After a four hour flight, I was finally home. We had planned a family trip to El Salvador, but this was not what I had imagined. You know what they say if you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans. From the airport we headed to Grandma’s house; we had to drop off our luggage before we started preparing for the wake.
Upon arriving, I saw my grandparents at the door. I felt a huge knot in my throat. We had tried our best to keep them in the dark as if not telling them would somehow make this all go away. But being here and seeing them at that moment made this all real. That first embrace was everything. Somehow I felt comfort; I felt safe again. Grandma began to cry, and I pulled away. I knew that if I held on longer, I’d break. This was all so strange to me- it was the first time I was in El Salvador without my dad. He would be arriving the next morning, but not to join us, this time he’d be in a casket.
My grandfather joined me as I stepped outside for some air. He gave me a long tight hug, and he said to me, “hijita, mientras yo este vivo yo las cuidare como las cuidava su papa,” (My child, While I am still alive I will take care of you as your father did). I loved this man so much, and I knew he meant it. But what I didn’t know was life would soon take him from me too.
We made our way to the city since this was going to be a traditional Latino wake we had to ensure we had enough material to make tamales, coffee, we also wanted to have water bottles and pan dulce. We knew the community would stop by to pay their respects and we also anticipated a lot of them would stay all night because that’s part of our culture.
In between preparations we stopped by the funeral home to confirm the pick-up time since we had to accompany them to pick up the cadaver at the airport. We wanted to make sure everything was in order since the body was arriving the next morning.
Once again we did not sleep. We couldn’t. So we stayed up all night making tamales. Some neighbors came over and helped us. They stayed up with us all night sharing memories they had of my family- of my dad. 8:00 am, and the guys from the funeral home arrived to pick us up. In El Salvador, there are no hearses just modified pick-up trucks that will transport the family and the body. We arrive at the airport, and I honestly did not know what to expect. We went to customs, and I could see the casket. Before they could hand it over, we had to turn over some paperwork. Once that was done we had to identify the body. They took out a key and opened the casket. There was my dad.
When we arrived at grandma’s some people were already there. The men from the funeral home were getting ready to bring the casket inside (The wake was held at my grandma’s house). Before the men could bring out the casket, my grandfather and five of my father’s friends asked if they could do the honors and they took the casket inside. The rest was all a blur. So many people came, and I was so overwhelmed. Everyone showed us so much love; a couple of people had come with photos of them and my father. They wanted to share with us as they cried in disbelief- this was the strangest thing I remember- Comforting people who were there to comfort us.
People had come from different departments people from Santa Ana, San Vicente, San Miguel, and the Capital- San Salvador. Some people also came from Canada, Texas, and California. The night passed, it seemed to never end, but at the same time, it felt like everything was happening so fast. The number of people who came extended from the outside corridor to the main road. So many people. So many emotions.
7:00 a.m. we were on our way to mass, the final service before the burial. The community from my mom’s hometown provided three buses so anyone that wanted to accompany us could do so. Two other buses were also packed from people from my dad’s hometown. We finally arrived in Uluazapa, the place where my paternal grandparents were put to rest the same place my father asked to be buried. Before I knew it mass had ended. This was it. They closed the casket. I was no longer numb then it dawned on me this was the last time I would ever see what remained of my dad.
Everyone gathered outside of the church. I spotted a lot of school children, what I did not realize was that these were the children from the School in my dad’s hometown. My dad had helped that school so much, and the kids came barring a Salvadoran flag. The children asked us for permission to place the flag on the casket. My father was going to be put to rest with one of the biggest honors.
The Mariachi’s arrived. We began to walk toward the cemetery as they began to play. The first couple of songs did nothing for me. Then they started to sign “yo te extrañare” and I could no longer breathe, I was throwing up and crying uncontrollably. As we got closer they played “amor eterno” and I felt every single word. I had been holding in all my emotions, but I finally let myself hurt and feel and it was ugly.
We arrived at the cemetery, and people said a few words. Then they asked someone from the family say a few words. I honestly don’t know how I managed to, but I gave thanks to everyone for joining us during these difficult times. I had managed to recompose. That was only true for a few seconds. They began to lower the casket, and my heart shattered in a million pieces and then left my body- at least that’s how it felt. The casket was lowered all the way people began throwing in flowers. Once again I felt like I could not breathe. I could not move. I could not speak. All I could do was cry.
We waited for everyone to clear out. We headed back to grandmas. That ride felt like the longest one ever. I could not believe it. After what seemed like an eternity we finally arrived at grandmas it was almost 6pm. It started to get dark and it started to thunder really loudly. Next thing I knew there was a torrential downpour. I somehow felt at ease I felt like the earth, the universe, and life all aligned as we mourned my father. I took this as a sign that his soul was finally at peace. I found solace and managed to finally drift into heavy sleep.
A part of me will always be missing, a part of me was buried along with him that day but the love I feel for this man will transcend lifetimes.