’t fall, and on the positive side I was able to point out to people where they should not step.
Upon arriving at the gravesite we could see that someone had set up a huge tarp over the grave ahead of time. The tarp isn’t to keep people from getting wet, it’s to keep the area from becoming too saturated with water. The families and friends dig the holes for their loved ones’ caskets themselves, and if the soil is too wet it becomes very hard to dig the hole. They needed to shovel out a little more dirt when they arrived at the gravesite. As someone began shoveling everyone else began singing. But the singing came to a sudden stop when the man shoveling fell into the hole. He was quickly helped out and the singing resumed.
Soon it was time to lower the casket into the hole. As usual, two ropes were put beneath the casket so it could be lowered down. Then disaster struck again: the casket fell into the hole. I couldn’t see exactly what happened, but I know it went down sideways. Obviously, they weren’t just going to leave it in their sideways, so they hoisted it back out of the ground. The casket was set next to the gravesite as they resumed digging. I felt horrible for the family. It’s bad enough losing a loved one, but everything else seemed to make it worse.
It makes me think about all the people that have lost loved ones in the past several days due to the rain, accidents, homicides, or natural causes. I imagine they might be suffering similarly to the family today. They might be wet from a leaky roof or in the dark without electricity. Some of them may not even be able to be in their homes because of all the rain. I wonder if they’re able to have the traditional vigil and sit with their loved one through the night. Whatever the circumstances, I’m sure the rain doesn’t help.