Sunday, April 26, 2009
A cultural look at death: Parts 1 and 2
A Cultural Look at Death: Part 1
To be completely honest, being a Peace Corps volunteer has been a roller coaster of emotion. I have gone from one extreme to the other and back again in a short eight months. Last month I told my family members that I was most likely not going to come back to Seattle for a visit during my service. Last week, I decided spontaneously that it was time for me to go home just for a short, short visit. I just felt it. If anything St. Lucia has given me, it's the power to just feel when things are right and ready.
Two weeks ago, on Easter Sunday, a friend of mine was killed in a car accident not too far away from my home. It was a sudden shock and an unforgettable day. He was the boyfriend of my host sister here for the last five years. They spent everyday together, and loved each other very much. I will always remember him for his sense of humor and unbelievable smile. Plus, he loved Friends, the tv show, just as much as I do- which most of you know is very rare!!! It was a rough two weeks, but now that he has been laid to rest in Gros Islet it feels as if there can be good coming out of the bad. He was, afterall, taken by God on Easter Sunday out of all days. In hindsight, resurrection day was his calling.
Death in St. Lucia is viewed much differently than death in the states. I am still trying to get a grasp on what death really means to a Lucian. I know that, for some, death is more of an entertainment. When it is not your loved one that passes, than you have free rights to look at all the pictures you want of the accident, talk about it as freely as you desire to, and ridicule the people involved for things that did not even happen. I know that sounds bitter to an extent, and it just may be, but it is the truth of what happened here when it was my friend who passed. I got to see how everyone reacted and how people dealt with this tragedy.
One issue that was brought up directly following the accident was the rapid spread of photos over the internet that were taken at the scene of the accident right after it happened. Someone chose to take these pictures at the scene rather than to help out one of the victims who was struggling in agony up a ditch trying to hang on for dear life. This was a very much debated topic on the radio and in communities for the last two weeks. Who would have the heart to do something like that? Someone who views death as emotionless and feels nothing for the victim? That would take a lot of numbness, though, to stand there to shoot pictures of a horrific scene but not lift a finger to help a victim out. Within hours of the accident, the pictures were sent from email to email with no regards for the persons involved; and especially not for the families who were suffering. Shortly after the pictures were taken, the man who was struggling up the ditch also passed. I'm not sure of whether or not he would have survived would the person who took the pictures have helped him, but that is not what is important here. Even if he would not have survived, the person could have offered him hope and love in the last few moments of his life rather than humiliation and disrespect. The person could have embraced him and told him that, "everything is going to end up alright". But no, that did not happen, it was quite possibly the worst a person can do: not feel anything for someone who is struggling in his last breath. Perhaps there was more to it than meets the eye.
If I sound angry, that is not the case. Merely disappointed. At times believing in humanity drains me. How is it that I can have faith that people are going to turn out alright when I see things like this happen? I'm not the only one who thinks like this, I know that.
Death already is quite a confusing part of life. I have come to accept it as inevitable. But why do we have to make it even more confusing by adding this all into it? This isn't the first time that pictures like these have been spread on the internet in St. Lucia. That is why I had to take a HUGE step back and not look at this one person as at fault. It absolutely does disgust me to think of a person as able to take these pictures, but I still had to step back. It is part of the culture. It is part of what happens when a death occurs. At the funeral I noticed that a photographer was taking pictures of us all in mourning. He also took pictures of Kerry in the casket and being put into the grave. These are all things that happen culturally.
Even the entire burial process is much different. People stay to watch the entire process until the cement has been put on. I think for the people who do this, and look at the pictures, death is made more real. It is a process of dealing with things that happened and, what seems, a very obscure way of moving on. In actuality, it is just a different way of handling death. In the states, we mourn differently. We cry, and we cry, and we cry until we can no longer cry anymore. Then we are expected to be as quiet and respectful as possible about the death until the time passes. We are expected to say all of the right things to the people mourning for their loved ones, and be as sad about death as possible. I know I am saying this with a little extremity, but for the most part, this is how I learned death in the states. In St. Lucia, I am re-learning what death can be and what it cannot be.
Talk about cultural exchange. One of the biggest experiences here, thus far, has been dealing with Kerry's death. It challenged me in ways that I have never been challenged in life, and much of this has to do with cultural differences in the perception of his death. Death does not have to be sad and full of distraught days- though often it is for at least a little while- but it can be made realistic, factual, and, at times, much too honest. I can't say that either perspective is the one that I prefer. It all has to do with creating your own perception and then living with it. Though, for others' sake a little sensitivity needs to be practiced in every death regardless of your own perspective.
In any way, Kerry was a great individual and he left his mark on a lot of people. The entire church was full and people stayed until the sun went down. I hope and pray for his family and my host family that they can all get through this with strong faith. Kerry created enough memories at such a young age that they will live on forever. I'll miss you, Jeremy Kerry Jeffrey.
After the accident, I decided that it was time to go home for a visit! So, that's how I got to make the spontaneous decision that I made. I'll be home for a week and a half in May...and I will be spending every second with my loved ones!