When I retired as a humanist celebrant I thought I'd stop writing this blog, but my fascination with all things death-related prompted more posts. They're just written from a slightly different perspective, that's all. Oh, and I still do the odd one, by special request.

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Spanish story

You learn a lot as a funeral celebrant - or you should. You hear so many stories. I've conducted funerals for people of all ages, from stillborn babies to a centenarian, and from all backgrounds. Today I did a funeral for a man who'd been born on the North West coast of Spain in the 1930s. His wife and daughters told me what they remembered and what they'd been told about his childhood. I did a little research, and this is how I began . . .
Joel was born in La Coruña in Galicia, on the coast of North West Spain, seventy-seven years ago; not a good time to be Spanish. He was only a toddler when the Spanish Civil War broke out. It’s been estimated that half a million Spaniards died during the war, which left Spain impoverished and unable to support Hitler during the Second World War, in return for Hitler’s support of Franco. When Franco came to power in 1939, thousands of the country’s professional people, who’d supported the Republic, had fled into exile, leaving a severe shortage of doctors and nurses, among others. This, and the fact that an effective antibiotic treatment for TB, streptomycin, was only administered for the first time in 1944, meant that when Joel’s parents contracted the disease, the odds were against their survival. They died when he was only eleven or twelve.
Until today, I've never given much thought to the Spanish Civil War. I knew about the International Brigade who'd gone to help the Republicans fight the Nationalists, and I knew that Laurie Lee, author of one of my favourite books, Cider with Rosie, went out to join them and was almost killed for his idealism. I wonder how much Joel's grandchildren (I've changed his name, by the way) knew about his early life? Will they be sufficiently curious to find out more? Their lives, in comfortable homes in a quiet English country town, are very different to his. I wonder how many stories are lost because no one is sufficiently interested to record them?

Photo: A book-burning in La Coruña in 1936 (Quema de libros en A Coruña 1936. Los que gritaban! Muera la inteligencia!)

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