A Lesson On Grieving

Lily Ellenberg - Ecuador


January 25, 2012

The house sits on wooden stilts, sunken down below the road. When we arrived it was already full of people. I didn’t know our destination until we arrived; I didn’t know our purpose until I saw the small wooden coffin. It sat atop a table covered in tall white candles. My stomach dropped and my eyes widened as I tried to rationalize the size of the structure as we entered the open air home.

The sounds overwhelmed me. People spoke quietly all around me. Food and candy were served and soon the room was filled with the crinkling of wrappers and the smack and click of lips and teeth. The wrinkeled grandmother wailed a song of mourning. The mother rocked back and forth, over and over, creaking the bench she sat upon. At times her head would fall into her hands, as if out of her control, making an almost silent thump. People sat near to her, but no one touched or comforted the hunched figure.

After some time a man rose, straining the floor as he walked to the coffin. The lid scraped as it moved to reveal the small figure within. A perfect baby boy. The mother collapsed onto the coffin. Screaming with agony as she ran her fingers over his delicate nose, eyelids and mouth. The father also rose, his face looked as if it was about to break open. He lightly touched the baby clothes surrounding his unmoving child.

The lid was replaced as another family member stood to lead a prayer in Kichwa. The unfarmiliar sounds washed over me as more people began to weep. As the prayer ended the lid was lifted again. The mother’s face looked far away as she caressed her son for the last time. Her husband stepped forward, his tears falling silently as he lovingly covered his son’s face in the white shroud that already covered the rest of his fragile body.

People chanted and wept as the wood was slipped back into place. The mother screamed, grabbing at the coffin and clutching at her chest as she tried to ease the pain of her breaking heart. Her husband led her away and supported her body as it slumped and shook with sadness.

Pow…pow, pow…pow.

The harsh pound of nails into wood seemed to awaken some of the stone-faced mourners. A new wave of grief filled the small house. Two men carried the wooden structure to the tomb outisde. As it was placed into its concrete resting place the mother fell to the ground, rubbing her hands in the dirt.

This woman never once hid her pain. It spread across her face, scrunching and distorting it. Not once did she arranged her features into the tight, controlled expression so often seen at funerals. She suffered openly, honoring the short life of her baby boy.

Lily Ellenberg