PETIONVILLE — They died together, tragically and all together too soon. So it was only fitting that some of the children who lost their lives when La Promesse School last week was buried side by side in their impoverished and deeply troubled homeland.
On that day, Joceline Jean-Baptiste stared at the smiling photo of her daughter, among the yellow and orange carnations atop a salmon-colored casket, and initially refused to give in to the overwhelming sense of loss.
Even as others packed inside the Community Church of Christ collapsed around her with piercing cries Friday, she sobbed quietly. But it wasn’t long before the gut-wrenching pain of a mother having to bury her child broke through.
“My child, my child!” Jean-Baptiste wailed as tears washed down her face and the cries echoed throughout the church. “Oh, God. Oh, God,” she repeated as two other mourners grabbed hold of the grieving mother and led her out the side doors of the church.
Jean-Baptiste’s daughter, Dieunana Thelisma, 23, was among 91 victims killed when the College La Promesse Evangelique caved. Another 162 people were injured when the school tumbled down for reasons that are still unclear, although many have blamed poor construction.
The tears shed lawst week were not only for Thelisma but also for 12-year-old Germima Eteise, whose white casket stood to the right of Thelisma’s in the cream-colored church with tall columns. Her school photo also stood among carnations.
Family and friends poured into various local churches in this impoverished nation to say their goodbyes.
At the Community Church of Christ, two students were laid to rest during a two-hour service at which family and friends eulogized them and spoke of lost promise.
Across the street, at the Evangelical Baptist Church, mourners gathered to say goodbye to another student, a 9-year-old boy. The pastor’s words were barely audible above the high-pitched screams and wails of grieving family members. Several of them had to be restrained as they fell to the ground and shook uncontrollably.
“There isn’t anyone who hasn’t cried over this,” said Pierre-Richard Augustin, a funeral home employee who had to excuse himself from the service at Community Church of Christ.
“As a professional, I am supposed to wrestle up all of my courage to handle today,” he said. “But as a father, it’s just too much. It is hard.”
The heart-wrenching moans could be heard even in the parking lot, where Augustin and scores of other mourners waited. One by one, ushers carried out grief-stricken mourners, struggling to restrain them as they fought back in grief.
Augustin, who works for Pax Villa, said the funeral home prepared 12 bodies from the tragedy. In all, six funerals were to take place at the Christ Community Church Friday — and seven across the street at the Baptist Church.
But only three were held. Both funeral workers and pastors said several more are scheduled to take place Saturday at churches across the capital, where flags continued to fly at half-staff after the government declared Thursday and Friday days of national mourning.
Throughout the week, parties and other festivities were cancelled out of respect for those who died at the school. Radio personalities tonned down their antics because after all, it all seems so trivial and inappropriate in light of this tragedy. This comes at a time when the country is still trying to recover from other calamities that appears to have purposely targeted Haiti.
“When the end of the world comes, it will start in Haiti,” said a woman in the capital speaking to no one in particular as she watched the disaster on television. “What have we done to deserve this.”