Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Grief: A Universal Experience

I know it was just a coincidence but still…the timing was incredible. I was driving to the village of Xilotlancingo, and I passed an open space high in the mountains where there was cell phone service for a couple of minutes. A beep alerted me that I had an e-mail; it was from Father Fred Monk, founding director of Mission Mexico. The message ended thus: “Take care and keep out of the ditch!! Fred.”
The road near where Godofredo went into "the ditch"
So far I’ve kept out of “the ditch.” That’s important because most of the mountain roads here don’t have a "ditch"—they have deep ravines that go a long way down. And on the day I received Fred’s message, I was on my way to the burial of a 21-year-old teacher, Godofredo, who had driven into such a “ditch” two days earlier.
Godofredo being waked on the dirt floor of his one-room house
Godofredo had just received a permanent teaching job a month earlier. In fact, he had received his first payment, but hadn’t had time to change the check at a bank yet. He and three cousins went off the road on a Saturday night. The three others are still in the hospital. Godofredo died at the scene.
Godofredo's mother, Wilfrida—her husband died two years ago, and she was living
with  her son Godofredo and his family
It was sad to attend the burial. I couldn’t help but think of the biblical book of Ruth, in which Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, were left without a male presence to accompany them. In this case, it was Godofredo’s wife, Camelia, and his mother, Wilfrida, who were left without a male presence to accompany them. And to make matters even more difficult, Camelia now has to look after her two daughters on her own: two-year-old Arleta Alfonsina, and a newborn baby who doesn’t have a name yet.
Godofredo's wife (now widow), Camelia, and their daughter Arleta Alfonsina
Godofredo’s casket was carried from his house to the main square of the village, where the children from his class at school paid their last respects to him. Then the casket was placed on the back of a truck and driven to the cemetery outside the village. I followed that truck with family members and cement, flowers, candles, etc.
The truck driving Godofredo's body to the cemetery in Xilotlancingo
A trail of flower petals were dropped on the road all the way from the house to the cemetery. This was meant to make it easy for Godofredo to find his way home if he wished to do so on his journey to the next life. At the cemetery every person present (and that was hundreds) incensed his final resting place before the casket was lowered into it.
Godofredo's mother, Wilfrida, incensing his final resting place
Before closing the tomb, all of Godofredo’s clothing, shoes, and personal belongings—even a briefcase with school books—were placed alongside the casket in the tomb, so that these possessions would accompany him. Then the tomb was sealed as final prayers and hymns were offered.
Placing Godofredo's belongings inside the tomb with him
As a final detail, a baby chick was placed on the tomb, although it immediately began to wander around the cemetery. The chick is placed there because it can guide Godofredo to water if he needs that during his upcoming journey.
The baby chick meant to help Godofredo find water on his journey to "new life"
The grief expressed at this burial reminded me that grief is a universal experience. Yes, many of the “details” at this Mexican burial were different from those at a Canadian burial, but the sobbing, the crying, the tears, the sadness, the pain…these had no nationality. I don't travel that road too often, but I promised Wilfrida and Camelia that I would drop in to see how they are doing whenever I am near Xilotlancingo.
Some of the women present at Godofredo's burial
Today is the thirty-fifth anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador. On one occasion he said, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.” The reality here often leads one to cry...but what one sees so very often is the compassion and the faith and the love of people who trust that, no matter what, together, incredible challenges can be surmounted. Mission Mexico tries to help make that happen. Thank you for being part of this effort.

1 comment:

  1. Un momento triste, sin duda.
    A propósito de lo que comentas, recuerdo pasar por Xilotlancingo y vivir con la comunidad la celebración del Día de Muertos y encuentro contrastes significativos.
    Primero el dolor por la partida del ser querido, las muestras de condolencia, las ofrendas y la preparación para el tránsito a la otra vida, como lo que acabas de vivir.
    Y luego viene la festividad, la alegría por reencontrarse con los que se han ido, volver a compartir la tortilla, la bebida, hacer ofrendas y llenar con flores todos los espacios.
    Gracias por mostrarnos el estilo de vida solidaria que te caracteriza. Admiro lo que haces en los pueblos de la Montaña y que Mission Mexico siga ayudando en esos lugares.
    Te mando un saludo con cariño desde Chiapas.