Yesterday I had a very different kind of experience from any I have had in my travels so far…I attended a funeral. My mother’s boyfriend has a sister and her boyfriend’s mother passed away this past week. The several times I have visited my mother, I have gotten to know Lucy and her boyfriend Cassy. They’re each fantastic loving people and still live here in the region of Extremadura where they were born and raised. A couple of months ago I had stopped in to stay with my family for a weekend while passing through on my travels and I learned then that Cassy’s mom was very sick. Manola simply was not doing well and was very old. It was hard on him even then and this past week has been a great loss for him and his family, to say the least.

While I know that this is not your typical topic to write on for traveling, I want to share about it because of what it authentically demonstrates about the culture here in this part of Spain. This is done with the utmost respect and consideration for the family.

I was surprised at how soon the funeral took place. We learned about her passing on Thursday and the ceremony took place on Friday. It was to take place in the main cathedral in the small village of Los Santos, where Manola had spent most her life up till now. Located just outside the larger town of Zafra, Los Santos is set into beautiful rolling green hills that are covered with glades of pine forests. The village is quaint and its cathedral sits in its main square, el Plaza de Espana. Approaching the aged edifice, it did not appear as big as other cathedrals I have seen. It had an impressive square tower at one end that housed two large iron bells. When I entered through the large medieval wood doors, I saw and felt the familiar surprise and awe…it was larger inside than what I ever expect cathedrals to be. The ceiling towered high, supported throughout the large open sanctuary by robust columns of beautiful lite-grey stone. These met the top of the ceiling with angels’ faces carved in stone and from there perfectly aligned arches of stone arched into the center of the ceiling. Paintings were all throughout, heavy with dark oils on canvas and depicting the traditional scenes of saints, the Mother Mary, and the renowned Jesus Christ. At the front was the altar with statues, several beautiful paintings, and tall white candles lit and flickering warmly.

After a little while being seated on the old wood pews, I started noticing that a lot of people were standing. The church was rapidly filling up and I was surprised at how many people were there. I discussed this with my mom and her boyfriend and they told me that these occasions usually have a lot of people because in this area and these small villages, everyone knows each other. The community is smaller, yet at this event I was reminded that we will never know the magnitude to which we impacted people with our life. It was almost time for the ceremony to start and the cathedral was packed! There was a line from the front that went down the side of the pews to the back and back up the other side. And the line was three to four people wide. This was the line for people to pay their condolences.

Then the ceremony began…from the main entrance the family began the procession down the center aisle. Some were carrying large bouquets of flowers after which soon followed the casket. It was being carried by six men, all of different ages starting with the youngest, a grandson in his early twenties. Once the casket was placed in the front and just before the altar, the family all stood on the dais just behind. People started paying their respects as the line filed past. It was a simple demonstration of condolence, carried out by so many people. In a nod of the head, tears running down the cheek, a light tender touch on the casket by some, and the connecting of eyes…it was difficult to watch the family and see their sorrow. Amazing, how the loss of someone, the sting of death, is the hardest for those of us still living. The tradition of people paying their respects in this manner is something I was aware of, but have never seen in this way and to this magnitude. Once having past the family and given their regard, most people walked on from the end of the line and made their way out of the side entrance of the church. Since it had started at 1pm, people still had to attend to their businesses and duties in the village.

When the line was done, there were still a large amount of people left sitting for the rest of the ceremony. The priest spoke and gave a sermon in the Catholic tradition, complete with taking communion. I understood most of what the message was about, since my Spanish has improved considerably during my time in Spain. He spoke of how Manola was not one to complain. She loved quietly and thus powerfully. This really struck me as beautiful and a wonderful memory and impact to leave behind. Comfort was spoken, of how she was in a place of perfect peace and rest, in love and free from suffering and pain…

Traveling has taught me endless wonderful and life-changing things. Hard things at times, but they grow into such beauty  and are my greatest treasures. One of the most important things for me, has been to learn that it really hasn’t been traveling itself that has done the teaching, inspiring, freeing and transforming…it has been God and me. Travel is wonderfully the instrument. When I was sitting in this funeral ceremony yesterday, it occurred to me that perhaps that is how death is as well; a tool, an instrument, a vehicle in life and from life.

I found that I am not afraid of death and if anything, that many times perhaps I am more afraid of living, really living. Traveling has been a vehicle that I believe God has used to help me overcome many fears of living. Perhaps death has been one of those fears that it has taught me to see truly and to overcome. This woman Maria, from the remote small village of Los Santos, Spain, has now been part of that, even though I did not meet her in her living days. But I have met people that she touched, that she lived with, loved and grew with. I am deeply honored to be connected with her and thus touched by her life, even though it was at the time of her death. My sincerest and loving regards are with her family. And for her…Manola, you are simply traveling on and into even more. Thank you.

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