LA PAZ – Family members of people who died of COVID-19 in Bolivia’s capital visited their loved ones’ final resting place for the first time on Wednesday, finally getting the chance to pay their respects after months of uncertainty.
A large crowd of people, most of whom were dressed in black, gathered at La Paz’s General Cemetery to pray and make floral offerings to their dearly departed.
The cemetery’s administrator, Ariel Conitzer, told EFE that around 4,000 families are expected to arrive between Wednesday and Sept. 27, a five-day period set aside by the city government for visits related to COVID-19 fatalities.
After undergoing a disinfection process, the mourners are guided to the pavilion where their loved ones’ burial niches are located or to the common graves where their remains are buried.
Carrying flowers and photos of the deceased, the family members search among the pavilions for the niche where the name of their relative and their date of death is written. Once they locate it, the mourners typically clean the space, pray, play some music and grieve the loss.
Ruben Gutierrez told EFE that he lost his mother on July 16 and that his father-in-law died the following day, adding that in total eight family members who had contracted COVID-19 passed away.
“We wouldn’t want anyone to go through what we’ve had to experience … it’s been the worst nightmare for us as a family,” he said.
Flowers in hand, Gutierrez and his family arrived at the cemetery uncertain if they would be able find the names of their relatives. So he said it was a relief to find the niche of his mother and know that he can pay his respects anytime he is allowed to visit the burial place.
Likewise, Ana Luisa Loza told EFE that her father, who had contracted COVID-19 shortly after undergoing surgery, passed away in July. He was survived by his wife and 10 children, all of whom came down with the coronavirus.
“It’s my birthday. They open the cemetery and I find my father here without having been able to give him a wake, a proper burial, as he deserved,” Loza said sobbing.
The young woman said the family went through some trying times after her father and her sister-in-law contracted the virus because they were unable to gain access to medical care, oxygen or medicine.
Three months after his death, Loza and her mother were finally able to bid him farewell and leave flowers at his final resting place.
Jose Pacheco also went to the cemetery to visit his father, who died in August and was buried in a common grave. He brought him flowers and marked the burial place with ceramics.
“My father is gone. This damn pandemic took him,” he lamented.
Pacheco told EFE he found his father dead at home, saying he had done everything possible to help him recover and expressing regret that he had been unable to give him the type of burial he deserved.
A total of 1,233 corpses of people who tested positive for COVID-19 or are suspected to have contracted the virus thus far have been buried at La Paz’s General Cemetery, according to the city government.
According to the Health Ministry’s latest tally, Bolivia has had 131,453 confirmed coronavirus cases to date and 7,693 COVID-19-related deaths. La Paz has accounted for 34,067 of the country’s cases and 981 of the deaths.