He that believeth hath everlasting Life
Sadly last night we found ourselves sitting at another final memorial service for a young friend who had passed away. These services are normally 9 days after the death or burial.
On Thursday night of October 23rd we found out that a young man who attended bible study with us in a neighboring community (Positos) passed away. Gustavo Enrique Nunez was only 15 and his mother Victoria hosted bible study at her house, which we have attended many times. He was also the brother and Brother-in-Law (Yerno) of our friends Yuri and Alfredo (our previous Deacon). Thursday at about 5PM Fr. Mario came to our house and told us the news and our help was needed. We spent from 5 PM to 1:30 AM driving back and forth to a Hospital in the City of Santa Ana so the family could make arrangements for the body. I didn't drive but a community member who knows the country very well did. When we returned from Santa Ana the grieving mother, Victoria, rode in our truck. Dianne and I listened as she spoke about her son to our friend Alberto, the driver. It was heartbreaking as she talked about how he just bought a bicycle and as she told the story and repeated how he said “Por favor Mami”when he requested permission, she broke down and cried remembering that moment, we did also. Gustavo was her last child, the baby of the family and the only child who was still living at home.
The next day Dianne and I travelled to the next town Cara Sucio to transport family members back to Victoria’s house. Early that morning in their grief they took the bus to that town to purchase food for all the people who would be visiting the house. We went back to Victoria’s to drop everyone off. We were surprised to find that Gustavo’s’ body was already at the house. One room was adorned with flowers, candles and a large Cross at the head of his casket. Gustavo’s Casket was in the center with a framed picture of him sitting on top. Gustavo was a handsome young man with a bright smile that he wore almost every time I saw him. He was a good boy who attended school, bible study and church regularly. He was very interested in attending the English classes Dianne and I will be starting in that community. He also was aware of the gang activity in that community and avoided it by staying at home with his friends instead of being in the streets exposed to recruiting by the gangs. From what I knew of him, he had his head on straight for a young boy and wanted to better himself. Two key attributes I believe you need to possess in this country if you want to have a chance of improving on your current situation. We paid our respects and visited with his mother.
As we visited and waited to see what schedule would be for the next couple of days, as is common thoughts of the departed goes through your mind. For instance last Sunday was the last time I saw Gustavo, I was showing him and other kids my truck. I remember having to go up to him and say " Mi amigo, lo siento, yo no recordar tu nombre" my friend, I'm sorry I don't remember your name. With a broad smile he said Gustavo and extended his hand for a shake. That's the last time I saw or spoke to him. It’s amazing how a simple meeting can end up sticking with you with an attached value that you didn’t realize at the time. Soon after we took everyone back to El Maizal as the wake would be all day and many members of the community wanted to attend the wake that night.
Friday night we were supposed to bring 15 members of the community to Positos but unfortunately it started pouring buckets at 5PM and never really let up till 7PM. We had to confer with Father Mario and call off the trip because the roads would have been too hazardous. It was a very difficult decision as we know this denied Victoria additional company in this time of need. There are many harsh realities and something as simple as rain and dirt roads can deny people help when needed.
Saturday morning was the funeral. We brought members of the community to the home and we all assembled our vehicles for the procession. The procession was made up of pick-ups and small flatbeds equipped with frames in the back to allow the most passengers as possible. The cemetery was farther away than the last one we attended so nobody walked and the procession moved much faster. It was interesting to see the procession would stop to pick up more passengers, the vehicles were crammed with mourners.
When we arrived at the cemetery we all walked in. Like the last cemetery we visited it was mostly above ground vaults but this cemetery was even larger. Let me point out that during these funerals because of the cramped quarters it is customary to walk on people’s graves (vaults) and even use them as a higher vantage point to view the actual ceremony. I was standing on a high vault with about 6 other people in order to view the service.
Because of Gustavo’s age he had many classmates there, most of them in their school uniforms. It was very moving to watch them all file by the vault paying their last respects. The grief stricken family was last. It was exceedingly difficult to watch friends suffer like this; Dianne and I were moved to grief ourselves. After his vault was sealed we all returned to our homes and our thoughts were with Victoria and hoping somehow the void in her heart could be filled while the memories could slowly go from grief to cherished moments of his life. We have never experienced such grief but that hope is all we could pray for.
With the recent deaths in the communities we live and share Gods mission with, I found myself concerned with the fact that maybe the tragedy of young unnecessary deaths might be our constant companion. It took me a few days to realize I was looking at this all wrong. Of course these deaths are tragic and we should never be accustomed or accepting to the fact that in many cases in this country and many like it they are caused indirectly and sometimes directly by social injustice. The reality is that if we live in this world we will always experience death. However, as a Christian I believe I gave death too much emphasis in our lives. It’s not a comrade or friend, words associated with companion. It is merely something closely related to our state of being or part of our life cycle, no more, no less.
When we look closer at any tragedy our companion is not death, it is not grief, it is not suffering. It is the One who gives us hope. It is the Christ that will never leave our sides. He can’t stop our human suffering at these times but He gave us this message to give us Fortaleza (strength) “I am with you always, even to the end of age”. We need to grieve, it is part of our healing, it is part of our human existence but we can’t forget who our true Companion is.