Return to Guatemala – June 2011

We are in Guatemala. This is Wednesday, June 22. We will be here for a week.

Here you see the entrance to Quetzaltenango (also called Xela), the second largest city in Guatemala, and also, as many of my blog readers know, the home of our daughter Melanie and her husband Julio and their two young daughters.

We are here to spend time with, grieve with and pray with Melanie and her family.

Last Saturday night her full-term daughter Mayela was stillborn. The cause of the death was that the placenta separated from the uterus wall prematurely, cutting of the vital oxygen supply. No one was prepared for this outcome, for the pregnancy had been normal in every discernible way.

According to Guatemalan custom, the funeral and burial were held the next day, Sunday. Melanie found the strength to attend both the funeral and burial. It was hard for her, but the presence of family and church members (their home church is Presbyterian) was a real support.

Mel and Julio say that Mayela looked just like her two-year-old sister Genesis.

Neither Genesis nor Samaya, age four, attended the funeral or burial.

Following a death, Julio’s family observes a novena of mourning. Novena comes from the Latin word for nine and involves prayers for nine consecutive days. It is Roman Catholic in origin, but Julio and Mel asked that it be done with Protestant assumptions and prayers.

So the extended family (Julio’s parents and six of his siblings live in this city) comes to Julio and Mel’s apartment each evening for this time of devotion to God. This took place this evening at 6:00 PM and consisted of a half hour of Scriptures, comments, prayers and songs, led by several family members.

I have never participated in anything like it. The novena assumes that a funeral service alone is probably not enough to facilitate all the healing that needs to happen in the life of a grieving family. It faces death realistically and allows for mourning and crying, which we all did, but all this is with a Christian view of the reality of heaven and the life to come, so healing grace comes to us from God.

Tonight was the third novena. With six more to come, I can only imagine the cumulative healing that these God-centered times of devotion will provide.

After the novena we ate together. The extended family brought in the food so that Melanie was not troubled with the work of entertaining.

It is a holy privilege to be with Melanie and her family during this time.

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