Alex’s Funeral

Alex’s Funeral


A few years ago, Alex was brought down from Pestel (in the mountains) to New Life Orphanage in PAP because he was suffering from extreme malnutrition.  I had been reading about him on New Life’s blogs, and looked forward to seeing him in the hospital, and cuddling to give him some comfort. My friend, Tammi, had brought him a number of items he might need/want, and she also looked forward to spending time with him and nursing him back to health, something she believed would be forthcoming, but that was not what happened…

Alex was 3-years old when he died, on the very day we arrived in Port-au-Prince, before we got to see him, so Tammi and New Life arranged for his funeral.

Sarah, a young American woman living and working at New Life went to the funeral, and so did I.

The funeral was held in a tent church and there were 2 aisles of about 10 rows of seats. Sarah and I sat in the front row, closest to Alex’s sad little coffin.

The tin coffin, painted over with white enamel, with its crooked handles and wreath of paper flowers & tired gerber daisies, was open, and there Alex lay in his little blue suit. He looked like he was sleeping…isn’t that what people always say?

Sarah and I both peered into the coffin and wept silently. I put my hand on his chest and leaned close, but I couldn’t kiss his forehead as I thought I would.

Between 1 and 2PM, Sarah and I sat there, alone in the makeshift church. No one said anything to us, so we just waited, occasionally stepping up to the coffin to comfort who…Alex, ourselves?

At about 2, another coffin was wheeled into the church, and placed next to Alex, but this coffin was more elaborate, and it displayed 3 wreaths of fresh flowers. When it was opened, we could see that a woman was inside, her face covered in what appeared to be a bridal veil. 

Mourners started to arrive, all wearing black & white, until the aisle was crowded. A number of them swarmed around the woman’s coffin, pushing to get close, and in their zeal started to push Alex’s coffin (on a rusted, steel wheeled stand) toward the side door. Sarah & I got up and wheeled him away to safety.

More mourners arrived and we white girls (“blans”), by now holding hands & wiping away tears, were given some curious glances. One old woman come over to us and said something in Creole, but all we got was, “Pas bon. Pas bon.”  Apparently something was not good!  We didn’t find out until later that she was telling us that one does not touch the dead at a Haitian funeral. Pas bon.

Then it started. The wailing. It was like, “Cue the wailing”…and it began with bloodcurdling screams and then wailing & keening…until two of the woman threw themselves on the ground in fits. This was repeated over and over for about 30-minutes, with them occasionally collapsing into someone’s arms. It sounded exaggerated, and inorganic, and superficial, but they all took it quite seriously. Sarah and I were overwhelmed by all the drama, and the three of us, Alex, Sarah, and I, remained silent in our corner of the room.

The Pastor finally arrived and said a few prayers in Creole, and led the congregation in 2 hymns. Then he was done. He never once mentioned Alex or the woman in the coffin. The mourners closed the woman’s coffin, and the Pastor gestured to Sarah and me impatiently…WE were supposed to close Alex’s coffin.

The woman’s casket was wheeled out to a hearse, and the whole group headed off for the cemetery.  Sarah and I waited…and waited.  A dirty, junked up old Chevrolet with gaudy plastic flowers in the windshield backed up to the door…Alex’s hearse.  Apparently, there was no one to carry the casket from the car to the gravesite, so we were at a standstill. Sarah and I offered to do it ourselves, we would be his pallbearers, but our offer was declined. Finally, some arrangement with local men was made and off to the cemetery we went.

Once there, some guys carried the casket, winding their way through aisles of mausoleums, many still crumbled from the earthquake and emptied of their contents, as Sarah and I followed behind, stepping through litter and broken bottles.

Finally, we arrived at a mausoleum bearing a name that had no relation to Alex. As Sarah and I watched a man seal Alex inside, we noticed that other mourners from around the cemetery had perched themselves atop the ruins to get a look at the strange white women, all while the pallbearers argued over their payment. I have seen parakeets buried with more dignity and compassion.

The Haitians were so beaten down right after the earthquake, that they appeared to be de-sensitized. I believe that, when Alex died, the nurse said to Tammi, “Alex is finished. I go to the market now.”

The ride back to New Life was very quiet…what was there to say?

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