Almost 2 years ago, a beautiful little girl named Deanna died. She was especially precious to me because she was named after me. I love her mother dearly. Deanna was born HIV+ and at about 5 months went downhill very quickly. Within a week of full time care to try to get her healthy again (as we had done with many other babies in her state) she died. It was a very hard time for me. I of course blamed myself for what I could have done differently or better. The most painful thing was watching her mother mourn her loss. To lose a child in death, I could not think of anything more painful. Funerals in Ethiopia are very different to the ones we have in our western cultures, along with the way mourning someone’s death is displayed. There is great wailing from the depths of your soul. You are encouraged to scream, cry, wail, and/or chant to mourn the loss of your loved one. Your friends, family and community come around you and for the first night for many, many hours you display your grief in this way together. And even if you did not know the person well, it is expected that you participate. The first funeral I went to I saw so many ‘crocodile tears’ and felt that a lot of the display was just that, a display. The more time I have spent here, the more I have come to appreciate the way the people mourn their lost ones. Yes, there are some who like to put on a good show, but when a mother or someone is free to express her hurt and pain, and get it all out, and not act ‘socially acceptable’, I think it can be a very healthy thing.
After the first morning of Deanna’s funeral we all went back to her mother’s house where coffee was prepared and chickpeas were roasted. We sat, at first still weeping in silence. My eyes scanned the place looking at all the women from Grace who were supporting this mother so beautifully. All of these mothers, at one stage or another, had come into Grace with no family, no support, nothing. Now they had each other. They considered themselves friends and sisters. They were family. As the hours passed the women started to talk, then little giggles broke out amidst the conversations. Now my eyes filled with tears, watching this amazing group of ladies loving on each other through their grief. To have started the day off so grief stricken in the loss of an innocent babies life, having to help our nurse wrap her tiny still body preparing her for the ground, but then to see the embrace these ladies had for one another, was a gift I found that I was not expecting.
I found out that day, that unlike an adults funeral that is mourned for 40 days and people will come to your house each day for this period, that for a baby you are only allowed or expected to mourn for 3 days. I think this is because the guarantee for this child is access into heaven, but maybe it is because it was ‘only’ a child. The last thought makes me sad, but I am still yet to really understand. I think time will bring the answers.