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The Kirwan Twins Adventures We've finally graduated, so we're setting off for three months to backpack around India, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand before entering the "real world."

Mourning in the Morning, Until the Afternoon

ECUADOR | Wednesday, 21 November 2007 | Views [2474]

The phone rang at 3 in the morning and was followed by the incessant howl of sad human beings and a dog.  I willed myself to sleep, cloaking these telling signs with dreams, though a mourning household leaves little peace even for dreaming.  So I rose and peered out the window into the grey sunrise.  Ramiro and his father, Don Carlos, were pacing in front of the house, representing their mood with bleak attire.  My heart sank into my belly and I prepared myself to leave the safety of my room to comfort my family.  After suffering for nearly five years, Martha's father had passed away from lung failure.  Though expected, one is never content losing a parent.  

Unfortunately, this death closely follows a previous tragedy.  Two days ago, Ramiro's niece died in a car accident.  Her boyfriend, driving under the influence, survived but is in critical condition.  The lovers' flame and future were quickly extinguished.  I was unaware of this death until after the fact due to a weekend occupied by my Fulbright Orientation, but black attire for the subsequent evening and day was a grim reminder.

So today I am at a funeral.  To be honest, I had little desire to attend, and I am still not sure that my presence is appropriate.  Ramiro and Martha's sister, Veronica, have both asked me if I had to work today; well, yes, but don’t funerals surpass work in priority and shouldn't I support my living friends and family during bouts of grief? Mamma says so.  I think so too.  Still, I'm not sure if this is an implication that it was unnecessary for me to come, as Ecuadorians are infamous for their indirect means of expressing their sentiments.  Even so, I am here.

Ecuadorian funerals begin immediately after the person's death with a velorio.  This practice involves watching over the body until it is buried.  Traditionally this involves staying awake by the casket all night, all day, and for subsequent days depending on when the burial is to occur, usually determined by the presence of all family members.  In the case of Don Flavio, he passed away at 3 in the morning, and by 6am family members occupied the sala de velacion.  Untraditionally, he was to be cremated, so the velorio would last until 3pm when a brief mass would take place and his body would then be transported to the crematorium.

Had I known what a velorio entails, I would not have rushed to arrive at 7:30 in the morning.  It involves sitting, apathetically mingling, and mourning.  So I sat.  I sat a bit more.  I tried to converse lightly with the family members and Martha, but it was clear that I could say little to relieve anyone's grief or my starkly awkward presence.  So I sauntered outside into the sun and preoccupied myself with the children who were busy collecting massive black beatles and giggling to high heaven, apparently not phased by death.  I loitered long enough to make friends with a few cousins who apparently live in my family compound though I'd never met them before.  Unfortunately my new friendships flourished after three and a half hours of sitting.  Fortunately, they saved me from the subsequent five hours of sitting, which included joyful conversations, cultural exchange, and a brief escape for a very typical almuerzo saturated with meat.  

Finally the mass began.  I stood politely among the hordes of family members, unsuccessfully feigning the words to each song and prayer.  Waves of sadness splashed to the floor, their current riding through me, and for a moment I felt on the verge of tears.  I became acutely aware of the fact that I had been to very few of these.  My godmother and living angel, Carol, was claimed by cancer when I was twelve.  Though the experience was life-altering and painful, several years have since passed.  In addition, both of my grandfathers died in the past five years.  Though I crafted fond memories with Nonno Gerry and Grandpa Morry, it is easier to accept the death of elderly people.  I was more concerned for the well-being of my parents, who I could never imagine losing.  This realization shrouded me like a hazy cloud, and likewise, quickly passed with a gust of wind brought by afternoon showers.

The mass ended and the wailing began.  Family members dropped to their knees bawling while others descended on the corpse, caressing the deceased's face and pleading for one last moment with their beloved.  Eventually, family members were forcibly torn away from the casket, and Don Flavio was carried to the hearse, headed for the crematorium.  We followed the hearse to a magnificent compound crafted with white adobe and spiritual murals overlooking an inspiring view of mountain valleys and peaks swirled about with clouds begging to dance longer in the sun.  Though slightly resembling a resort, the striking setting seemed an appropriate site for death as if nature was beckoning new souls to join the clouds and crisp air in its playground.  The grandfather's body was bid a final farewell, and the family solemnly returned to their vehicles and their homes for a final mourning.  

On the way home, Martha noted that I had now experienced everything there was to know in Ecuador.  "On the contrary," I said, "now I need to go to a wedding and a birth."  Martha eyed me skeptically.  "No, no!" I quickly assured.  "Not mine Martha."

Tags: Culture

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