A note: some may find this post upsetting. Know that is not my intent, but on some level what you are about to read should upset you.
The mass on the morning of Friday, January 11th started like any other mass we attended in Haiti. This morning’s mass would also be a funeral mass. However, despite the two bodies that lay in the chapel before us, the congregation at Friday’s mass consisted entirely of Italians and Americans. Father Rick took the unusual step of starting mass in English and Italian. Admittedly, I was glad for being able to understand what was going on during mass in both English and Italian that morning. This was also the first morning that mass was being held within the beautiful little chapel (rather than outside), and I was struck by the simple beauty of this place.
Everything changed halfway through the mass when several men from the hospital unexpectedly arrived and brought a third body into the chapel. Several people scrambled to make room for the third “casket”. By this point, a few locals had arrived, and Father Rick proceeded in Creole as well. His sermon, however, he delivered in all three languages.
As I’ve mentioned before in this blog, and as several friends and family members can attest to, I am not a deeply religious person. Father Rick’s sermon changed that for a least a little while that day. He spoke about death – again, a topic all too familiar here in Haiti – about mourning, about the soul leaving the body and meeting God in heaven. How in Catholic belief, the soul does not depart from the body for three days. He pointed to the unexpected arrival of the third body (whom I’ll refer to as “A”), and described how A was likely still warm and that according to God, A was not ready for that journey to heaven. A’s soul had not yet departed from this earth.
In the moment after Father Rick said that A’s family probably didn’t know that A had even died, I shed a tear. To imagine that we, as complete strangers, knew of A’s death and yet her family did not felt wrong, foreign, and impossibly heart wrenching. To know that those of us in that little chapel, completely unrelated to A, would serve as the witnesses to her funeral mass was both astonishing and upsetting. That her family would not be able to properly mourn A’s death during mass was distressing and unfortunate. And yet a part of me couldn’t help but wonder how commonplace an occurrence that was here.
The almost mystical and magical combination of three bodies present and three languages spoken during mass was both beautiful and overwhelming. The rest of the mass proceeded uneventfully, until the end when the burial clothes were removed from the caskets and body bags. Suddenly, it made sense why Father Rick read five names during the funeral blessing. To my shock, the last body was not merely one body, but that of three small children. Three tiny bodies that had already departed from this world. Three small lives cut incredibly too short. Part of me wondered if these children were better off, having potentially escaped a lifetime of hardship. Part of me sensed the feelings of pain and anguish from my female colleagues who are themselves mothers, and I wondered where the mothers of these little ones were and why they were not present. But most of all, my heart broke a little that day – for three mothers who had lost their precious children and for three children who would never know what amazing lives they might have lived, for the experiences they would never have, and for the impact they could have made on their communities.
I left mass that morning once again humbled by what was so tragically commonplace in Port-au-Prince, and for the lives we so easily take for granted in the United States. And I lamented how things had turned out this way.