Tuesday, February 1, 2011

February 3rd

Today is February 1st, not February 3rd (as indicated on the title of this post). You might be confused. Well, today, February 1st, marks the date when my dad passed away. About a year or so after his passing, I wrote the thing below. I don't know what to call it. Is it an essay? or a memoir? (Memoirs are usually written by older people who reflect on events that happened a long time ago in lives, so I feel weird calling it a memoir, I don't relate to a "memoir" considering I was only 23 when I wrote this - thing).

I titled the "thing" below "February 3rd"

February 3rd was a hot, humid day in Lima. It was the day we buried a significant part of my life. My dad had passed away at 56 years old and after a yearlong challenge against brain cancer. The images, feelings and thoughts of February 3rd will be with me every day of my life.

It was 3pm, time to stop socializing, pray a Hail Holy Queen in unison and close the casket at the velatory of Nuestro Santisimo Nombre de Jesus parish. First, the funerary agency men took the beautiful flower arrangements out one by one. There must have been at least 30. Then came the first procession. Myself, along with 5 others lead the way with a small flower arrangement in our hands. Out of nervousness, I guess, we walked quickly to the street and lined up next to the funerary car to form a pathway for my dad.

Once situated, I turned around to see what was holding up the crowd. And through the black iron gates I saw the professional casket carriers turn the casket over to my uncles who were volunteering to carry my dad on their shoulders.

There stood the 6 middle aged men in dark suits, burning with the mid-afternoon sun while they received a brief lesson on how to walk, all at the same step, in order not to trip. So here came these 6 normal, everyday men carrying my dad on their shoulders. All of them walking slowly at the same, short pace.

I followed them, looking through the iron gate. I wanted to sing. I wanted to sing a Salve Regina, to the tune that it is sung in the Evita movie. It was so solemn, so incredibly solemn. It was quiet; all you could hear was the dragging of the feet of the crowd that followed the casket. They came through our pathway followed by my mom who was holding my brother's arm while she was crying.

After placing the casket in the funerary car everybody got in their cars and followed us south to the cemetery. The line of cars in the highway was endless. We were going slowly.

When we arrived to the cemetery, my heart jumped when I saw that the lower income, more humble people who had worked with my dad along the years had lined up on both sides of the street to receive him and greet him one last time.

Afterward was the Mass, which was celebrated by Bishop Monsignor Salvador Piñeiro, who went to school with my dad, Padre Juan and Padre Manuel. Mass was beautiful.

After Mass, myself along with the other flower carriers grabbed an arrangement and processed out of the chapel towards the courtyard where we waited for the carriers, with their black suits and white gloves, to bring the casket.

When they arrived we started walking towards the tomb. This time Juan Manuel and Fatima, who together carried an arrangement, lead the way.

As we walked, I turned around to see if they were following. This is when I saw a scene out of a movie. At the moment, my dad was being carried by the factory workers. To the left was the tall and large Bishop, all in purple wearing his miter. Right behind the casket was my mom who had Pablo on one side and Norm on the other. Then the crowd opened back in a "V" shape. It looked like a big, black fan. Salvador made everybody sing, I don't remember what they were singing, but I could only hear Salvador's loud and strong voice. The black fan moved slowly, it dragged across the pebbled path. The sun shined strong and bright, it was about 5pm by now.

It was a sea of people. People that came from all walks of life. There were successful entrepreneurs and humble laborers. People who had known my dad more than 50 years and people who had just met him a year ago. There were people who had had perfect relationships with my dad and also people whose  relationships had been conflictive. There were about 280 people present.

The sea of people moved slowly. Men kept taking turns on carrying the casket. Us, the flower carriers, had to keep stopping because we'd walk too fast. Whenever I'd stop, I'd turn and observe, brokenheartedly, the black walking fan and the large purple singing Bishop.

It all felt like a dream, more like a nightmare. It couldn't be true that not even 8 months ago, my dad was walking me down the isle to the altar. And now, we were walking him to his resting-place, to his tomb.

Finally the crowd made it to the tomb, located in the area of San Pablo in El Parque del Recuerdo cemetery. As the priests prayed, the 280 bodies gathered around and shifted themselves in order to catch a glimpse of this unbelievable, unreal event about to take place: the burial. This was the moment in which I could feel my heart being ripped out and being lowered into the earth along with my dad. The casket slowly was lowered into the concrete box. Then, someone said "the flowers" and Pablo turned to me and said "Mari, you go." So I walked out of the reserved area for the family and grabbed the flower arrangement (which took a while to find). I lowered myself to the floor and slowly placed the arrangement on top of the casket but it couldn't help dropping the few feet of the difference into where the casket actually lay.

Then they brought a concrete slab, which was the lid of the box and slowly the box was covered. At the end came the most primitive tradition: to throw the dirt into the grave.

How difficult it is to bury a loved one. I thought that was the worst part of my dad's passing away, but I proved myself wrong when February 4th came and then February 5th and then 6th and so on. I'd come home and not have him around to kiss hello. I realized how much spare time I had because I wasn't spending time with him. It shocks me when I refer to him in the past tense now.

It is unbelievable how much you think about a person on a daily, even hourly, basis and not realize it until that person is no longer around. Everything has a memory attached to it. Everything from eating a black olive out of the refrigerator to the blue newspaper stand in El Puente [local town] where regardless of the situation, we always had 2 soles to buy La Razón and Expreso [newspapers]. I catch myself saying things my dad used to say and doing things the way he used to.

That was February 3rd. It was the day we buried a great man. It was the day we laid him in his tomb, the last day we got to see his body. From now on, my dad will live in each individual's heart. Each person will remember him in his and her own way. He touched so many people's lives.

My kids will grow up not having met their Nono [my nephew calls my dad this, and my mom Nona]. They will only hear stories of how their fat Nono always wore his hat (so his ideas wouldn't fly away) and how he liked to make fresh pasta and how he would eat so fast that he'd choke. And how the day after Thanksgiving he would go to the grocery store and buy the turkeys on sale. They'll only hear stories and see pictures of him in his red overalls in the fields of Tarapoto [city in the rain forest].

And years will go by and we will realize how much we learned from a man who only lived 56 years and how much more we could have learned if he would have lived longer.


Marti said...

Fernanda, I had no idea. I'm so, so sorry! I wish I could give you a hug right now. I'm speechless really. i remember your Dad and how sweet he was when I would come over. This was very sweet.

Madeleine said...

beautiful "essay/memoir"!

praying for you and norm and your entire family always, especially these next few days.

miss you guys tons - it's been way too long. xoox

Michelle said...

Beautiful post. I will always remember Nono as one of the most generous persons I have ever met. :0)

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