The Novenas and a Tragedy

After Maricela’s funeral
The nine days of Novenas
Are said at Petra’s house.
7:30 every night,
With a meal provided afterwards.
The singing begins at 7pm
A hundred or more people show up
Every night.

There is something good to be said
For praying together
With a large group of people
For nine days after a burial.
All the sadness and grief you have
Gets directed through the rosary,
Directed at God for help.
You see all the people you will see
In your daily life, each day.
There will be few surprise encounters
In the coming months,
Of those who did not know.

Victoria, Petra’s first cousin
Has been running the rosaries,
So to speak.


She has a calling directly from God.
You would see that too,
If you were there.
She is about 65-70 years old
Usually wears turqouoise
And when she turns her back
To pray into the room,
Where Maricela’s altar is,
Her braid is held with a barrett
That looks like two,
Aluminum wrapped
Sticks of chewing gum
With a wrapper that has blue and white flowers
With the words ‘chewing gum across it.
She is the least likely person  in the room
To be chewing gum.

She has a voice
That cuts through all the rest
When she leads the prayers
When she sings, it is so clear,
The words so simple,
That it is easy to sing along
Even for us gringos.
You would not ever question
Her devotion or her dedication
To interceding on the behalf of God
For all of us.

Days number one and two
Go smoothly, uneventful even.
On day three,
It begins to rain in the patio,
Where most of us are sitting.
At first it is little drops,
Then a little more.
John and I look at each other,
Wondering when or if
People will decide to move,
Where they will go to,
If the service will stop.
No one else seems to notice,
And stopping isn’t an option.
All of a sudden a bunch of umbrellas
Come out from under seats
Opening all at once.
The singing continues
The prayers are finished,
Everyone eats under umbrellas
In the light rain.

The fourth night
The rain threatens,
But Luis has strung a blue plastic tarp
Over the entire patio.
There is a lot of wind
Which catches up in the tarp
Making it snap and bang
Throughout the rosary.
No one seems to pay attention to it.

The fifth night
The weather is normal
More than 100 people are gathered
Petra has about 10 birdcages
Surrounding her patio, all uncovered.
There is a bird which looks like a thrush
But has the sound of a mocking bird.
About half way through,
It begins cackling and whistling
So loudly that all the children (and us)
Turn around to watch.
No one stops to ask someone to cover it.
Victoria just sings and talks louder
With more clarity between each word
And we get through the service.

Because I want to understand what I am doing
I asked Victoria where to buy the novenaria.
The church bookstore, of course,
So I bought one for funerals,
Which includes the pre-burial care
To be given to the corpse.
The Novenas,
The after care
The words to sing.
I feel a little more prepared
With the words in front of me
For the sixth night.

However, problem is
There are about five or six of these books
Each one a little different,
And I don’t have the right book,
Only parts of it work with our rosary.
We are flipping the pages back and forth
Looking for the prayers, the mysterios
Not only that, but which mysterios,
As there are three distinctly different ones
For different days of the week.
We are lost and it’s easier to just listen,
Than to keep flipping pages
Hoping do discover where we are,
Working with the rhythm of the words and songs
To stay in synch.

After it is over,
I tell Victoria I have bought the book

But it does not follow her book.
She tells me that’s because there are several,
The relgious,
The meditative
The one with the 9 days
Which is what I have.
There may even be more than three.
She is very animated,
Excited about my book,
The same one that I am
Terribly disappointed in.
I am hoping to get the title of hers
She gives me homework to do, insisting,
That I will read with her
The following night.
The thought of it scares me
But at the same time
I stand there saying yes, of course,
Which pages, which passages.
Against my will, but with my consent
I agree, and go home wondering
How she got me to agree.

The next day, I read my lines at home
She says I will read
Only the first two lines
Before each of the five Misterios Dolorosos.
Not much really, but when the evening comes
And I am standing before the group
She points to the paragraphs that follow the headings
Shakes her head yes while she is singing,
Smiles, raises her hands to the sky, palms up,
As if God has ordained it
I have been tricked into reading
The entire five Misterios Dolorosos,
Which I understand, but did not practice.

At the end of the rosario
She thanks me, the extranjero, their neighbor,
Who wished to participate in their service
Thanking me for reading,
Asking the congregation if they all understood me?
Everyone shakes their head yes,
No one laughed or snickered,
Surprisingly, I’m not embarassed
Although I mispronounced a couple of words,
We move on to the final glorias and Aleluyas,
The final songs, which are directed tonight
At the scores of children who are here.

Afterwards, she catches both John and me
Saying that the blessing and glory of God
Is with us and please pass your book for a moment.
She turns to the Litanias Lauretanias,
Which she suggests that John read, tomorrow.
He is shaking his head no,
Waving his hands as if to say no
Being the ultimate picture of politeness
While he agrees to do it
If I read them with him.
How did she do it?

Day Eight
Bringing blessings of the father.
It’s almost over, one more day after this.
The rosary is said while children,
Are pushing each other on their seats
Playing something akin to musical chairs.
Elvia, Petra’s daughter,
Who has five children of her own,
Sits next to these little ruffians
Singing clearly and loudly,
Not scolding
Not placing their hands in their laps
Not telling them they will be banished
Should they continue to misbehave,
But by setting an example,
With her loud clear singing,
Of how they are to behave in a rosary.
It takes all of their effort to conform
But they do it.

The litanys are at the end
We are called up and read them off
‘Senor, ten piedad de ella’
‘Dios padre celestial’ – ten pieda de ella
Santa Maria, Madre de Jesucristo, Virgen poderosa,
Casa de Oro, Torre de David, Estrella de la manana…..
When it is over, Victoria, on our behalf,
Raises her arms in the air
Asking all to raise their right hand
Asking that they all understood
That they understood we are here
In community with them.
Heads are shaking yes, hands are raised
Resucito, Aleluya are sung and food is served.
Tomorrow is day nine,
There is a mass at 11 am at the Parroquia
Then one last novena for Maricela
Life will go back to normal.

Somehow, this is all making me come to terms
With my Catholic upbringing
In a way which I can understand
How it could have been,
How it should have been.

At 7:30 this morning our doorbell rang.
Luis, Petra’s son is at the door.
He is so sorry to tell us
That Elvia’s husband, Jesus,
Father of her five children, including Beto,
Who we have a special place in our hearts for,
Was murdered near their home last night.
Something to do with being robbed
He was found
By their 11 year old daughter Ana Karin
Who ran hysterically back to Petra’s
To bring her uncles to help.

His body is at the Velatorio San Francisco,
Luis asks if we will come by after the mass for Maricela.
We walk to town to clear our heads,
Wondering how Elvia will manage with five children,
Wondering how they will do Maricela’s mass,
The traditional family meal after the mass,
How Beto and his sisters will handle this,
Another funeral,
An all night vigil at the velatorio
The walk to the panteon tomorrow
The nine more days of Novenas
Then moving back into life,
Coming to terms with what happened.

The mass was held for Maricela.
Victoria is frantically looking back
Between the choir and the arriving priest
They have forgotten the choir.
How can this be?
So Victoria, bless her, led the singing
Every chair was filled for Maricela and now Jesus.
Afterwards, we walked to the velatorio
We paid our respects to Elvia and the family.
Jesus’ family has taken charge of this burial
The rosary is chanted so quickly
I cannot keep up with even the simplest of prayers.
It is mesmerizing to listen to it.
We seem to be living
In a sort of suspended time
Nothing is more important than this, right now.

After a good cry with Petra
She wipes her face with her apron
And says ‘let’s go eat’, I’ve made mole’
‘We’ll come back later’
The family arrives at Petras by the carload
But no one has the key to the house.
They have to break in
To have the final meal and gathering
For Maricela.
The mole is the best we have ever had
Everyone is quietly talking,
Sunk back into their chairs
Absorbing this impossible thing
That has happened to Jesus.
John asks ‘what is the word for a nap?’
‘Siesta’ I say,
To which he hits himself up the side of the head
As if to say how stupid to forget that.

After thanking everyone for everything,
We, along with everyone else,
Make a donation for the events
That Elvia will be responsible for,
And go home for that nap.
At 7:30, the ninth and last Novena will be said,
Then, a visit to the velatorio,
Where we will not spend the night,
But pay our respects, before going
To the mass and burial tomorrow.

The last Novena
Begins right on time at 7:30.
Unlike the rest of the Novenas,
There are no songs at the beginning
Just the rosary
In which Victoria says the first part
Of the hail Marys
We say the rest.
There are well over 100 people here,
Spilling into the streets.
Because of Jesus’ murder,
A day of going back and forth
From the velatorio where his body lies
And Petra’s house
Where she is to perform the final ritual
For Maricela’s death and burial
It is somber, and with many tears.
John and I sat in the back,
At my insistance, and because
I did not wish to participate today.
I told John not to look right at Victoria
Hoping not to be discovered.
No luck, however, as she immediately
Called us to the front
Moved two children from chairs
And told us to sit down.
It will only be the litany tonight.

After the litany,
The final ceremony,
Moving the white powder cross
From it’s cardboard on the floor,
To a clay box filled with white roses
And the blessing of the cross for her grave
Which we are told was made by Jesus
The day he died, is carried out
Amidst singing of verses
Of a relgious hymn
Sung by all
To bless the rising of the cross.
Final tears are shed,
By entire family
Who one by one
Leave and go to the kitchen
To serve tacos to all of us.

We all crawl into cars
Head to the velatorio,
To sing and pray to Jesus.
We expect to see about a hundred people
But there are literally hundreds
Say two to three hundred people, maybe more,
Everyone singing along with the estudantinos,
Who are young singers wearing midieval clothing,
Playing traditional instruments,
All of us sing along.
It is so moving and Elvia, who in a typical US memorial
Would be sitting up front, near the casket
Is outside, falling into the arms
Of each new person who arrives
Crying her eyes out.

I, myself, always try to do everything I can
To keep myself from crying in situations like this
I don’t like to cry in public places
I am afraid I will never stop, so I
I bite my lip
I sing
I take a few deep breaths
Bite my lip again
I surely don’t look at people who are crying
Especially children with their parents,
I don’t let myself wonder how Elvia will manage
As that is a topic in itself,
For a lot of crying at this moment.
The methods for not crying
Must be managed,
Moment to moment,
Yet even I cannot stop myself.

After a while,
After drinks and sweet breads,
We go inside to recite a rosary
And to view the body.
We are now a little group,
Her elderly women friends
Her cousins
Relatives of cousins
And us.
I don’t know what I was expecting
Perhaps something beautiful,
Like the rose covered body of Maricela
But Jesus, was covered from the neck down
In white tucked satin,
Only his face showing
Under glass, with a framed photo
Of Jesus Christ wearing
A crown of thorns
On his chest.
Resting against the glass
Next to his face,
Is a torn photograph of him
At a much younger age, placed there
By a friend earlier in the day.
It is so surreal looking
That is catches me by surprise.
John holds his hands in prayer and bows.
I cross myself,
We say our goodbyes, and go home at midnight,
Where I pull out my antidote to it all,
The current book I am reading:
‘Lamb, The Gospel According to Biff,
Christ’s Childhood Pal’
An irreverant look at Christ’s forgotten years
Age 0-30 by Christopher Moore,
Which makes me laugh out loud.

This morning,
I have agreed to take Beto
To the Patronato de Ninos
To have his jaw,
Which appears to have a tumor,
But which is salivery gland swelling
To be looked at.
Although he is to carry his father’s casket at noon
He does not want to miss this appointment
Which was made last week.
I can hardly believe he wants to do this.
Afterwards, he is in the system,
He will only have to pay
Ten pesos a visit to have this operation,
Something he can manage himself.
A positive note in an otherwise
Very depressing two weeks for him
And he’s off to pick up his tuxedo.

At noon, the church,
Which holds five hundred people on the benches
Is full, plus three people deep on each side
Standing room only in the naves and back.
The priest walks from the front of the church
To the casket which is waiting at the door.
It is blessed with holy water
And the procession of the casket
To the altar
Carried by Beto, two of Petra’s sons,
Seven of Jesus’ brothers,
There are prayers, orations, and singing.
At the end,
The priest says something I have never heard before:
‘Senor Jesus, que descansa en el bosque del paz’
‘Jesus, that you may rest in a forest of peace’
A beautiful thought for the end of the service.

As the casket reaches the door,
Mariachis are in a half circle
To accept the procession, singing
Entre sus manos, esta mi vida senor
“Into your hands, (Jesus) is my life
A beautiful sad melody
During which the mariachis turn
To lead the casket, and the people
Through town,
To the cemetery and the burial.