In a Hard Place Between a Plane and a Freezer

By Pedro Pablo Morejon

El Cementerio de Consolación del Sur

HAVANA TIMES – I woke up on January 7th like I do every other morning. I don’t always sleep at home, but when I do, my mother, who is a light sleeper, hears me moving about and gets up to make my breakfast.

She took longer than normal that day. It’s happened once or twice before so I didn’t think much of it. After a while, when it became clear that she wasn’t up yet, I went to her room. Then, I was overwhelmed with great pain and fear. I had just found her stiff, cold, dead… I have the image of that moment printed in my memory as if it were a tattoo. I’ll never forget it.

The whole house filled with neighbors a few minutes later. Shook-up, the reality of what had just happened slowly sunk in. A doctor showed up to record the death: Pulmonary Embolism. I asked for the autopsy. My brother, who was in Venezuela and was bound to fly back at 9 PM the next day, deserved to see her before she would be buried.

I had to summon all my courage to strip her down, wash her a little and dress her. A neighbor helped me. I called the Funeral Home in Pinar del Rio and there wasn’t any space in the freezer to freeze her. On the other side of the line, the voice listening to me suggested I call the one in San Cristobal. There wasn’t a freezer there either.

I carried on making calls, knocking on doors, explaining that my brother wanted to see her before the burial, that he was a health aid worker working abroad. The San Antonio de los Banos Funeral Home in Mayabeque, the Arroyo Naranjo Funeral Home in Havana, the Funeral Home on Calzada and K streets in Vedado. Nothing.

“Do everything you can, I want to see my mother,” my brother told me.

At the same time, I left the Leon Cuervo Hospital morgue without the autopsy (which is a necessary procedure if you want to preserve the corpse for as long as possible), because of poor coordination. 

“We don’t do that. We only take care of cases in the western part of the province. This belongs to the Abel Santamaria Hospital,” they told us.

I immediately went to the other hospital’s morgue with the driver of the funeral hearse.

“We haven’t received the order from the Consolacion Funeral Home,” they told me.

I was desperate. It was already nearly 11 AM and there I was, with my mother motionless in the coffin, not knowing what to do.

“I want to see the Head of Autopsy services,” I demanded.

“She’s in a meeting,” they told me.

I decided to walk down the neighboring corridor and peeped through the blinds. There she was, just like I had been told. I pushed open the main door and addressed her. She listened to me politely and then told me at the end, that she couldn’t do the autopsy. It was around 1 PM and she had been dead for more than six hours according to the death certificate. I couldn’t keep my calm any longer and I reacted bluntly, out of pain.

Completely powerless and with tears in my eyes, I told my brother that there was nothing I could do. He accepted it, resigned.

A short time after, the doctor who is going to get my mother ready tells me that she’ll try and conserve the body for a little longer. I had to strip her naked again, this time alone. It was painful to see my mother in that state, cold, with her skin full of marks, the irreversible process of death.

We got back home just after 4 PM. I buried her the next day, without my brother. In spite of having prepared the corpse, it couldn’t hold out any longer. His flight had been canceled that day and so he couldn’t make it. I had insisted on the fact that he is a government aid worker, I had even called the office that deals with their matters.

And of course, I know perfectly well that the personal interests of an ordinary Cuban isn’t a priority for the State, no matter how “integrated” he is. Just like I also know that if this had been a matter of political interest or the mother of an “influential person”, there would have been a freezer, plane ticket and anything else that was needed.

Now, a week later, I’m still waiting for him, while he is still stranded in Caracas, waiting for a plane to bring him back so he can grieve in peace.

Pedro Morejón

I am a man who fights for his goals, who assumes the consequences of his actions, who does not stop at obstacles. I could say that adversity has always been an inseparable companion, I have never had anything easy, but in some sense, it has benefited my character. I value what is in disuse, such as honesty, justice, honor. For a long time, I was tied to ideas and false paradigms that suffocated me, but little by little I managed to free myself and grow by myself. Today I am the one who dictates my morale, and I defend my freedom against wind and tide. I also build that freedom by writing, because being a writer defines me.

3 thoughts on “In a Hard Place Between a Plane and a Freezer

  • I know how you feel. I never forget my mother either. But we must remember that Nature runs its course even when most of the time we are not even aware of its March.

  • Pedro, your story was extremely moving and sad. I’m sorry for your loss. I’m sorry you had to experience what you did. I’m confident your mother loved you deeply considering her commitment to starting your day with a loving breakfast. And you were there for her when she most needed you. God bless and peace be with you.

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