It is said that losing a child is the worst pain one can feel. No parent should ever have to bury their child. However, that is so common-too common- here. Last week, I was waiting in town in the bus to head to my aldea and a funeral procession came through town. I was looking for the pallbearers and the coffin when I suddenly realized the coffin was merely two feet long and rested on the single shoulder of a father. I immediately felt a ping of pain in my heart at the sight of this family walking with their dead child to the graveyard.
Also, this week there was a death in the extended family of my neighbors/host family. A 15 year-old boy was shot dead by robbers in Guatemala City. He was the nephew of my neighbors. His family is originally from here in Pett but they have been living in Guate for their jobs. The boy was so young. The family transported the cadaver the whole 10 hour car ride so the boy could be buried here. Almost all of the neighbors continuously came by the house and there was a constant wake going on. I went over and talked with the family. The boy’s parents and his two younger siblings were in town. I noticed right away there was not the overwhelming, hovering sadness that accompanies wakes/funerals in the States. Everyone said they were sad but they did not show it. It was more of a time for the family to gather. I was invited to the burial but could not go due to Kanjobal class.
This afternoon the parents invited me to visit the grave with them. I am not a fan of death and graveyards but I went because I felt that it was an honor that the family invited me. We walked up to the graveyard and the son’s grave was covered with beautiful Guatemalan flowers. There was still the fresh dirt and fresh sadness. The mother started rearranging the flowers as the father added more. The mother started speaking and crying under her breath. I stood back as I did not know what to say or do. I have not felt that sadness in a long time and I did not even know this child. The father turned to me and said “My boy is in heaven now. He has left this earth.” How do I respond to that? I could see the pain in this man’s face. His first child, his son is now gone due to the reckless violence that plagues this country.
These two things have really forced me to look at death. Here in Guatemalan, death is expected. Death is a part of life. A woman has a baby with the expectation that it may not live. Families send their children to work in Guate knowing it is one of the most dangerous cities in the Western Hemisphere. If someone gets sick, death is the expectation. I have a hard time grasping this concept because in our culture we fear death; we mourn death; death is a tragedy. Here, death is just a stepping stone for another life in Heaven. Here, death is sad but the happiness the soul feels in Heaven outweighs the sadness. I just find it terribly sad because so many Guatemalans do not have to die. The violence is one thing but the infant and child mortality rate is heartbreaking. It reminds me that I am here to do a job and I hope that maybe one family will learn something to prevent senseless death from happening to them.