He ain’t heavy, he’s my neighbor

As an adult I always wanted to belong to a “community”. I left Cuba for the United States at 13,old enough to remember what it was like to walk everywhere, to know all your neighbors, to sit at the park with the street dogs running around, to buy freshly baked bread at the corner store, to sit at your front porch at night and wave to the people walking by. In Miami I lived in the suburbs and although there was always a friendly relationship with the neighbors it was never the same again, that is, until I arrived at Costa Rica.

My neighbor’s elderly mother died 10 days ago, the wake took place at home, the family including the children washed the body and prepared it for viewing. Minutes after the death, the neighbors started arriving to pay their respect, the cooking was started, tables were set, chairs were arranged, the casket was laid out in the middle of the living room, the deceased looked beautiful with her hair braided and adorned with flowers. There were tears, there were laughs, grandchildren alternated between going to see their grandmother and playing with their friends as only children can do, as it should be……

The burial took place the next day, after a mass. Throes of people walked to the cemetery behind the hearse on a day so beautiful it defied the concept of death. Thru the town they went, dozens of people paying their respect, the young and the old, the real grievers and the mere curious.

I thought that was the end of it until the next day when i again saw the entire neighborhood arrive at their house just before sunset and shortly after heard the prayers and it was then when I found out this would repeat for 9 days in a ritual called “la novena” which culminates with a mass on the ninth day. At prayer time, I would sit in my back porch and would let myself be carried up to Heaven in a cloud of faithful energy and once there I would hear God say, okay, okay, I will take good care of your dead, how could I not with so many voices asking me as one…….

I know there are people who will say that some neighbors came for the food, or to gossip, or out of an obligation and they are probably right, but to me, who spent the last 45 years of my life attending hushed hushed wakes, in an antiseptic funeral home and attending burials where the bereaved ride inside a dark limousine, this ritual felt right, finally in the sunset of my life I again experience what I did in the onset, the joy of belonging to a community……..Pura Vida!!!!!!!!


About anyr1954

I am 57 years young, married, mother of two two legged children and five four legged children. I am about to embark in the biggest adventure of my life!!
This entry was posted in costa rica and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to He ain’t heavy, he’s my neighbor

  1. sushimole says:

    What a wonderful post. I wish more communities had that kind of connection. It sounds so beautiful, pure, and meaningful.

  2. Edwin Rios says:

    Great post! The idea of having the wake in the house reminded me of Puerto Rico. In the very old days, there was even an African custom called “baquiné”, that was celebrated mainly when young children passed away. The idea was the the passing of the innocent was something to be celebrated because they would not have to suffer in this life. There is even an interesting painting called El Velorio, by the painter Franciso Oller, from Bayamón (link below) that illustrates the concept of the baquiné. The name is not in use today, but there are many things we do to celebrate the life of friends in their own wake, so somehow the festive spirit has lasted in many different ways. In any case, I remember the wake as a positive experience for the family and the community.

    Well said in your post.

    Francisco Oller (June 17, 1833 – May 17, 1917) , painting, El Velorio

  3. Dax says:

    Being from the land of the “antiseptic funeral homes”, it took a minute to grasp the full meaning of your recent experience. Wonderful post as a way to open the eyes of others to the ritual of death in other cultures and how they see it as a positive experience rather than the opposite. I enjoyed reading this post. It opened my eyes as yours were reopened.

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