A MONTH ON HOLD
Delma, the strongest of women, was felled by the blow. She would greet well-wishers with a hug and a smile, and her face would immediately sink back to a blank stare. A constant preacher of the resurrection to mourning families, all she could do at her own son’s wake was grab the mic and beg the crowd for quiet. “My nerves can’t take it.” We never even knew she had nerves; she’s always in control and getting things done. But, remember, her husband had been murdered some years before. I was the designated person to speak, and I was shaking; if Delma is lost, what am I? Since Francis is also the name of the Pope, whose constant theme has been mercy, I took a sort of “Je suis Francis” approach, to assure Delma that we are all “with” her, as long as it takes, in her doubts and hurt and struggle, till faith be restored. At the moment, we seemed to be in free-fall. And yet, the women, the volunteers, always faithful, ready with Cokes, and rolls and coffee, and plates of food, kept us grounded in at least a hope of community.
Even Padre Chepito sensed the urgency of the situation and broke his rule of no “private” Masses, that is, at someone’s house rather than the church. He came the next morning, once the body finally arrived after a night of investigations and paperwork at the morgue in San Pedro. He did all he could to speak a word of encouragement.
Delma did not attend the burial; her sister Leila, who had prepared Chemo for his First Communion last year, sort of filled in, but she was only marginally more composed than Delma. Will was stone-faced throughout, almost distant, perhaps fearing his own collapse, not saying a word, not touching anyone nor accepting any embraces. We were at rock bottom.
But every day of the novenario was accompanied by a most thoughtful refreshment, including one day fresh cold slices of watermelon. Delma finally spoke the eighth day. Her theme was, of course, “Thank you.”
Chemo is still inside out. He is so scared of Francis’ “ghost” that he sleeps with the lights on all night. At first, I assumed he just fell asleep, but if I would turn the lights off, they’d be back on before I closed the door. I talked with him several times, but how do you prove a negative? He may be sensing my own dread, lest such a fate befall him. When such horrors happen, I think about it a lot. What would I do?
Meanwhile, Delma’s grandmother, Francis great-grandmother, Paula, was dying. At 103, what else do you do! When I visited, she was conversing with relatives living and dead. They had not told her about Francis, but somehow the membrane between this life and the next seems thinner at such times, and I knew Paula would wait till all the ceremonies were finished for her great-grandson before she passed. And that’s exactly what happened. The novenario ended, we decorated Francis’ grave the next day, and the next night Paula “went to heaven.”
So my chairs that I had loaned for Francis stayed put. A big crowd gathered again, for Paula’s wake, the median age much older, of course, than the Francis turnout. Her death was no surprise, no “tragedia,” as we say, but coming at the time it did, it unleashed pent-up grief and tears. This time, Hilda—Delma’s mother, Paula’s daughter—had to step up. Another deeply strong woman, she has seen it all. For decades, she taught school up in the hills, hitching a ride or just plain walking, for a week’s worth of classes. In Las Vegas, she is the go-to caregiver for victims of accidents with machetes or other messes, until they can get to a doctor. Always the ‘profesora,’ she asks questions, and she asked some about Paula during the days of the novenario, you know, about exactly how was Paula “with God” now, and, with Francis, too? But best were her own stories about her mother, which answered many of MY questions!
Padre Chepito returned for the last night of Paula’s novenario, celebrating Mass outside under the full moon of Passover, though I was probably the only one who noticed the coincidence.
Then, another “tragedia.” Loncho, 35, whom everyone here remembers best when he was tooling around town on his motorcycle with Carmelo, his Golden Retriever, straddling his lap, was shot and killed in San Pedro, apparently in a gun deal gone bad. The guy sold guns! I can’t imagine a more likely scenario for a “tragedia.” But I was stricken, not judgmental, because when Chemo and I went to San Pedro a couple years ago for a special soccer game with teams from Las Vegas, we stayed at Loncho’s house, with his wife Isabel and children Jonathan, 14, and Ana, 9. His nephew Nahum, one of the players, made the arrangements so we wouldn’t have to stay at a hotel.
But Loncho was originally from Copan, at the western end of Honduras, so there was no wake or novenario here. Nothing, really. As painful and demanding as a novenario might be, it’s certainly more of a blessing than just an empty week. Meanwhile, Isabel and the kids are moving back to Las Vegas. Carmelo just stares at the gate, awaiting his master’s return.
The mourning was becoming, don’t let me say routine, but I guess inevitable. Still, I could not grasp the news at first that a nine-month-old baby had died in Paraiso across the river, Nanda’s little girl Jessy, that I have to confess I barely knew existed. A severe attack of fever and diarrhea took its toll in just a couple days; the poor thing died on the way to the hospital. But I went to the house, where Nanda was draped over the child’s body, willing it a return to life. The neighbor women were already at work, with coffee and rolls about to be served. And the tiny casket, the size of a toy, arrived. Jessy’s father Javier grasped my hand, his own hands so rough from hard work. “Miguel, you will pay for the box?” Somehow he knew I was going to offer to do just that. It was the same day as Prince’s death. Can you imagine what a sweet song Prince might have composed for Jessy…?
My 40 chairs had just arrived back in the house after their long circuit when my elderly neighbor Cristina came to the door. Her even more elderly sister had died in La Ceiba (at the eastern end of Honduras), and she had gone to the funeral. But she wanted to remember her here in Las Vegas, where she had been born, so she was asking the delegados for a memorial service. When her daughter Regina, who taught Chemo in second grade, saw all the chairs stacked up, she said, “Mom, no one’s gonna come. They didn’t even know her!” Well! Our community is so good, and we all love Cristina, so every seat was taken. Afterwards, Cristina thanked me with tears in her eyes. Somehow I was again a designated speaker, but I was ready. We had come full circle, you see. Cristina’s sister’s name was…Francisca. So I took the “Je suis Francisca” meme, but more joyous this time, with tears in my eyes.
Thank you, if you’ve read this far. I hope you have a community as loving as this one.