Our vacation to Guatemala didn’t end up being exactly as we had planned. There was an unexpected reason why we travelled down, which we wouldn’t find out until we were already there. We thought we were just going to have fun and see the sights, and of course, to spend time with family. It turned out that we couldn’t have guessed how important the time with family would be. The day after we arrived, we found out that Henry’s Aunt had just been diagnosed with cancer. Everyone agreed that she needed to be taken care of at home (Henry’s parents’ place). It wasn’t in our minds at first, but it was terminal cancer. The kids were able to meet their great Aunt and were aware that there was a sick person in the house who needed care and some quiet. Keeping 8 kids even kind of quiet can be tricky! So the first 2 weeks of our stay were mainly dedicated to nursing. I’m afraid that I’m not very good at that, so I mostly kept an eye on kids. Henry’s mom hardly slept for taking care of her sister. Both of my sister-in-laws were right there helping out in everything. I just have to say how much I admire these ladies: my mother-in-law, and Henry’s sister and sister-in-law, they are amazing!!!
So Christmas day and New Years weren’t exactly the way we had imagined… yes we did some celebrating, but festivities weren’t the only thing on our minds. We were able to give Henry’s Aunt her “Christmas hug” and “New Years hug” this year. Those are special hugs in Latinamerica! Usually hugged at midnight. And she was able to eat a little of the traditional Christmas tamales. It was a very bittersweet time.
To make a long story short, she passed away in January. Henry’s dad was out of the city on business, so it was such a blessing that Henry was there, along with his siblings, to help his mom with all the arrangements of the day. In Guatemala they do a “velorio” which I can only translate as a wake. But more toned down from the pictures I get in my head when I hear the word “wake”. And the next day, the kids and everyone went to the funeral home.
An interesting tidbit: as we were walking into the funeral home, we walked past a couple of slightly distinguished-looking older men, and I noticed one with blue eyes…a few minutes later Henry mentions that he was the president of Guatemala from years ago. Of course I recognized the name, but hadn’t recognized his face after so many years!! You just never know who you will run into in Guatemala City!!! craziness!
I must say, the kids enjoyed the funeral home: cousins and food. It was good to see and greet family members that we might not have otherwise seen. I had no idea whether it was ok to take photos…I’ve been to uh, only a few, ok, maybe it was only 2 velorios in Guate. I didn’t know if it was a good idea or not, and didn’t see anyone else with a camera or phone out. So I just sneaked my camera out and took a couple blurry shots.
I would have liked some shots of Henry’s dad leading the service, he did such a good job, and of the kids right up front there listening to their Abuelo. But I have a fear of being too conspicuous sometimes, and especially in those close, emotional moments, just couldn’t bring myself to snap away. So they will be filed with other “mental photos” I keep in my head. Now comes the big adventure part: the graveside service.
Maybe it was just a “big adventure” for myself and my kids. Maybe “adventure” is the wrong word. It was probably a totally normal, everyfuneral kind of experience for everyone else, but for us…well, lets just say we won’t be forgetting anytime in the near future. After that build-up you’ll be expecting all the details, but to keep this story short, I’m just going to mention a few things.
It was a slightly windy, overcast day, which lent to the “movieness” of the whole experience. Did I mention that it was like being in a movie? It was. There was a solitary trumpet player, which I found cool, but the kids found eerie. Graveyards are just different in other parts of the world….in North America they usually seem to be peaceful green parks, with little tufts of flowers popping up and some orderly marble markers and crosses….it’s not like this everywhere, just so you know. In Latin America, graveyards tend to run to vaults and mausoleum-type structures. This cemetery was mostly all cement…with a couple of trees, and big cement buildings or “casket condominiums” almost 2 storeys high. So it was very different looking. And I realized that my kids have never been to a graveside service, ever. The graveside experience was rather emotional and dramatic for me and the kids (probably the norm for everyone else). So needless to say, as soon as I could, I took them back to the car for a de-briefing session. I wish I had recorded myself. I waxed eloquent, as the saying goes, in order to put my children’s minds at ease. (modest cough). It was a good moment, maybe not in their minds, but I was able to say a bunch of stuff (that doesn’t sound nearly as eloquent) that they needed to hear. And it was a real-life moment. One of those learning experiences. So there.
A distant shot of the graveside….the trumpet player had already zoomed off on his motorbike.
We drove past this ostentatious tomb on the way out and just had to get a photo of it….who knows who’s buried there, we weren’t going to stop and find out! But pretty fancy, eh? The doors were copper. The garbage barrel kind of ruins the mighty effect though, ….typical…..
In the background is another “casket condo”. Seriously, they even had little “balconies” on the “condos” to put flowers in!
Leaving the cemetery. Oh yeah, right inside the gate, there was a funny sign, that I wish I could have photographed, it said: “It is not permitted to learn to drive a vehicle on these premises.”
After all of this, we realized how very content we were to have been there with Henry’s family in the midst of this difficult time. Unexpected, yes, but truly in God’s plans for us, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.