The last three days of my life were spent in mourning. Mourning for a young soul I never met, but in mourning nonetheless. The phone rang early Monday morning to inform us that my boyfriend’s nephew had passed away. He had been living in Costa Rica for the last several years, so I never had an opportunity to meet him.
Families are sprawling in Nicaragua. I’m sure this is partially thanks to the Catholic church’s strong influence on the country. Thus, as we set off early Monday morning for the home of the grieving mother, I was under-prepared for the scene in store. At first, there were just a few people gathered outside under the shade of a tree, silently sitting while mom and abuela wept. Throughout the day the crowd grew. Neighbors came toting their own chairs, as the family didn’t have enough to seat all of the supporters. Coffee was made in small Styrofoam cups and passed around. Then pan, white bread served on plastic platters carried around by nieces and neighbors to keep all the mourners comfortable. The story of what happened was repeated time and again by momma.
I don’t know the details of the last days or minutes of this boy’s life, but it appears he took his own life by drinking poison. This is a sadly all too common story in this culture where passion runs deep. It’s not unheard of to die for love, and it appears this may have been a case of that. In my time here, I’ve now heard tell of five young men who hanged themselves or drank poison as a result of infidelities or being left by the women in their lives. According to the PAHO Health and Statistics from the Americas report released in 2006, “In Nicaragua, the overall suicide rate is the highest among the Central and South American countries, and young men have higher rates than young women.” Granted, you can’t say that all suicides or suicide attempts are because of this darker romantic streak so many Nicaraguans hold within them — unemployment is high, poverty in Nicaragua is second only to Haiti in the Western hemisphere, and drug and alcohol abuse are common.
It was difficult though, to sit for three days surrounded by an ever-growing circle of family and friends who loved this young man and grieved his loss. There are so many times in this world when we feel lost and alone. Geographically, this child was physically separated from many who loved him, but I don’t doubt that years of living in Costa Rica gave him an ample support system there of friends who cared.
It’s so easy to get trapped by the dark web that our minds spin. It’s so easy to forget how simple life is underneath it all. The mind will take us on a roller coaster of ups and downs, torments, tragedies and joy and love too. Part of gaining wisdom, I think, is the ability to recognize that these highs and lows are all temporary. One of the reasons it is so important to cultivate a practice in life of finding a connection to inner stillness – whether that practice be yoga, meditation, running, or cooking – is that it reminds us that we are not identified with these transitory thoughts and emotions. Our practices remind us to dis-identify with the temporary, to part the running waters of the river and feel the heavy stillness of the rocks the water runs over.
Day two of grieving marked the return of the body from Costa Rica. It was delivered by car, and accompanied by the man’s sister and girlfriend, both of whom shared his life in Nicaragua, both of whom were devastated. The crowd of mourners grew from the small side yard to groups gathered on either side of the dirt road in front of the house. A funeral company came to set up a viewing area inside for the coffin and to deliver chairs for people to sit in. Children ran in and around legs, tried to comfort crying mothers, and brought small smiles from the people present. One group of young girls made a game out of dragging the wooden folding chairs across the street to an empty lot beside a church, then one by one, pulling the chairs into the old concrete that had been poured in hopes of building a house one day. The silence of the day was interupted by weeping, by the roosters in the next yard crowing, and by the mother hen chasing off the dogs who were sniffing too closely at her chicks. A small green parrot tweeted merrily from the front porch, alternately hanging upside down from the bottom of his cage and perching on the barbed wire that encircled the porch/kitchen area. As the night darkened, plates of rice and vegetables were passed around. The men of the family set up a small table where they dealt out cards and pesos for a game of rummy. Another group of men discreetly passed a small bottle of Flor de Cana, the rum of Nicaragua, mixing it with a small bottle of coke. Soda, coffee, and bread were served into the night. At midnight, people began to trickle away, leaving only tired children and devoted family to sit in vigil until morning.
When the morning came, a camioneta – small pick up truck – arrived to carry the coffin and some family to the church, and then the graveyard. The family trailed behind the camioneta, walking in the streets instead of the sidewalk. Behind the large group of family walking crept a small sedan, holding the older family members who weren’t up to the long trek across town. The procession was slow and stately, with passers-by saying hello to family members they knew and other cars moving around the whole procession to pass on their way. Once at the graveyard, not much was said. There was some waiting at the grave for flowers to arrive, and then the pallbearers walked down the row of graves carrying the coffin. It was softly lowered into the waiting grave, covered with flowers, and then all stood silently watching the gravediggers cover the area first with dirt, then with adobe. As the adobe lay wet on the surface of the grave, I was passed a nail with which to carve the name, birth day and death day of the deceased.
As I watched this family grieve and I grieved with them for three days, I couldn’t help but be saddened by the shame of it all. The shame that this man forgot his connection to spirit. The shame that this man forgot the many people who loved him. The shame that we weren’t celebrating a homecoming instead of a departing.