Juvenal Gutierrez Alavez died from Covid on January 31, 2021 in Southern California. He was a healthy man in his mid-50’s and left behind his wife Norma, daughters Nancy and Lizet, and son Lionel. Nancy just had a healthy baby boy this week. Life continues.
Juvenal’s body was returned to Teotitlan del Valle on Friday, March 5 and the funeral service was yesterday, March 6 in a traditional Zapotec ceremony.
So many of you made contributions to the fund to send Juvenal’s body home, and we sent the family enough money to cover these expenses. So, again, thank you very much.
My friend, Ani Burns, lives in Teotitlan and was a very close friend with Juvenal. With her permission, I share her experience of the funeral with you:
“I just returned from Juve’s burial, and I feel ten thousand percent better. The outrageous beauty of the flowers provided by the committees that Juve served on, the outrageous beauty of the Mariachis competing with Souza Mexican music in another section of the Panteon, the outrageous smoothness of the Mezcal….all of this outrageousness matched how we felt.
“Juve died on January 31. Family and friends did back flips to get his body home, which happened last night at eleven pm. Now that the outrageousness is finally normalizing, we can get down to the serious business of enjoying Juve’s new grandson born this week to his daughter Nancy; his daughter Lizet’s quest for an iphone; and his son Leo’s possibly achieving the height of six feet in the coming months.
“Breathe,” I said to myself and whispered the same to Norma, Juve’s wife, who I practice yoga with. “Here and now,” I said to myself. The breeze, the basket of ancestral bones that were extracted from the grave site and later replaced in proper skeletal order! Only in Mexico! Trumpets, strings, the soloist who needed no microphone, the women gathering over here, the men gathering over there, the gringa (me) dreaming under a tree in between, the wide-eyed chihuahua guarding the vendor stand….
Yes, we wore masks. Yes, we oozed with hand sanitizer, and yes, I was the only serious social distancer.
Thanks to each of you for being such a great friend.
Norma Schafer’s Back Story: I met Ani almost 20 years ago when I lived at Blue Heron Farm in Pittsboro, NC. She had a home there, too. Shortly afterward, she made a permanent move to Teotitlan del Valle for a quiet, more tranquil life in this traditional Zapotec weaving village. In 2005, she invited me to visit and that was the beginning of my sojourn there. I fell in love with the weaving and culture and the Chavez Santiago Family. The rest is history.
As I developed this special relationship with my host family, Ani developed her relationship with Juvenal and his family. She participated as babies were born, baptized, confirmed and married. Juvenal advised and helped her. They were mutually supportive of each other. One more painful loss now because of the pandemic.
You can read about Juvenal in previous posts here and see the list of generous people who made gifts to return his body home:
- Post One: Help Bring Juvenal Home
- Post Two: Sending Juvenal Home
- Post Three: Thank you! Goal Reached
The Teotitlan del Valle panteon will be included on our 2021 Day of the Dead Oaxaca Culture Tour. This will bring me to final Juvenal’s resting place, where I can sit with him and pay my respects.
Ani references removing the ancestral bones from the gravesite, cleaning the grave. This is done with traditional reverence and prayer before returning the previously deceased and their bones back to make way for the newly deceased. In ancient Zapotec culture, there was a burial plot inside the house. Ancestor respect, which we call ancestor worship, is an integral part of the circle of life. We talk to them to get their counsel and they visit us with spiritual connection during Day of the Dead.