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Wednesday 20 February 2013

The Funeral

Story by Darimioo SJ 
(Kohima Region)

The boy remained quiet in a corner of the room without saying a word, while his face revealed nothing of what he thought and felt of his father who left him an orphan. A white cloth was covering the blind man’s face who seemed to be over-burdened with love for his only boy. Nobody seemed to bother about the lad who remained quiet in the corner - neither his uncle nor aunt, more so his mother who lived miles away with another husband.
People like swarms of flies flocked towards the dead man’s house, not to pay him respect, but out of curiosity to see how this poor man’s family would manage the whole affair. Scattered words of condolences, with the air of scorn in it, passed back and forth like dragonflies on a sunny day. “What will become of his boy without him?” “The cemetery is not meant for people like him,” “How will he find the way to heaven, when he couldn’t find the way to the church?” “It is impossible for us to help out in this; his marriage was not blessed, and besides, he never showed his face in the church.” “Let them find their own place”. “There is no reserved place for sinners in our cemetery.” All those who were present there used all kinds of language to demean the reputation of the dead man. They came just to gossip about him and nothing else.
After some time all the church elders jointly decided that the man should not be buried in their common cemetery. At the instigation of the church elders the whole village declared him to be a sinner, an outcast and an old wretch; since he was not a practicing Christian. They disowned the family as belonging to their church and told them to their face to stop involving in all the village activities. They were considered outcast and were restrained from the benefits the villagers were entitled to. After communicating this strong message to the bereaved family, people slowly left the place in two’s and three’s starting with the church elders till the bereaved family was literally left alone.
The deceased man’s family had prepared food for those who had come, as it was the custom of the place. But to their astonishment the whole crowd came just to abuse them. The family was stunned at the way their neighbours and the church treated them at this hour of grief. The boy, his uncle and aunt were at a loss and didn’t know what to do, and where to turn for help. They had no choice but to bury the man in their backyard. Now they found themselves in trouble. “Who would dig the grave for him?” questioned the boy’s aunt. “What else can we do?” rejoined her husband. “The boy is too small to hold a spade, and I am too sick to take the responsibility. Anyway I will spend whatever energy is left in me.” And so the real work began. The sick man worked so hard as if the sickness had gone out of him. He sweated so much that he was literally drenched from head to foot. He could not believe his eyes when after seven hours of hard labour the grave was ready. The boy too tried to give a hand in the work as much as he could. By the time he completed the work he was dead tired and could hardly stand. But it made him proud that he had done it in spite of his poor health.  With a deep sigh of relief and a smile on his face he whispered to himself,“ Hm…….thank God! We can now bury him with dignity.”
Now another problem stood in their way. Who would make the coffin for him, and from where to get the planks? They could turn nowhere. The whole village had deserted them and they couldn’t expect help from anyone. Finally, they decided to bury him without a coffin. It made them sad, but it was all they could do. The boy’s aunt was lamenting loudly declaring all that her brother had done for her. She felt sad that she couldn’t afford to bury him with dignity. She turned her face heavenward and cried aloud to God saying, “What have I done to deserve all this?” She sobbed for quite some time and cried again loudly, “All the friends and neighbours have deserted us. What sin have we committed?” In their own little way they said all the prayers for the dead, with the hope that their beloved father and brother would rest in peace. When everything was set they took the body, nicely adorned in the best attire they could afford, and laid him in the grave with just a mat over his body. When the prayers were said, a handful of mud was thrown three times over the body as a sign of bidding him farewell. It took quite some time for them to fill the grave. They had to do it quickly as the sky blackened and anytime rain was expected.  As soon as the grave was covered, flowers were set, and a cross was fixed over his tomb, the heavens opened and rain poured down as if to wash away the sins of the dead man.
People in the village were stunned at this, since normally it didn’t rain here during this season of the year. At this occurrence some people in the village said to one another, “He must have been a good man.” While some others came out of their house and joyfully shouted at one another, “God is giving us a sign that what we did was right, and He is approving our actions.” Consequently the church elders and the whole community rejoiced at their achievement and decided to continue the same action with anyone who took God and their church for granted. But to the bereaved family, the sudden and heavy downpour was a sign of God’s acceptance of their father and brother into his bosom. Only these soothing words escaped their lips, “God save his soul, God forgive us.”  They seemed to forget all the miseries they had just experienced. The wound of rejection that was so deep got closed with this assurance that God was pleased with them.
For the young boy the experience had affected him a great deal. He began to lose faith in people altogether. As he kept thinking of his father he began to lose his mind and would sit for hours together at his father’s grave in the backyard. It pained his aunt and uncle to see him like that. It reminded them of the funeral that brought their nephew this misery. They stopped associating with anyone and kept to themselves only in their garden. The boy became totally deranged, but his uncle and aunt faithfully looked after him like a son. They only said, “God gives what is best for us”, and complained no further. In spite of the painful experience they went through, God was still in their hearts though the church had closed itself to them.

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