Death is something that each of us will experience one day. It’s also something that is experienced often with loved ones dying. Though we know these truths, it doesn’t make it any easier when it hits our life. The stages of grief linger longer than expected making me wonder if they ever truly end.
I’ve also wondered which is “better”: an expected death or an unexpected one. When my grandpa had lung cancer, we knew he was going to die. I was young enough to not fully understand all that was going on but knew the inevitable: cancer would take his life. However, with my aunt, it was terribly sudden. I don’t think the memories of that day will ever leave me. I remember the phone call, hearing my mom’s cries and feeling a complete sense of disbelief and denial. She couldn’t be dead…right? The next few days were a blur of difficult decisions and me never wanting to leave my grieving mother’s side. I sat next to her as she called her parents to tell them that their daughter had died, praying and crying throughout the call.
Though statistics give vital information, the downside of them is that it gives you numbers and takes out the humanity. How often have we heard stats about Africa? The deaths from genocide, wars, AIDS, malaria, typhoid, etc. Because it happens so often, it may seem that death is more “normal” here. Since so many atrocities have occurred, aren’t people used to it? Perhaps the pain is less?
My roommates and I have talked about the commonality of death here. I have been here now for one year and could list for you the people that I know that have died in that time. As I have seen my friends grieve, my heart has been broken for them. Even in the States, funerals are an expensive matter. The same is true here. Traditionally, the person must be taken back to their village to be buried there. The family then must find transportation for the body as well as the family members to get to the village. Since most people do not have a car, they have to hire someone to do this. The expenses rack up quickly adding worry and debt to grief. The consequences of death here reach far deeper than I could have ever believed, far beyond financially. When my friend Dorothy’s mom died, there was no one left to care for the family. There are now five children without an adult to care for them. How do they pay rent? Buy food? Pay for school fees?
This past week, my friend Jonah’s brother died. He had been sick for a few weeks. I had talked with Jonah the day before and he said it seemed as though he was getting better. The next day, Jonah came to church to play the drums. He then announced to the church the death of his brother. I gasped and my jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. He was married with four children. Seeing Jonah’s tears and pain…it was so difficult. We were able to help with the transporting of the family and body but what now? There are four children without a father; a family with no source of income.
Jonah updated the church today and asked for prayer as him and his family takes on the responsibility of his brother’s family. Amidst a continent that sees death far too often is a community culture that comes through. Though this woman now has four children to raise, she is not doing it alone. Though there is no adult caring for Dorothy and her family, members of the community have come together to help them. Will they all still struggle? Yes! Life will be much more difficult. In addition, as we all know, nothing replaces a person. I will always miss my grandpa. I will always miss my aunt. I will always miss those that were once in my life but now are not. The same is true here. But, the beauty in this culture is the people. They have a resilience that stuns me and a community that comes together.
There is no getting used to death. Atrocities never become “normal”. The pain is overwhelming, no matter what culture you are from. I came to Africa seeking faces behind the statistics. There is humanity that is lost behind those empty numbers. Next time you hear one of those numbers, think of these people. They are beautiful, caring and loving. They get hurt and cry. They experience the unthinkable and refuse to give up.
They humble me.