While we lived in Herradura a local woman, Tita, cleaned our house for us and took care of the cats whenever we traveled. This was true for several months until her husband, Freddy, had to spend weeks at a time in San Jose where he received chemotherapy for lung cancer. Freddy was diagnosed about six months or so before we ever arrived. For a while he was at home just resting as he didn’t have the stamina to continue any farming chores or coffee picking.
Last Christmas he was given a holiday from the chemo which meant he and Tita were able to be home with their four grown children. The oldest, however, would not be able to be home December 25 as there was no bus back to the city where he had to work first thing the next day. As a gift to the family we offered to give Keilor a ride early the day after Christmas so that he could be there to celebrate the holiday with his family intact. Although Freddy was said to be doing better Cancer is never fair or generous. This could be their final Christmas as a family of six.
Like the spirit of Christmas Freddy was always cheerful, but as time went on and tumors were increasing again, Tita confessed he was reaching a point where he was sure has going to die sooner rather than later.
After we moved to San Gerardo we kept in touch with Tita and visited most times when they were able to return for a week as a resbit from the dastardly chemo. Tita would say he was a bit better each time but with seemingly less assurance. Freddy would seem happy to be home with the mountain air, brothers, visiting children, and granddaughter. Shortly after moving we decided to go for a walk in Herradura and also visit Tita and Freddy. He was having a good day and agreed to have his photo taken with Tita and me.
After a three week trip to the states in the middle of the summer, we heard through other Herradura friends that Freddy was so so. We continued to visit when he had a week off from chemo in San Jose, and his spirit continued to be cheerful. Then during the last week of October we got word that Freddy was not doing well at all, and his siblings had gone to San Jose to see him in the hospital. The next day Vilma, a former neighbor and friend, told me he wanted to die at home so was on his way via private ambulance. It was suggested that we go and visit. When I said it would be difficult for me and would cry, I was told not to. Tita wasn’t crying and neither were the kids. I was to be strong. I thought I would be strong and visit but have no off valve for my faucet of tears. I told her we would go the next day. That night at 9:30 we were awakened by a phone call from Vilma to tell us that Freddy had died. Fortunately he had arrived home about eight hours before. He got his wish to die at home. Later we were told that he had a chance to speak with each of his four children and told them what he expected from them. Other friends and family also had a chance to say good-bye.
As embalming is the exception rather than the rule burial occurs within twenty-four hours. There were visiting hours at the local church, then a mass, and then burial at the cemetery in the next village down the road. As I had a dentist appointment we missed all the services but managed to be at the cemetery just as people were gathering. By the time we parked and got to the cemetery the mini service was over and people were clapping. Then the pallbearers carried the casket to the vault where Freddy was placed. Tita and her kids followed at which point we could see that the women had been crying. I felt relief and felt free to let some tears fall as well they would. Freddy’s brothers mixed the cement and sealed the door. Attendees stayed for this which was the longest aspect of the burial. Tita and her four kids, arms all wrapped around each other, watched tearfully. When it was over people paid their respects to the family and slowly left. After speaking with Gerardo, one of the brothers, we were able to give Tita a hug. As I held her tightly I whispered that Freddy was first rate as is she. Bill said that embraces with other people were quick, but when she hugged me she didn’t want to let go and let the tears flow. You see, Tita and I became friends during the year she took care of the house we rented, and the youngest son once told me she mentioned she had friends down the road in Billy’s house. That meant a lot to her as not everyone was nice to her over the years. Her mother died when she was a teenager and went to live with cousins. Some were kind and others not.
We were able to give Freddy’s brother Fernando a hug as well. I told him Freddy was very valiant to which he immediately agreed and added that he was very straight in his ways doing the right thing. After the funeral we drove up to her house to deliver some bread which is the custom so they can have it with their coffee. We visited for a bit and then let the family alone.
After a quick trip to San Jose a few days later we took her some fancy chocolates. Her elder daughter, Evelyn, was still there along with Keilor’s four-year-old daughter. Kevin, the youngest child, was off with Fernando’s oxen gathering firewood for Saturday’s event. I had noticed when we entered the house that just inside the door where there used to be a chair, that a small table had been placed and above it a large black bow was attached to the wall. Tita explained to me that every day for nine days after a death, people come to visit and say the rosary. They then have coffee and bread before leaving. If some day at four we wished to join them we were invited. Then on the ninth day, there would be services at the church all day and a mass at three-thirty. Lunch would be served in the community comedor. Hence, the term “novena” as the praying lasts nine (nueve) days.
On Saturday we did go back to Herradura as we had business with our former landlord who had finally returned from his trip to four continents for the past year and four months and wanted to at least visit with Tita and her kids. We chatted with Gerardo, returned a big hello to Fernando, greeted Tita and her kids, and got in line for a tasty lunch served by former neighbors. Afterwards I chatted with Tanya, who looks so much more mature since her fancy fifteenth birthday party. Tita sat down with us and her two daughters were close-by for another chance to visit before they needed to return to the church. Not being religious ourselves we skipped the church activities. Because Bill had taken a Benadryl for some mysterious itchy bug bites we were able to truthfully say that Bill needed to go home and take a nap.
When we were informed of the viewing before the mass and it was suggested we could attend that before heading to my dentist appointment. I dreaded it would be open casket and that I would be expected to approach and pay my respects. That was too far out of my comfort zone so just said we couldn’t make it there before going into town. Later I learned the casket was closed with a window over just the head and that going up to the casket was not expected.
The customs here for death are interesting. One can be cremated though it is expensive. The nine days of prayer are said to help the person make it through the pearly gates but seem to be a way to help people work through their grieving.
I wish I had been able to get to know Freddy before he was sick and had enough language to be able to converse with him at greater length while he was sick. He was a pillar of his community. He died one month shy of his fifty fourth birthday and was just six days younger than my sister.