Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mass and Burial - or - EIGHT in ONE

The mass was to start at 9 a.m.  The casket would come in the funeral home pick-up truck and the people from Alejandria would follow on foot.  It’s only about 2 miles. 

Since we had to bring things to the house and drop people at the cemetery early (to dig), Blanca and I both had had a chance to clean up and change.  And we were ready to join the procession as it passed.  Blanca asked me to run ahead and keep an eye on her mother till she could catch up.  (María Elena was her sister).  She had to make some other arrangements.  So I trotted close to the truck that she was riding in and walked along side it till we got to the church.

Arriving - in front of the Pastoral House.  The name of the funeral home: Yom Kippur. 

The red truck has a few of the older women in the cab and a few of the men who dug the gravesite hole.

Blanca's mother and her sister in-law were in the cab of this truck.

The men carried the casket inside and opened the lid so people could have one last viewing.  Then Father Santos came down the aisle to serve mass.  Manuel from Las Delicias had been asked to sing for the mass.  He has a lovely voice that needs no chorus and is a close family friend. 

The mass itself was only about 45 minutes.  It was a regular mass, just shortened a bit and with a section specifically in honor of the deceased.  When mass was done, the men carried the casket back out and into the funeral home truck so we could begin the walk to the cemetery.

Most everyone walked behind the casket down the hill.  A couple of older people rode in the 2 pick-ups.  This procession took about 45 minutes. 

At the cemetery, there is a covered ‘salon’ for the casket to be displayed and for the family and friends to gather round for a final look and to hear anyone speak.  A man named Mariano from Loma Alta was asked to say a few words.  A few words always ends up being at least 20 minutes – regardless who is asked to speak.  Balmore then spoke – thanking everyone for their accompaniment.  I was sitting with Blanca’s mother and Margarita away from the crowds.  We made room for the people and the casket to pass. 

The custom here is that people watch the casket lowered into the grave.  There are no fancy machines to do this.  No pulley system.  It is just 4-6 men with rope.  They are more or less evenly spaced on either side of the hole of the grave.  Each with an end of the rope which is looped under the casket. The try to keep the casket level on its way down.  Not always successfully – but today for the most part they did a fine job. 

Then they start filling the hole.  This is when people seem to become most emotional.  It is such a final act. 

Mostly the men with their shovels filled the hole.  But a couple of women scooped dirt in their hands and helped.  That was more of a symbolic gesture.
Elmer and Javier (great nephews of Elena) became quite faint. Normally, immediate family does not have to help lower the casket … but in this case their assistance was needed. Between that very emotionally distressing act and the fact that they had not slept for probably 40 hours, and probably hadn’t eaten much, it is no wonder they were overcome.

When the hole was finally filled – with the temporary wooden cross embedded and a mound of dirt over the grave, people started decorating with the flowers from the night before. They had so many flowers they were able to ‘share’ with many of the other family graves nearby.
Temporary home made wooden cross - Maria Elena Coreas

Almost done - the base of the cross is buried about 2 feet

Women and some of the men help decorate

Blanca said: "she was lucky - she had lots of flowers"
This really translates: she had lots of people who loved her.  She was good to everyone.

Elena's cross cannot be seen anymore for the quantity of flowers

They were able to share some of the flowers with neighboring graves - family members.
Including Elena's mother's nearby grave.

So it was time to leave.  And even though it was overcast and threatened rain all morning, the rain had held off very nicely and people began to pile into the family pick-up truck to go back to Alejandria hoping to get there before the rains finally fell.  The rest of us started the hike up the hill back to the Pastoral House.  Within about a block, the rain started.  And it started hard.  Blanca, Cecilia, Pati, Margaret and her two children Misael and Sesi, and I started to walk faster.  I had an umbrella which I gave to Blanca and 5 year old Misael.  Pati had two plastic scraps she and I used as head coverings.  Relatively quickly, a moto-taxi slowed down for us and all but Cecilia and I got in for the ride up the hill.  Cecilia and I decided we could walk  (we both have the mother-martyr syndrome - we would rather others be comfortable!)  But the driver said there was room for us, too … there were 5 already in the back seat – which is really meant for 2 or 3… so Cecilia and I were invited to climb in and sit on either side of the driver.

How the heck that little moto-taxi made it up that steep hill is beyond me.  But what a blessing.  It was a ‘light-hearted’ way to put closure on the day’s sadness. 

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