Tuesday, August 24, 2010

My first Funeral

Every morning I wake up, open the windows and doors and go outside. Out the front door I am greeted EVERY morning by an old man sitting on his front porch in a Poncho and cowboy hat drinking mate. This man looks about 90 but in reality is only 73 years old. I think the reason he looks so old is because he has lived his life working in the chakra and raising his 12 children. He lives with his son and daughter, Maria Justa, who has her three children. He doesn’t just sit on his porch in the morning to drink mate, he sits out there ALL day long. Usually he is along on his porch, occasionally his son or daughter will sit and drink terere with him, or his grandkids will sit and talk but that is the extent of his visitors. I notice that he goes inside to eat lunch and take a nap but is back on the porch by 3 pm. Every time I walk by I say hello and he returns the hello.
About 2 months ago he started having health issues. His children say he started feeling bad long ago but didn’t want to bother anyone so he never said anything. Some people say that back when he was younger working in the charka he smoked a carton of cigarettes a day. The day before I left on vacation with my parents I ran into his daughter walking quickly down the street. She told me her father had gotten sick and they were taking him to Asuncion to the hospital there. I was surprised to hear this people he showed no sign of being sick. Apparently while on vacation he spent 20 days in the intensive care almost dying several times. He had problems with his heart and it was too late for surgery. When he returned a part of his heat was “dead” they say, some of the muscles weren’t working anymore. I returned to my house from vacation and there he was sitting on the porch like always. I had no idea the kind of health issues he had been going through. ( side note: his daughter passed away while I was on vacation, she had been battling breast cancer for 3 years. So not only was their father sick, their sister had just passed away.)
Angelic and Paulette came to visit San Salvador for a weekend. One day Paulette woke up before anyone and went out front to drink mate. When I went outside to sit with her she told me to look to my left. I looked and it was the old man sitting on his porch in a red poncho and black cow boy hat drinking mate. It would have made the perfect picture. The days passed and he stayed on his porch. I noticed that when I would say “adios” he would return the “adios” but using a lot of strength. It seemed like it was very difficult for him to talk.
5 days ago his health worsened and a few of his children took him to Asuncion to the hospital, but not without a fight. He didn’t want to bother his family, make them go out of their way to take care of him and he just wanted to stay on his porch. But his children insisted and took him to the hospital.
Yesterday at 11 am the old man passed away. I was in Villarrica, but when I returned home the house was full of women sweeping, washing, and cleaning the house to prepare for the funeral. Chairs had been delivered, and the visitors were starting to congregate. I have never been to a funeral in my life, let a lone a Paraguayan funeral. I had to ask David what you say in Spanish to someone who has lost a loved one. I sat in my chair outside doing Ao Po’i while the women continued to clean and prepare. Maria Justa, his daughter, my neighbor came to the fence and called me over. She started to cry and told me her father had passed away; I told her the phrases I learned and told her I would go over a little later. I went over at about 4:15 and her father still had not arrived. They were all waiting anxiously. Every time a new person came to the house they greeted all of his children and then sat in a chair. I had to go to English class at 5 pm and when I arrived home at 7 pm the yard was full of people.
I changed my clothes and went back to their house. A rosary had just started to I stood with the people until it finished. All of the visitors sat down, and the children stayed in the room with their father crying. One of his sons is a Priest; another of his sons is the head of all of the police of the department of Guira. At one point 6 police officers dressed in their nicest uniforms came in with beautiful flowers. The rosary was prayed every hour. Only the new visitors and some others with go into the room and pray while the others sat around the yard. A waiter would come by every once and awhile with soda, candy, or cookies. There were around 75 people sitting around the yard praying and talking to their friends. While sitting in the yard I could hear his daughters crying, I started to get a little choked up. My throat felt like it was closing up and I felt tears building up in my eyes. I really didn’t even know the man, I kept thinking about how I will never see the man sitting on his front porch drinking mate again.
The process of a funeral in Paraguay is long. The “resa” lasts nine days. That means for nine days the house will be full of people saying the rosary and sitting their yard. Most of the people stay up all night long. I am sure his children are exhausted and would probably want some privacy and rest. Another job of the family is to feed all of the guests the entire 9 days. This morning I woke up and there were about 50 people sitting outside, while neighbor women cooked behind the house.
I started to think…This man, sense I’ve been his neighbor, he has never once had a visitor that wasn’t a family member. I had never even gone over there to visit him. Then why, once he has passed away, does the entire community go to visit his family and pray for him? Wouldn’t he have been happier if these people visited him while he was living? Isn’t it a little late? I started to think about when I die I don’t need people I don’t really even know to visit me. Why go sit and mourn the people who have passed away, why not go and visit your friends and family and the people you really love? Make memories, have fun while we are still living and when the time comes for one of us to pass away we will die satisfied knowing we are loved. From now on I am going to make a vow to be a good friend, daughter, and sister and never forget about the people I love, no matter how far away we are from each other.