Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Death and Dying, Burial and Cremation

A Hard Death

When it was Maxo, 20-something son of my neighbors on Mon Bouton, it was sudden and striking news. Even now, months later, I have to work to keep tears from swelling up.

Maxo had been part of our team, "If Pigs Could Fly," since
he was a small boy. He appears in the films, and was a key subject in Mariejo's study of political notions among rural Haitians.

When I look at little brother Lom, I see Maxo's face. When I watch the film, "My Mountain," again and again, I see Maxo with us.

His death. It was in the summer. We heard as we waited outside a textile factory, where Emmeline was heading to work.

For myself, for his best friend and cousin, Dieudonne, for Emmeline and Elizar who had grown up with Maxo...we stood there huddled together on a street corner just outside of SONAPI as Soirilis got the call on his cell.

Our Maxo had succumbed to a sudden fever and a swelling. His head was the size of a basketball, they said. He'd had cramps the night before.

His Dad, Mesye Solomon, was with him, in one of the warrens off a main street, Delmas, in the rubble of the fallen city. Mesye Solomon did not believe a doctor would or could do anything. Medical care would be costly and useless, was the prevailing idea. Also, there was no way to transport feverish and rapidly ailing boy. It was said there was blood coming from his nose, from his eyes.

But, I was not there.

The family paid to transport Maxo's body out of the city and up back home, to their mountain land for burial. A decent tomb was built, cement carried, the body housed better in death than it had been protected in life.

Some days later, I sat out by the grave site - a
smallish, sort of cemetery area, out amidst plots (not fields) of corn and beans. Buried in the midst of plant life, green and waving, dripping slivers of corn silk, promising.

Bellagia followed me and sat down on an adjacent grave, lay down and stretched out. here, overlooking the valley, was where I could often catch a decent signal, collect and send email and news.

We were shortly joined by Mesye Salomon and Gistav. No one said anything, we all just sat or squatted in the corn. A calm, comfort was in this common silence.

There was nothing to say. We seemed all to be feeling the
same feelings, having the same thoughts. It was an odd communion of souls who surely had very little in common except this shared bond, this shared loss.

Some days later, Salomon and I find ourselves out by the grave site again. How did our conversation start? I think I must have said, "When I die, I wish to be cremated."
Salomon was shocked at the idea. "No, that's not for us. Not here. In Haiti, everyone must be buried. We want to be in our land. Our family can visit us."

"Maybe, Madame Wendi,--- I am called Madame Wendi by my neighbors because 1.. They have difficulties with the "R" for "Randy" and a. They think I am married to a "Mr. Randy." It has proven more trouble than it is worth to correct this over the past 10 years, so I go by the moniker, "Madame Wendi." "Maybe, Madame Wendi - would you be buried here? On Mon Bouton?"

I look out at the valley, the green-ness, the distance of it all, down and down and down, winding paths, no roads, all so far away. Indeed, why not have ashes scattered here?

I was touched, really, at Salomon's suggestion. When I mentioned having ashes scattered, he grimaced, said it wouldn't be the same.

You know, I did not say at the time that the fact is, I have no land here, I own no land to be buried in. Huh.

Land. As Mesye Gistav had told me, 'way back. It's about land. The secret is land. But he didn't tall me all this.

Later, still stranger thoughts: If I was buried here, would my children, my family back state-side, bother to visit my grave?!

Hey - what an idea, a way to boost "tourism" in the area?! My kids come, stay awhile with my Haitian community of which, after death I am irrevocably a part. Surely, some small income would accrue to the homes who host my visitors?!

Uh oh. Now I am really starting to think like an entrepreneur. My legacy. I can help generate some income for the mountain residents even after I pass....

Pretty good, eh?

Thinking, planning, hoping, joking, will get me through all this. Right?

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