Sounds like the name of a movie, but this is real life in Haiti. After the tragic loss of three deaf ladies in our community, we were finally able to hold their funeral June 11, 2016, three months after their murders.
The funeral was a 3-day event which honored the ladies so beautifully. On Thursday June 9th, a march was held to honor the victims in the place where their bodies were found. Participants marched from the center of the square in Cabaret, down National Route 1 about 2 miles to the site on the side of the road where Sophonie, Vanessa and Monique were found. The march was mostly silent as over 150 deaf and hearing people walked carrying signs, candles and flowers to leave at the site.
Family and friends walked, talked and grieved together during the march. We were certainly a site for the hundreds of onlookers as we stopped traffic with our police escort. Hands were flying all over the place as the deaf talked with one another. Deaf friends from all over Haiti came to show their support.
Our students were in uniform to represent our school. The closer we got to the site, the more silent the crowd became. Deaf and hearing stopped chatting and hearts grew heavier. When we arrived we sang a few songs in sign and voice. A few people spoke and prayed and the flowers and candles were laid in the place where their bodies had last laid.
Everyone grieves differently and in Haiti many grieve with loud crying and convulsions. It was a little shocking for my daughter Emily to see, but she wanted to be a part of this experience. She knew the ladies who died and she wanted to give them the respect of attending the march. The day was hot and the tears did nothing to cool the faces of those in mourning. Ice cold water was passed out to all the walkers to make sure no one became over-heated.
Once everyone said their goodbyes, people began to depart one by one and in small groups, until the crowd had dissipated. The grief, hot sun, long walk and overwhelming experience left us all wiped out. The Lord gave us enough strength to get through the day, but once that was over we needed to rest. But rest was not an option, we had to plan for the wake and funeral that would occur in the next two days.
The families of the three ladies came to the Haiti Deaf Academy in Cabaret and we had a meeting to plan the wakes and the funeral. It was decided there would be one funeral for all three ladies and all three would be laid to rest in the same grave. In Haiti, graves are typically above ground in a cement structure. One family already had one of these and allowed all three women to be buried there.
There were to be four wakes, one for each family and one for the deaf community in Leveque. Bob, our full-time missionary and I helped plan the wake for Leveque. Several cooks volunteered and food was prepared for all. Lighting for the evening was a necessity, as the deaf cannot communicate in the dark. T-shirts were made with the I-Love-You sign on the front and “We Will Never Forget You, Sophonie, Vanessa and Monique” printed on the back in Creole. These were passed out for participants to wear for the funeral the next day. People told stories and remembered the ladies with great fondness.
I shared about how fun it was to have Monique show our teams how she made popcorn over the coal stove, and even though she could not hear the popping, she knew exactly when the popcorn was ready without looking! Vanessa and Sophonie were both a part of our sewing and jewelry making classes on Saturdays. I remember how they loved to crochet and embroider and now I treasure even more some of the items they made for me in the past.
Early the next morning we had buses ready to take the Leveque residents and our older students and staff to the funeral. Three buses were packed full and everyone was wearing the matching T-shirts. When we arrived at the church, people turned and looked at our huge group as we slowly made our way in and found our seats.
The three caskets were covered in flowers at the front of the church. When I saw them, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Senseless killing always makes me angry, but when it is three dear people that I know, it hurts so much more.
The funeral was interpreted by several interpreters so that the Deaf who were seated in various parts of the church could see. A beautiful song was signed by a deaf group. Jonas Cadet and Mr. Pean gave touching speeches and Mr. Pean’s wife did a beautiful rendition of Ave Maria. It was a beautiful service.
Once the funeral was over, we all made our way to the cemetery. The procession of cars, buses and walkers was very long. Several men, deaf and hearing, worked together to stop traffic to allow the procession to move forward. When we arrived at the cemetery, it was blazing hot, but that didn’t stop the mourners from going through the maze of graves until we found the one open and waiting to be the final resting place for our three friends.
Each casket was carried to the tomb, put inside and then cemented closed. Watching this happen first-hand gave me a glimpse of what it was like for Mary and the other followers of Jesus when His tomb was closed. The cement “door” was never to be opened again. It was final, it was finished, closed, never to be opened again. I thank God that was not the case for Christ. Three days after being put in the tomb, He burst out of it conquering death and giving eternal life to any who will accept His invitation. With this hope, we look forward to seeing Monique, Vanessa and Sophonie in heaven one day.