I drove Leslie and Christy and Antonia from CIS up to Comasagua today so we could all be part of Mercedes' burial. We got to the town near the end of Mass, con cuerpo presente, with the body present and flowers upon flowers upon flowers. Then, in a group of about 300 people (I'm guessing) we walked slowly and a long way, perhaps a mile, to the community cemetery. There on the edge, in a beautiful spot overlooking the valley and the next ridge, the grave had been dug. No astroturf carpet here. People who loved Mercedes talked about the gift she had been to her family and friends and community, and people who loved her lowered her coffin into the ground, and people who loved her shoveled the dirt on top, and we all cried. Then women brought the flowers and stuck them into the earth on top of her grave, so many that they could hardly fit, but they did and made a glorious garden and the whole hillside was full of her friends, another kind of garden.
Mercedes and her husband Salvador have three children - Andrea, who looks just like her mother, and Ernesto, and the youngest, 10 years old, Ileana. I gave Salvador a copy of the photo of Mercedes from the Romero 30th anniversary celebration (it's in my last post) and he said - that's just what she's looking like in heaven.
It's impossible to escape the thought that in the United States Mercedes would probably not have died, would probably have gotten much quicker attention to her heart condition, would probably not have suffered a stroke. She tried to get seen in the local health clinic, but without success, and the hospital she went to, while the best in the country, doesn't have enough diagnostic equipment to test all patients quickly. She shouldn't have died at 46, but she did. People die every day here from ignored diseases or lack of medication or inadequate treatment. It's a justice issue Mercedes cared about.
I've gone in one short week from a baptism to a burial, from a joyful beginning to a sorrowful ending. But there is also joy, though it's harder to unwrap, in celebrating a life lived with courage, determination, joy and justice - the life and legacy of Mercedes Arias of Comasagua.