Friday, July 31, 2015

Being there

Argentine's daughter, Rachelle, died.  She was 2 and a half years old.  It seems impossibly unfair.

It seems so unfair because Rachelle had made it through so much.  Born a refugee, she survived infancy in a refugee camp.  On her way home to Congo a few months ago, she survived gunfire and a riot.  And she made it home to Congo.  And things were going well.  We were building her and Argentine a house.

And it seems unfair because Argentine has been through so much.  More than anyone else I know.  And that was before losing her only child.

But mostly it seems impossibly unfair because Argentine is the most hopeful person I know.  Hope, in the deepest sense of the world.

But what becomes of the most hopeful person you know when they lose it all?

I've been mourning Rachelle all week.  But I've also been mourning Argentine.  It felt like there would simply be nothing left of her after this loss.  Argentine and Rachelle were a pair, just the two of them making their way through this world.  And Rachelle was the light of Argentine's life.

Indeed, I couldn't even talk to Argentine the first few days after Rachelle death.  She has been out of her head with grief, unable to hold a conversation.

But I spoke to her today.

And as I talked to her my heart felt a little lighter. Because I found that she was still there.  Still Argentine.

Her voice was faint and she couldn't talk for long, but she took the phone and did exactly what Argentine always does.  She launched into a litany of thanks.  Thanking me for calling, thanking you for praying for her, thanking Mapendo, Riziki and Solange for being at her side for every minute since Rachelle's death... and the list went on.

Vintage Argentine.

And she ended exactly the way she always ends a conversation.  Asking us to pray for her.

How amazing is that?  To talk to a person in the midst of the deepest grief imaginable, and find a seed of hope still lives.  To find that they somehow, miraculously, still remain...

She encouraged me and strengthened me, just by still being there.  By still being Argentine.

It strikes me that is all any of us really have to offer in life.  To still be there.  To still offer ourselves to eachother.

It is what Mapendo, Riziki and Solange have been doing all week.  Being there.  When Argentine fainted again and again, and couldn't bear it, they were still there.  Even with their own hearts breaking inside, they were there.  And I have no doubt that encouraged Argentine.

To be present in mourning is something Congolese culture does well.  Family and friends arrive...and they don't leave.  For days and days.  In fact it is a part of the culture that I have sometimes been frustrated by.  It can be an economic hardship on a mourning family when suddenly dozens of people need to be welcomed and fed.

But perhaps they understand grief better than I.  Perhaps they understand the power of simply sitting with the midst of grief and in the midst of life.

When I posted on Facebook the other day about Rachelle's death I was encouraged by all of our SHONA friends responses.  All the love.  But what struck me was that out of 38 comments, only 2 or 3 were people that know me, friends or family of mine (I didn't post it on my personal page).  Everyone else was people that I have never met...but people that have come to love Argentine through her sewing with SHONA.  I was particularly struck by one comment that said "I remember how joyful we were when Rachelle was born. What a celebration..."

Something about that seemed beautiful to me...that there was all of you... this intangible "we" who had celebrated with Argentine and who now mourn with her.  Who know her.  It strikes me that there is this whole collection of people spread across the world who can stand with Argentine in her loss, because they have traveled her joys with her as well.  It means more... to know that the person who stands with you in that darkness, also remembers the life and the joy.  

Thank you to all Argentine's friends, for being there, in celebration and in mourning.

Saturday, Argentine will go back to the Center for People with Disabilities in Goma.  It is the place I first met her, and a strong community for those with disabilities.   They will have a special prayer service in honor of Rachelle.  I am encouraged by the way the community has rallied around Argentine.  It will be a large turnout and that will mean a lot to her.    The prayer service will be at 10 in Goma which is 4 in the morning on the East Coast of the US.  And still I mention it because I know that Argentine has no shortage of friends who might want to wake up at that time to pray for her.  

Also, if you would like to help defray the cost of welcoming and feeding all those who have come out in support of Argentine, here is the link.  Argentine's mother and siblings will remain in Goma for several more weeks to continue to be with her.