“Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. The greatest pain comes from leaving. When the child leaves home, when the husband or wife leaves for a long period of time or for good, when the beloved friend departs to another country or dies … the pain of the leaving can tear us apart. Still, if we want to avoid the suffering of leaving, we will never experience the joy of loving. And love is stronger than fear, life stronger than death, hope stronger than despair. We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking.”  ― Henri Nouwen

~

When we leave hospitals with good or bad news, the first thing we do is make sure we heard the doctor correctly, the next is calling our loved ones so they can celebrate or mourn with us.

I called Meg on Monday to celebrate.

“Meg, the cardiologist at Mulago said that with proper treatment, a good diet and consistent follow-up for the next 1-2 years, Sharifu has a good shot at a full life”.

And recently, Meg decided we needed a way to remind ourselves of all the ways God has gone before us. All the ways he has blessed us and Abide. So we wrote out all the ways God has provided. We wrote them out on rocks and put them in a basket so that on days we felt discouraged and defeated, we could pull one {or all of them} out and remind ourselves that He. Is. Good.

So when I finished telling Meg the good news, she told me she was giving Sharifu the biggest rock in the basket.

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When I got home, it was true, Sharifu’s name was written on the biggest rock in our basket. I picked it up and I smiled. Praise God from whom all blessings flow. This little boy is going to live a full life.

And suddenly our hope had been restored and all the frustrations and hard things we had been facing, they didn’t matter. They didn’t matter because we were finally given an optimistic, far-better-than-we-expected prognosis for a little boy who had become very woven into our lives and our Abide family.

~

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On Wednesday morning I kissed Sharifu goodbye and walked to the car, carrying on the tradition of asking him if he wanted to come with me, knowing he would just glare at me, so as if to say, “Ummm, HELLO, I’m with my Jjajja (Grandma), heck no do I want to go with you”… The usual.

I was going for a meeting in town.

Around 10:30 my phone rang, it was Meg.

“Where are you?” very short. very desperately.

“I’m in town. What’s wrong?”

“I think Sharifu just died, they’re taking him to Jinja Main, meet us there”.

I hung up the phone, paid my bill and drove to the hospital.

Another phone call.

“They think he’s still alive, they’re taking him to Al Shafa now, meet us there”.

I hop in the car again, driving even faster. Praying. Pleading. Believing that God can and will save him. In some ways, I felt Sharifu’s life had been promised to us on Monday, and I was holding out for that promise.

I run into the hospital where the doctor is examining his little body.

As I reach the exam room, they are picking him up, wrapping his body.

All of the eyes glancing back at me tell me what I already know but I ask anyway, “What are you going to do for him?”

The doctor looks at me and says, “Nothing. He’s gone. I’m sorry.”

I take seconds to hear those words. Hear them again. and again.

And I lose it.

I pull myself together enough to see if I can hold him.

I sat with him. I asked if it was okay for me to unwrap him enough to see his face.

I rocked him. I held him tight. I kissed his face. I told him I loved him.

He was still warm and felt very much alive.

We drove back to our home, what had been his home for the past 3 months.

I held him and I whispered how much I loved him the whole way.

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We came home and we grieved with Sharifu’s Jjajja {Grandmother}. We cried out to God with our entire Abide family. As burials go here, you mourn fully and very much in the present as soon as someone passes.

Without question all of our staff and caregivers on site, along with all of their babies and kiddos, loaded up into two vans to go for burial.

Our staff were rock stars and stood beside Margaret {Sharifu’s Grandmother} and her family the whole time.

Julius, our pastor, spoke. As did I.

The burial was hard, for more reasons than I would like to get into on here.

I will say this.

In Sharifu’s short 3-4 years of life, he had experienced tremendous abuse and neglect. He overcame. He fought. He possessed strength I can only imagine having.

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And because of that abuse and neglect, Sharifu had a very weak heart. A heart that was weakened by an untreated virus and then made worse by multiple cases of malnutrition and continued neglect.

He came to Abide around 3 months ago as local government officials were desperate for a way to keep him safe.

He spent a lot of his time with us in an out of hospitals. We first had him treated for the malnutrition and then for his heart and kidneys.

But he was getting better. Stronger. The doctors were even saying it.

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When he came to us 3 months ago, he wasn’t strong enough to stand on his own. Two weeks ago he started walking all by himself & he was so proud too!

We watched and we cheered him on as he healed physically.

We supported and we encouraged his Grandmother in her attachment to him.

We got to see Sharifu become a child of value and of worth in his Grandmother’s eyes.

And it was beautiful.

~

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On Tuesday afternoon we celebrated an optimistic prognosis and the following afternoon we buried him.

I’m not going to try and pretend to make sense of this. Certainly not now. Maybe not ever.

I know that God is with us in this. I have felt Him so near during this time. In the numb. In the anger. In the sadness. He. is. there.

And I know. I know for certain.

His plans are greater than ours. His plans for Sharifu’s life were better than what we could have ever had.

He knew what He was protecting Sharifu from in taking him home so soon. And I rest in that.

I might not be able to make sense of it. I may not be happy with the outcome. But I rest in it still.

~

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I do want to share one last thing about Sharifu and what he taught me.

I want to share with you on how important it was to be present.

I found it extremely hard to pass by Sharifu and not stop.

Playing hard to get was an understatement with him.

He made it very clear that he would like you on his terms and his terms only.

I tend to like the kids that don’t gravitate toward you, I take it as a challenge that I am confident I can meet.

And, eventually, I did.

No matter how busy I was. How late I was. I always kissed him goodbye. I always made time to sit and hang out with him.

During the work day, when I needed to take a break from sitting behind a desk, I would just go and sit with him on the mat until I could get him to laugh.

In the last few weeks, as he started to walk, he even started coming to me. WILLINGLY.

I was careful not to show too much excitement, as I knew he’d be quick to back off when he realized he had given me exactly what I wanted.

Sharifu came to us without much value placed on his life at all.

Through us welcoming him and Margaret into the Abide family, we got to see VALUE and LOVE poured into his life.

He did not die alone. He did not die unloved.

I am thankful for that. I am.

And in being present with him, not realizing my time would be so limited, I am reminded of how important it is for us to be present with each other. Especially those who might need it a little bit more than the rest.

It is so easy to get caught up in work. In emails. In fundraising. In paperwork and files.

Life distracts us from relationships. From the people around us who desperately need us to be present.

And I am here, reminding you, that email can wait. You can make that phone call after you sit down and make time for the people around you who need it.

Pause. Give your undivided attention. Remind someone that they are of worth. That they are valued. That they are loved.

ImageSharifu,

Thank you for all you have taught me.

I will miss you more than you know. I know you are not only walking now, but RUNNING with Jesus.

Give Him a kiss for me {and try not to be too stubborn about it}.

I’ll see you soon.

Love,

Auntie Kelsey

 

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