“Granmè Mélina once told a story about a daughter whose father had died. The daughter loved her father so much that her heart was shattered into a hundred pieces. When it came time to plan for the jubilant country wake. which was once held the night before all funerals, the daughter wanted no part of it and ordered that it not be held.
“Daughter,” said one of the wise old women in the daughter’s village, “let the people rejoice at your father’s wake tonight before they cry at his funeral tomorrow.”
“There will be no rejoicing,” answered the daughter. “Why should I ever rejoice again when my father is dead?”
“Daughter,” insisted the old woman, “let the wake be held.” Your father is now in the land beneath the waters. It is not our way to let our grief silence us.”
Knowing that the old woman had the gift that the ancestors granted to only a chosen few, of being able to journey between the living and the dead, the daughter said to the old woman, ” I will allow the wake to be held only if you go to the land beneath the waters and bring my father back.”
The old woman walked to the nearest river and slipped into the waters. A few hours later , she re-emerged and walked straight to the daughter’s house.
“Where is my father?” asked the daughter.
“Daughter,” said the old woman, “I am back from beneath the waters, deep into the bowels of the earth. There were some wide and narrow roads. I took them. There were many hills and mountains, and I climbed them. There were hamlets and villages, towns and cities, and I passed through them too. And finally I reached the land of the ancestors, the city of the dead.”
“Did you see my father?” asked the daughter impatiently.
“I saw so many people there I couldn’t even tell you,” answered the old woman. “I saw my mother and father, my uncle and grandmother, my aunt who was trampled by a horse and my sister who died of tuberculosis in childhood. All my loved ones who’ve died were there.”
“Did you see my father?” shouted the daughter.
“Daughter,” answered the old woman, “I looked and I looked amongst all those people until I found your father.”
“Where is he?” asked the daughter.
” I’ve come to take you back to the land of the living,” I told your father. “Your daughter’s heart has broken into a hundred pieces and she cannot live without you.”
“What did he say to that?” asked the daughter.
“I’m so touched that my daughter wasnts me to come back,” he said, “but my home is now here, in the land of the ancestors.” Tell my daughter for me that when one is alive, one is alive, but when one is dead, one is dead.”
The old woman then pulled from her pocket a set of false teeth that the father had religiously worn in his mouth when he was still among the living and had taken with him into the land of the dead.
“Your father sent you this,” said the old woman, “so that you might believe that I saw him and accept what he says.”
The daughter took the false teeth in her hands and looked at them with great sadness, but also with a new sense of courage.
“As my father wishes,so it shall be,” she said. “We will have the wake to honor him, to rejoice and celebrate his life before his body is put into the ground. We will eat. We will sing. We will dance and tell stories. But most importantly, we will speak of my father. For it is not our way to let our grief silence us.”
I thank sisterfriend Edwidge Danticat who gave me permission to use this tale from her memoir “Brother, I’m dying”, at a traditional Krik?Krak! storytelling session.
Michèle Voltaire Marcelin