St Lucia: at a funeral, there are some things you really must get right
Mourners in a St Lucian village church were grieving, until someone noticed something was dreadfully wrong
The open coffin stood in the porch with a crush of people around it so great that I made no attempt to look. The extended family was there in force, led by his four daughters.
Suddenly, one daughter flung herself on the coffin and began pounding it with both fists. “No!” she screamed. “No! No!” The cry sounded like a vixen in the night.
The church erupted, with half the people shouting “No!” and the other half “Yes!” “What’s up?” I asked my neighbour in the pew. “They brought the wrong body,” she said. “So now they must take it back to the funeral home.”
The priest, still unrobed, hurried down the aisle, appealing in vain for quiet. The noise continued, until the coffin was lifted back into the hearse. The funeral home was 25km away. It would be an hour before the hearse returned. Mourners drifted out of church for fresh air and fortification from the nearby rum shop. One woman returned to church with a Coke for her two children, who after sharing it, gave a satisfied burp.
Apparently a niece first noticed something amiss. Perhaps the jaw wasn’t square enough, or the lips too full. Once a seed of doubt was sown, others began to see differences. Some, undecided, wanted to give the corpse the benefit of the doubt and get the funeral over with. But this was risky when the coffin is usually left open for viewing, for the real Joseph would be delivered to the wrong family.
At 4.45pm there was a stir in the church like that when a bride arrives. The hearse had returned. Pews emptied as everyone rushed to see the new body. “Oui! Oui!” they chorused triumphantly. “C’est Joseph.”
Poor Joseph. He had been hurriedly brought out of refrigeration and wasn’t looking his best. Once more the priest appealed for order, but only when Amazing Grace struck up did the noise die down.
Joseph didn’t lose out. He had a full church, and in spite of rain, dozens of mourners followed the hearse over the bridge, past the police station and into the cemetery, where he was allowed to thaw in peace.
Article information from: Renee Terry at http://www.guardian.co.uk
Photograph: Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis, edited by http://www.1slu.com