ST. PETERSBURG — Taking her first plane ride, Dieudonne Lindor left her native Haiti this weekend to see her son's face for the last time.
She had seen him almost two years ago, when he left to have surgery in America. Sunday evening, she suffered through the first of three religious services in his memory.
Her son, Nikenson Cenatus, 19, drowned July 30 at Fort De Soto Park. He had been at the park with a youth group from the Sanctification Haitian Baptist Church in St. Petersburg when he waded into the water and drowned. He could not swim.
Sanctification's pastor, the Rev. Josias Jocelyn, held the special memorial service in Creole and French, since Lindor does not speak English.
Women on either side comforted her as her gut-wrenching wails filled the church during the first hymn. People offered tributes to the teenager described as enthusiastic, happy and caring.
His mother, whose 45th birthday is Wednesday, spoke of her son earlier during an interview at the home of Gabrielle Berthelot, 88, the widow who was her son's host and a second grandmother following his surgery at St. Anthony's Hospital.
Nikenson was her youngest and they were very close, Lindor said in Creole as Micki Morency, one of Berthelot's daughters, interpreted.
"When he came here, he started taking care of the whole family," she said of the child she was pregnant with when his father left their home.
Lindor said her son's dreams were to make himself a better person, to make her proud and to take care of her and his siblings.
With his earnings working behind the seafood counter at a Sweetbay Supermarket in St. Petersburg's Midtown, he was helping to send his sister, Wandise, 22, to nursing school. Lindor said he also helped her start a roadside business selling fritay, traditional Haitian fried foods.
"He would say life is like a chain, with different links, and he's the first link in the chain: 'I will be the one to connect all of us,' " Lindor recalled.
In the hours before the memorial service, a steady stream of friends and Berthelot family members arrived at Cenatus' American home.
Two women held Lindor and prayed as she wept uncontrollably at one point. The previous night, she had slept in her son's room.
"She wanted to sleep there," said Morency, who flew in from Hawaii where her husband is a traveling physician with the Veterans Affairs Department.
Today, a funeral service will be held at St. Paul's Catholic Church, 1800 12th St. N. The service begins at 11 a.m., following a viewing at 10 a.m.
Partners With Haiti, a ministry of the church, had brought Cenatus to the United States two years ago for hip surgery.
He had remained here on an extended visa after the earthquake ravaged his country. He was preparing to take his GED and wanted to study accounting. His mother said he loved being in America, but he missed home.
"Pray for me that I would be able to get legal papers so I will be able to come home to visit," he would say in their phone conversations.
This weekend, she was the one visiting. It was the first time she had ever left Haiti.
Partners With Haiti sought the help of U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor to get an emergency non-immigrant visa for her to travel from the remote Haitian island of La Gonave for today's funeral.
Cenatus' body will be cremated after the service and his ashes taken home for another service at the family's Wesleyan church.
Morency, a member of Partners With Haiti, paid for Lindor's flight.
"I wanted her to see him one last time," Morency said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.