In Mexico, or wherever Mexicans may have settled, families go to the cemeteries to have picnics, light candles, and celebrate their loved ones who have gone before them. On Monday, Nicaraguans will go to the cemeteries to clean the grave plots and place flowers on the graves. Becca and her daughters, Eibhlín and Orla, will help us establish our own “shrine”, or “memory table”, of the dead from our families and community.
In many Protestant churches, people will worship and sing “For All the Saints” which is one of my favorite hymns. They will remember those who died in the year before, because it is good and right to remember those whom we have lost. This year the numbers will be greater than before because of the many deaths from COVID-19.
With this virus our world has lost artists, song writers, authors, activists, scientists, and our dear Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We have lost family members, teachers, friends and our sweet Jessenia Castillo. We have lost thinkers, leaders, visionaries and our dear John Lewis. As a society we have lost so many that we love and admire…so many whose music we enjoy...so many who have left their mark on our lives. And we grieve our loss. At this point, who among us has not lost someone dear to them because of COVID?
Grief must be released. When we see the marches over Black Lives Matter, we need to remember these are mostly marches of grief, because of all the lives lost to senseless brutality. Most in the Black communities know the loss of someone either dead or in prison due to the lunacy of the criminal justice system.
When we see marches demanding change to gun laws, again these are motivated from grief…from the loss of children, parents, friends that have been cruelly shot in homes, schools, cinemas and other public places.
Here in Nicaragua, grief is treated a bit more humanely, I think. When there is not the social distancing demanded in a pandemic and there is a death, then the family cleans and dresses the body, places it in a simple coffin, and holds a vela (or wake) until the body begins to break down and needs to be buried. People walk to the cemetery with the family in support, to where friends have dug the hole for the body.
Nine days later, a mass or some kind of observance is held, because the grief is still there.
A month after the death, another mass or observance is held, because again the grief is still there.
Three months later and then a year later, the same happens. Most Nicaraguans realize that grief stays with the loved ones for a long time. Sometimes a yearly observance is held until the family is ready to let go of their sadness.
One might think that the dead here have great power… but it is not that, it is more a recognition of the loss of a loved one. A recognition of grief.
With the rise in the evangelical movement here, people are told to celebrate the resurrection and the fact that their loved one is in a better place. But the grief is still there…the loss…the hole left by your child or parent or dearest friend dying.
With the pandemic, these rituals are not being observed as much and the families and friends are left more alone in their grief. We cannot deny the grief…the mourning…the lamenting of all that is now lost.
Grief feels like losing a part of yourself. Your heart is broken and the more you have loved, the more broken the heart is. Grief is first like a gashing wound spurting blood all over the place no matter how much you try to shut it off, and then grief moves to a slow bleed oozing the life out of you. The more you ignore the grief, the more packed down and festering the wound becomes.
We must as a society figure out how to help those who grieve. We cannot shut their pain off or try to make it go away. That is hard, because it’s difficult for us to address the pain. Their pain brings up our past grief and our future grief.
|Mike, Jessica, Tiff, T Earl gathering around Joan |
When Mike’s mother, Joan, was dying with cancer, I went to be with Mike who was helping, and see his parents. Joan was in so much physical pain from the cancer, and Thomas Earl, Mike’s dad, and Mike were in pain watching the withering away of their beloved and mother. I sat with Joan one afternoon and asked her point blank how she felt about dying and who was talking to her about it.
“I’m angry, Been. I’m really angry.”
“Tell me what you are angry about?”
“What I am going to miss,” at this point tears pouring down her face. “I won’t get to see my grandchildren grow up. I won’t even get to meet the grandchild there,” pointing to my swollen belly. “I am going to miss so much.”
My tears now flowing, “I know. I will miss all that, too. I’m mad too.”
We sat and cried. But then she decided that she wanted her hair cut, a perm put in, a meal from Red Lobster, a wine cooler, and she would finally take her morphine in the doses she'd been instructed to take. She had a couple of good days, one bad day, and at the end of that died, she died.
Grief comes in waves. Rage can pour down on us at the loss of someone dear and the injustice we feel. It can stop us in our tracks and make it hard to breathe when we look for our child and the child is no longer there. It can make us curl up in a ball and try to will the hurt away. It can make us crazy as we try to fill that hole that is left.
But grief can and will ease over time and with the love of others. And that is where we who are not in tremendous grief at the moment have to help, we must - however possible in these pandemic times - be there. We may not know what to say or how to say it, but the love and support will be felt and is desperately needed.
The dead are resting from their labors, illnesses, and pain. It’s the living who need us now.