The death of a baby does not flow with the natural order of how we perceive life and death. The reality, however, is that people of all ages can and do die, including unborn or newly-born babies. And I am not talking about HIV-related deaths here.
I recently had to deal with grief that visited a close friend and colleague. Baby Melinda* arrived three days early. When her mother sent the SMS on a Sunday morning, it was pure joy to all the KENWA fraternity. I also spread the good news to other friends.
It was sad and heart breaking to receive another SMS soon after that the baby had died.
I felt inadequate and ill-equipped to deal with the situation. I wished I was not directly involved, but I was in the thick of things.
No matter how helpless I felt, I still needed to be there for my friend She has always been there for me. When I gave birth to my twins, her visit was a welcome surprise. She spoiled mother and babies with gifts.
“God cares,” I comforted her, hugging her tightly, as her wails pierced my heart.
Amid her cries, she tried to explain that she could hear her baby crying, although the nurses told her she was dead.
“Why aren’t you allowing me to see the body, yet before I went to bed my baby was fine and we were to be discharged today?” she argued.
“You won’t leave without see your baby’s body,” I assured her, not knowing where I found the strength.
As more loved ones arrived, we agreed that she should be allowed to see her baby’s body. We all dragged ourselves to where the body lay.
I promised myself to be strong and not cry in front all these fellows, some of whom were surprised to see me “live” as they had only seen me on TV.
PROMISED TO BE STRONG
When the mother held the small body to her chest and let out a really touching wail, followed with a short prayer, it made us all shed tears.
I am not sure, but I did not cry because of the baby. Certainly not. She looked peaceful and was somehow smiling. Maybe this was because of the angelic reception she received in the other world.
I cried because of her mother. The emotional distress she had to endure, as we all witnessed, and the only thing we could do was weep, not sure whom we were weeping for.
It reminded me of the account in the gospel according to Luke: Personal grief in the public’s eye. In this scene, two large crowds meet.
One is following Jesus and another is following the widow and her dead son. Jesus and his disciples were probably in an animated conversation about kingdom stuff, but the cortège was mourning.
The sound of wailing would have been in the air as they approached. Perhaps the crowd that was with Jesus fell silent as they listened to the crying growing louder, the wooden bier being carried with the body visible from a distance.
The widow may be recognisable from her clothing and her spouse’s absence. Like us at the hospital, the whole community was following, sharing in this woman’s grief.
Jesus was heading for the city while the mourners were heading for the cemetery.
Just outside the town, they meet and stop. Luke says: “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
Jesus takes the initiative. Not only was she grieving, but she was now, emotionally, a destitute. All funerals are mournful, but it is difficult to imagine any more mournful than the one described here.
From reading this account, it suggests that Jesus’ help was neither asked for nor expected. Which is exactly what we ought to do. Take the initiative. Send out our hearts. Meet folks at their point of need.
Please join me in saying a prayer for my friend that next year, at a time like this, she will be holding another baby. It will not be a replacement. Every child has their own special space. She will remember her baby, not in weakness, but in the strength of God, the giver of life.
I hope my friend finds strength in these words by Leo Buscaglia: “I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death. They continue to participate in every act, thought, and decision we make. Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories. We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.”
This is the diary of Asunta Wagura, a mother-of-five who tested HIV-positive 26 years ago. She is the executive director of the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (KENWA). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org