How Can Immigrants Die With Dignity During a Pandemic?
Covid-19 has robbed many immigrant families of the right to be buried in a way consistent with their values and traditions
I was about nine years old when my grandmother first took me to her burial plot. She and my grandfather had scraped together enough money to buy one of the last remaining plots in the cemetery in our town in the Dominican Republic. Soon thereafter, that cemetery ran out of plots, and the dead were taken to another town for burial. But my grandmother was fortunate. With the help of her adult children, she had secured a final resting place for herself and my grandfather.
The plot was large enough that two other members of our family would also rest there someday. On my first visit, my grandparents talked about who might ultimately need to use those two extra spaces and the importance of their being together eternally. This is the first time I remember learning the lesson of the importance of death as something we plan and prepare for — of death as sacred.
I was only half listening at the time. Mostly, I was bewildered by the cemetery itself. It seemed enormous to my small frame. But it only had one road inside of it — an entrance that doubled as the exit. The road was wide enough for a vehicle, but it only went the length of the cemetery; after that, people would need to walk either toward the right or the left to visit their loved one’s grave site.
Space was of the essence, this was clear, but my jaw dropped when I realized how close together the stones were to one another. Without a road or even a walking path traversing east to west, visitors were forced to walk over graves in order to reach their destination. There was no other way. I remember how carefully I stepped over these graves. I’d internalized the message that the dead are to be honored, cherished, and protected. I wondered why anyone would want to rest in such crowded quarters where the stones seemed almost on top of each other.
I see these cultural traditions of death disrupted for more and younger members of our community who are losing their lives to Covid-19.