TO MY PARTNERS in MINISTRY
to the PEOPLE of HAITI
June 10, 2013
E N D O F A N E R A !
Today marks the end of another era in the Léon family lineage! Léon’s 110 year-old grandmother, the sole survivor of her generation, was laid to rest in an above ground crypt near the Caribbean Sea. She was a thin woman who, at our wedding seven years ago, could still walk without a cane and who proudly displayed a few teeth that had stayed intact throughout her many years of life. It is a rarity indeed for someone to live such a long life in a country where life is so difficult and the average life expectancy is only about 50 years of age!
Léon was blessed to have spoken to his grandmother only a few days ago. He knew after that conversation that “her time was near”, nonetheless, he was saddened that on his birthday he would learn that she had passed away in the wee hours of the morning. Later in the day, however, he chose to look at this in a symbolic way – perhaps his grandma was blessing him with a birthday gift of a long life. Only God holds that knowledge, but it was a fun way to reflect on a day of mixed emotions.
Plans were made quickly, with the funeral being held the very next day. The service took place in a small Catholic church outside of the city of LesCayes, in a rural seaside community with a bird’s eye view of Ile-a-Vache. Léon’s grandmother had worshipped and prayed and received communion in the Catholic church throughout her entire life, so it was fitting that the service would take place in this setting.
Every poor family in Haiti must struggle with the cost of burying their loved ones. The poorer the family, the simpler the event. Only rarely is an elaborate funeral seen here – and usually only when a pillar of the community is laid to rest. In this case, the casket was a simple one – a locally made wooden one, in the tapered shape that is common here – wider at the shoulders, narrower both at the head and foot end. A shiny, coral-beige lacquer gleamed under two bouquets of white and pale-blue artificial flowers which were nestled on the cover of the coffin. The choir sang many songs during the service, scripture passages were read, a short message was given, and holy water and incense were administered. Nearby a rooster crowed and the church cemetery was visible just outside the church door. About 100 people attended including a mentally handicapped young man who came in late in a rumbled shirt and bare feet to pay his respects. The service seemed to end abruptly and loud wailing began – lead primarily by the distraught only remaining daughter, who herself was of an advanced age.
Pallbearers proceeded out of the church with the casket, where on the porch steps they were greeted by the traditional “Dixieland Band/Louisiana” style instrumentalists who would lead the funeral procession down the road to the gravesite.
Most mourners walked on foot, a few were on motorcycles and a couple of cars also followed the vehicle bearing the deceased. Bystanders watched the procession with curiosity and respect. The band lead the mourners, playing upbeat songs like “One Day at a Time Sweet Jesus!” as the procession headed to the family plot just a short distance from the church. Recent rains had caused an area of flooding, thus mourners needed to walk through a stream and the casket needed to be removed from the vehicle to be hand carried through this same stream and then up onto a narrow strip of seashore and finally up a hill to the final resting place.
Because much of this area is at sea level, bodies here are buried in above ground crypts, which are later colorfully painted and are a common sight everywhere, sometimes in people’s front yards and places where often times children can be seen playing or goats can be seen resting in the shade. When we arrived at the family plot a newly constructed crypt, with one open end was awaiting this dear family member. Cement had been mixed only minutes before, ready to be used to immediately seal the crypt. As mourners watched, the casket was quickly inserted and cement was applied, concrete blocks were set into the cement and the process of sealing the opening was done in quick order. The band continued to play, as some mourners wept, some lingered and talked and others started to file away. Thus, this life’s final chapter on earth came to a close.
God ultimately knows if Heaven is this loved one’s final destination! Our hope is that she is now with Jesus! Not all of us will have 110 years to prepare to meet our Maker! May we all be ready NOW!
Missionary to Haiti & the Dominican Republic Until next time, God willing …………