A Void

January 4, 2011

 Joegodson and Paul

Tonight, in Simon in Cite Soleil, friends, family, and neighbours will gather for a wake. Tomorrow, Deland’s body will be transported to Saut d’Eau where he will be buried next to his wife Cécile, who died twelve years ago.

Deland with some of his family this summer as he considers how to rebuild his home.

It was comforting to Joegodson that a few readers took the time to send their sympathy: Cathy in Switzerland, Cherelynn, and Roger from British Columbia. One even sent a gift of two hundred dollars. That meant that there could be a burial. But the thoughts were most important for Joegodson. Every writer writes into a void. Since we write together, we already are not alone. But when people respond, we know that we are engaged in communication with others and not simply between ourselves.

Deland’s death has seriously affected a number of people. We want to use this moment, on the eve of his funeral, to remind people outside of Haiti what actually happens at the level of daily life when important people die. And we think everyone is important. All over Haiti, families and neighbours are confronting daily life in such traumatic circumstances.

First, the two hundred dollars from one reader have changed the way that the family and friends experience Deland’s death. They would have come to terms with whatever was necessary, but it has meant that Joegodson can proceed with a funeral. He spent Saturday at the morgue negotiating with the authorities. At the time, he had no money. But he and his aunt, Deland’s sister, convinced them to retrieve the body and prepare for a funeral. Deland died in Simon in Cite Soleil, having returned from Bon Repos (where he had been convalescing) to spend Christmas with his children. The coroner went to Simon to verify that Deland had not died of cholera. The death certificate, noting typhus, meant that the morgue workers would collect the body. (Cholera deaths can be problematic.) Tomorrow, the body will be transported to a funeral service and then to Saut d’Eau for burial. All of those services cost 1,000$US. When Joegodson received the 200$ donation, he was able to give the officials at the morgue a down-payment that assured that the funeral could go forward. That was a great relief to others who wanted Deland to be buried in dignity. But remember that this is far from the case for many families who have to watch the bodies of loved ones be treated with disrespect, sometimes deposited unceremoniously into mass graves. Funeral customs are extremely important in Haiti. The grief and shame that follow from not respecting customs add to the stress that is nearly universal throughout the country.

One of the main sources of income in Haiti is remittances from family members who have emigrated. However, in the poorest districts like Simon, there are very few relatives abroad. Immigration regulations in the core capitalist countries are conceived to keep poor Haitians in Haiti. Beyond that, geography plays the main role in protecting Canada from the world’s poor. The United States has always prioritized ensuring that poor Haitians who try to sail to Florida do not reach American shores. In the past, many Haitians have perished at sea. The wealthy can hop on a plane at will. Consequently, the Haitians in the greatest need remain deprived of the remittances from abroad. That intensifies the class structure, since they have very little chance of ever finding the capital to begin a business or even eat well. The people in Deland’s neighbourhood have no remittances from abroad and must make due with the very few dollars in circulation in Cite Soleil at any moment. So, the 200$US has meant the down-payment for a coffin, a service, and a burial next to Deland’s deceased wife in Saut d’Eau. And it means that the children and friends can feel that they have treated Deland with dignity. That has been invaluable.

Joegodson has already begun to feel the void that Deland has left behind. His younger siblings are stunned. The youngest girl is named Gloria. When Deland’s wife died in 1998, Deland was forced to send Gloria and her little brother to an orphanage. Soon after, a staff member returned with Gloria. She had fallen on her head and suffered catastrophic brain damage. She was retarded in her infancy. Deland stood at the door with Gloria in his arms. He had been forced to give her up because he could not care for her and his other children as a single parent in Cite Soleil. Now, he had to care for her twenty-four hours a day for life – along with the other children. Joegodson doesn’t know how Deland managed to calm Gloria when she, now a young teenager, succumbed to epileptic fits. Yesterday, she fell twice to the ground and writhed. She cannot speak. Joegodson and the other children have to learn how to comfort her as Deland did. Haiti has the greatest number of handicapped people in the world. The need is great and greatest where the people are poorest. In families all over the poorest neighbourhoods, people like Joegodson and his siblings are trying to care for others like Gloria.

Tonight, the neighbours will join the family in Simon. The members from Deland’s church will come to be with them. The pastor, an old man who will speak tomorrow at the funeral, has been especially shaken by Deland’s death. He is too old to accompany the funeral to Saut d’Eau. A few friends will join the family for that final ceremony.

Joegodson says that the fact that several people who know Deland only from our writings have sent their sympathy is also consoling the family. Thank you.

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