I’m sorry Michael Shoulette; sorry that what should have been your final farewell was overshadowed by the violent death of your 4-year-old great-grandson Milan Ferdinand. By 2pm close to 300 people had congregated inside the RC church, in the yard and in the street at the La Resource venue. Many must have come for Michael but I suspect more came for Milan. Some, like me, who never knew him.
“I went to work with my funeral clothes,” said a woman standing next to me at the back of the church. “I had to come. I, too, am a mother. We have to show support.”
I stood, sweat streaming down my back and legs, and looked around wondering if none of those present could have helped this little boy; could have saved him.
“He was a loving child,” said a teacher from Milan’s ABC Pre-School. “His teacher will miss him very much. He was helpful, caring and loved to play with the other children. He was a very creative child, often making toy trucks out of blocks for himself and his classmates. When he went to the bathroom he would hide his trucks because he did not want the other children to destroy them. He loved pizza and was always a joy to talk to.”
The knot in my chest grew tighter. Somewhere outside, under the shed where Milan’s body lay in a white coffin, someone began to scream. People were pushing and shoving to see his corpse; some took pictures of the dead child. I couldn’t help but wonder where we had all been when Milan most needed our attention. Now we were all here to pay our respects, to see and be seen. Family and friends wore baby-blue shirts emblazoned with Milan’s image and “Return If Possible.” Did the message refer to the lost forever Milan or to the clothes, should they be misplaced?
If anyone expected the usual sermon from the officiating priest, they were in for an unforgettable one: “Is this a dead heroes’ society?” he asked. “Will Milan be a dead hero? Many others, young girls, have been raped, many otherwise abused. Will Milan’s death awaken us?”
“Fingers have been pointed,” he went on. “Aspersions continue to be cast. We have made ourselves judge, jury and executioner. But Milan lies motionless.”
The priest recalled a requested visit to the hospital when Milan lay in a coma: “If only I had arrived earlier, I would have been able to pray with him. Our society has become an ‘if only’ society. We suffer from ‘if only’ syndrome: IOS. If only I had noticed. If only this, if only that . . . We are all chronic procrastinators. We wait until an innocent child has died, then say ‘if only.’ Too many times it takes a tragedy to wake us up.
“We hear and we talk but we are not doers. If only . . . Do we truly care? Where is the love for the sick and abused and abandoned? We turn our backs. We point fingers; blame others. We are all guilty. We close our eyes. We take moo-moo tablets and say nothing. We neither support nor report. We cry today and forget tomorrow.”
Finally this: “ Will there be good from Milan’s death? Will there be a turnaround in our attitude and behaviour? Will we stay the same and represent more proof that the more things change, the more they remain the same?”
As the body of her dead son was carried out of the church, Milan’s mother fainted. I remembered Verlinda—and suddenly realized that for several minutes I’d been crying.