Seeking Hearts Foundation

Loss and grieving

I spent the week at the biggest hospital in Lusaka, a teaching hospital, with a child relative of one of the boys.  She contracted an illness that ended in encephalitis.  A sad and difficult week, and a hard introduction to the Zambian medical system.  I learned much through it.

This bright and happy, 11 year old girl, whom I shall call Emma, became ill, suddenly, the week before and within two days was in a coma from which she never regained consciousness.  On Tuesday, one week later, the 30th of August, she passed away.

I sat with Tina, her mother, last night, in the hut for a couple hours. In a severely impoverished area of Lusaka, the community can’t do much for each other materially, but they know how to be WITH one another. At a “funeral”, they move all the furniture out of the tiny hut so that as many women as can, I counted about 25, crowd in where we sit on the floor right up against each other.  Many other women sit outside the door and then rotate into the house in turns.

Tina was, intermittently, crying, wailing, or yelling in her grief. Through this she released the story of her time in the hospital, how difficult it was to watch Emma die, about the ones who had supported her, the grief of watching Emma’s body deteriorate with pressure sores, and how painful it was to see her blood on the sheets.   And over and over she would cry out, “Emma, Emma, my child.  It hurts.  It hurts!“  I could only understand words here and there as she spoke in Nyange, but I got the gist. (As we left the hut, one of the boys translated some for me.)

The women sat and cried with her. They didn’t try to stop their tears or hide them. And they didn’t hug each other or try to comfort Tina. They just sat together and listened to her grief with tears streaming down their faces. This, the funeral, goes on for 2-3 days until after the burial.  And then, ready or not,  it is time to get back to the work of survival.

The congruence of this ritual with the intensity of the grief in a loss like this was a testament to the preciousness of life and the reality that we were not made for death.