A Week Later, Dignity in Death is Still A Luxury

January 21, 2010
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imageI talk with funeral directors all the time about explaining the value in having a funeral or memorial service, about showing the value of the graveside service to their clients. We have discussed on ConnectingDirectors.com the same things; How have we lost the value of a funeral service? Why does it seem like the family just wants to get everything over with as quick as they can? These are all questions that we as a industry should be tackling.

i wanted to share the following story and video with you because I think it shows and discusses just how important a funeral service and grieving process really are. The Haitian family in this video are devastated at the loss of their son, brother, and friend, but they did everything they could to avoid having to place their son in one of the many mass graves that have been made following the earthquake last week. They even go as far as destroying the casket just so it would fit into the crypt.

The strains of Auld Lang Syne pierced the dusty air at the city?s main cemetery. A woman in black sobbed, ?I lost my baby.?? A coffin appeared, ferried by grieving men.

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It was a sacred rite that has eluded many relatives of those killed in the Jan 12 earthquake: A proper funeral.

The final journey of 24-year-old Miguel Delancy Jr. to his resting place high on a hill this week was a luxury in a nation overwhelmed by the task of attending to its dead. Many victims are still buried under the rubble. Others have been dumped on the streets, at the morgue downtown, or even outside the cemetery. The bodies of untold thousands of men, women, and children have been buried in unmarked mass graves outside of the capital.

?I want to make sure that he?ll be in peace, that?s all,?? Miguel?s uncle, Michael Morency, 57, said at the gray crypt, which sits along a narrow path near brightly painted tombs. ?We want to make sure he is somewhere we can visit him.??

The earthquake has transformed everything in this city, even the rituals of death. As in many cultures, Haitians hold elaborate mourning ceremonies, raising money in their neighborhoods to buy fancy coffins and space in tombs that are painted blue, green, and gray. But last week?s earthquake left thousands of survivors with no chance to grieve or say goodbye.

At the city morgue, grieving relatives pay people to watch over bodies, or they don masks and search through the hundreds of dead themselves.

One early morning last week, Pierre Michel rushed from the city of Taba to the morgue to collect the bodies of his daughters, Eunice, 21, and Edna, 11.

?I did not want to lose them to a mass grave,?? Michel, a 56-year-old street vendor, said at the morgue, as he and his son placed the coffins in the back of a yellow pickup truck. ?We?d like to put them somewhere we can always go and talk to them.??

Delancy was pulled dead from the rubble of his apartment, and everyone wanted to give him a funeral. He was one of the most popular young men on Romain Street, a rap singer who was funny, handsome, and sweet. Relatives and friends pooled their money to buy a polished black coffin, and donned black mourning clothes if they had them.

At the entrance to the cemetery, the funeral procession paused. A cross dangled crookedly on an arch above them, and chunks of concrete littered the sidewalk around them.

One of his aunts shuddered and collapsed. But she refused to step inside, unable to bear the stench from bodies left decomposing in the cemetery or on the street.

The men kept going. They heaved the coffin up a cobblestone road, past bodies rolled in bedsheets or placed on the ground and burned. A young man carried a boombox blasting rap music, and mourners leaned on one another in the heat.

?He was like a son to me,?? said Delancy?s friend, Emmanuel Bonnefil, 44.

Because of a space shortage in the family?s tomb, relatives decided that Delancy?s coffin would replace that of an uncle who had died earlier. The uncle?s casket would be discarded and his remains, still in his funeral clothes, would be placed in a nearby tomb.

Placing Delancy here meant that they could visit him in November, on the Day of the Dead, when people flock to cemeteries to remember friends and relatives who have died. He would rest among dead of other families, the St. Hilares, the Bernag

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