Burying a Father on New Year’s Eve

Miguel Arias Sanchez

Havana funeral parlor.  Foto: http://www.elmundo.es

HAVANA TIMES — This isn’t a made-up story that has come from my imagination, nor is it just because I needed to write something, I’m going to tell you about a real life and sad event that happened to somebody in 1970.

A young man was doing his Compulsory Military Service, everything was going fine until he found out that his father was sick. He could no longer go and visit his son at the military base from time to time. His health quickly deteriorated. He was diagnosed with irreversible cancer.

This young 17 year old man, without great experience about his father’s illness, became traumatized; he only wanted to leave and go to see him. He spoke with his superior several or many times so that he could go, even if it was just once a week, but the answer was always negative: he couldn’t.  Days went by, his father became more and more fragile.

The young man exhausted all of the means he had at his disposal to get permission to leave; the Navy sergeant who was the one to give him this authorization always left at 6 PM to go home, without caring even in the slightest about other people’s pain.

One cold morning, around 5 AM, that young recruit took advantage of the night’s shadows and the potholes in the street at the base’s exit. He hid beneath the engine of the flatbed truck which delivered supplies to the base and holding onto it with his hands and feet, he left the place. A little while after having passed all of the control points, at one of the truck’s stops, he managed to hide beneath the tarp that covered the vehicle’s bed, then he took advantage at a stoplight and jumped onto the street. First, he headed home and then finally he made his way to the hospital. There he swore that he would never go back to the military unit until his father’s last days were up.

Those were long months of escape, hiding wherever he could, sleeping in bus terminals or in parks, even in public bathrooms. A lot of the time, without having a shower, he passed many days without eating or sleeping, always on his nerve because he was being looked for; sometimes he had to ask for money so that he could eat or drink something even if it was just coffee or a piece of bread with something. Thanks to people’s charity and his mother who used to come and see him at Guanabacoa park to give him food, some money and love.

There, surrounded, hungry, without shaving or bathing, pressured by his older brother to give himself in- as he was a soldier and party member and could be affected by association-, his answer was always the same: until his father died, he wouldn’t go back unless it was absolutely necessary.

His anxiety and penury lasted a long and painful nine months. On December 30th that same year, hiding at home, after a bath and about to drink a glass of milk with a piece of bread, a neighbor knocked at the door to give him the news: his father had passed away at 12:10 PM. He never knew what he did with that glass of milk and piece of bread…

He reached the funeral home, there were civilian-dressed soldiers sitting on both sides of the entrance, waiting for him. It doesn’t hurt to be nice, it must be said that they behaved very well. They promised the family that they would respect their mourning and the place, but made it clear that as soon as the father was buried that they would arrest the young man.

He didn’t wait for the burial; he left the funeral-home hugging his sister-in-law, like someone who was going out to get something to eat. Nobody followed him and his sister-in-law returned alone a short while after.

While the world was laughing and having fun on New Year’s Eve, that 17 year old young man was far away in a hidden place in Regla cementary, tears in his eyes as he said goodbye to his father forever, one December 31st, the day that marked his entire life, remembering that day today as the most bleak and saddest in his life.

That night, he fulfiled his promise and handed himself in at the Guanabacoa police station. The head of his unit, who he had escaped from, came to get him, and set him to work with him, taking him to stay with this mother every weekend. Two months later, he requested to leave and they discharged him.

That young man I’m talking about today is me.

Miguel Arias

Miguel Arias Sánchez: I was born in Regla in 1949. That’s where I went to elementary and high school. Afterwards I took courses to be a teacher and did that for several years. I did my military service and as soon as I got out I studied formally to be a teacher graduating at the University of Havana. I taught in classrooms for nearly 20 years. I had the opportunity to travel and see another reality. I returned and am currently doing different self-employed activities.

3 thoughts on “Burying a Father on New Year’s Eve

  • To lose a father at such an early stage in your development is so tragic. I lost my father when i was thirty and that was hard enough. Take care and God Bless!

  • How tragic for you and also how tragic that no family or others in society could intercede on your behalf . You were a child and forced to face such cruelty at a young age. It is beyond inhumane that you were denied a leave to be with your dying father. What kind of civil society would do this to a child. North Korea comes to mind and we all know that is the epitome of an evil empire. But you succeeded in life and your father would be proud of what you accomplished.

  • Thank you for sharing your very moving story. What commitment you had to your family, and love. I hope this courage has helped you to have a good life.

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