I’m lying in bed, unable to sleep. I still can’t make sense of the last 42 hours.
I remember some of the facts. I remember sounds and images. I remember that it involved singing, prayer, the Bible. I remember hearing lots of Nanjere songs. I remember a steady stream of Tchadians coming to our compound, somber. I remember a lot of hand-shaking. Slow hand-shaking. I remember hands continuing their embraces long after what would normally be socially acceptable in the states. I remember people standing really closely together. I remember people talking quietly. I remember a lot of hugs. I remember a lot of tears. I remember my own tears. I don’t want to.
And then I remember the hole in the ground. I remember the shovel. I remember putting the shovel on the ground, putting my foot on the blade, digging up the dirt and moving it to the side. I remember repeating that process over and over as the hole became deeper and deeper. Deep enough to put something in. A small body.
I remember the grave.
I remember Zeke’s grave.
This is not Zeke’s grave.
I don’t want to keep remembering this.
But I do.
Sleep still won’t come.
I remember the casket. Baby blue. White sheet inside. Empty. But ready for a specific baby. Made especially, custom-made, sized for a certain baby just a few hours earlier.
Coffins shouldn’t be this small.
Graves shouldn’t be this small.
Graves and coffins should be one-size-fits-all. They should be for adults. Babies aren’t supposed to die and be placed in coffins and be placed into a hole and have dirt thrown on top of them by the shovelful. Parents should not bury their children. Children should bury their parents.
I remember the mound of dirt. I remember seeing the flowers on top of that mound of freshly-moved, freshly-displaced dirt. I remember picking the flowers that are now on top of the grave. I remember thinking how the curve of the dirt, the shape of the mound, gives away what’s underneath. I remember wondering what we could possibly plant there which could symbolize the preciousness that lies just beneath the surface.
I don’t want to remember this.
But I do.
I can’t sleep.
And so I write.
To nobody. To everybody. To myself. To God.
I’m remembering more. I can’t forget.
I remember my phone ringing at 6am Sabbath morning, New Year’s Eve. ‘Come,’ was all the voice said. I remember putting on pants and shirt, grabbing a stethoscope and keys. I remember running as fast as I could to the hospital.
I remember James coming to the hospital Friday afternoon. I remember that his kids, his two perfect kids, both had positive malaria tests. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Man, these kids are really cute and happy and playful and giggly and squirmy for being sick. And they just get cuter every time I see them.’
I remember thinking while running to the hospital, ‘Adam or Miriam?’ The only reason James would be calling me in at 6am is if one of them is dying. James is a completely competent doctor himself, having seen far more malaria than I have.
I remember entering the room and seeing James performing CPR on his own six-month-old son, with his hands encircling the chest and his thumbs pumping down on Adam’s sternum. I remember that my first thought was that this father is performing flawless CPR on his own son. I remember seeing Sarah, helping James while also caring for their daughter, Adam’s twin.
We moved Adam to the hard wooden bed from the soft mattress. We gave him glucose. We got an Ambu-bag to breathe for him. We gave him epinephrine.
I remember seeing his agonal breaths. I remember hearing his agonal heartbeats, eerily slow and irregular. I remember his grimaces. I remember his groans as the air seeped out of his lungs. I remember him vomiting. I remember suctioning out his lungs. I remember all this. I don’t want to.
And then I remember, more vividly and more clearly than I should ever be forced to, I remember over the course of the next hour incrementally increasing his doses of epinephrine with no effect, his pupils dilating and becoming unreactive, him losing corneal and gag reflexes and his limbs becoming cooler.
I remember my forearms burning from the mixed exertion of squeezing the Ambu-bag to force air into his lungs and squeezing his chest to push the blood throughout his body. I remember kissing his forehead and being surprised at how cold it was. I remember begging him to cooperate with me and start breathing on his own. I remember seeing how alive and peaceful and comfortable and natural he looked, despite all the evidence to the contrary.
And I remember doing something I hope I never need to do again. I remember saying to my friend, ‘Ok, we’re going to give one more dose of epinephrine, continue CPR for two more minutes and then check for a pulse one last time.’ I remember Sarah, knowing this was the last shot, drawing up and administering the medicine. I remember James, knowing there were only two more minutes, continuing his flawless chest compressions, more an act of love than of medicine. And I remember calling the code of the six-month-old son of one of my best friends. I don’t like remembering this.
I remember putting down the Ambu-bag and wrapping my arms around James as tightly as I could. I remember James, frozen in shock. And then the pain. I remember the pain. I remember seeing the pain in James’ face. I remember hearing the pain in James’ sobs. I remember the pain that only a mother can express, a pain of experiencing the greatest loss a mother can experience.
Yes, I remember that this started the parade of condolences, the silent handshakes doled out by those who know this pain all too well. Those who have experienced it themselves. Those who live in a country where 21% of children don’t live to the age of five. This kicked off the Nanjere hymns. This is why I dug a grave three paces from my front door.
This is why I can’t sleep. I remember. And I don’t want to.
I don’t want to because I have two sons. Why do I have two healthy children and James and Sarah now have just one? Why do I have two healthy children and Gary and Wendy now have just one, having buried their four-year-old Caleb here just two years ago?
Gary and Wendy lost their son. James and Sarah lost their son. Two of the six missionary kids under age 12 are now dead. What will happen to my sons?
When will I ever be able to sleep again?
I’ve hugged my children as often as I could the last two days. But they’re asleep now. I should be able to sleep too. But I can’t. I remember.
But I remember other things too.
I remember another grave.
I remember a tomb that held another Son whose life was cut short.
I remember that there’s another Father who knows what it’s like to lose a Son in a foreign land.
I remember that His tomb was not permanent.
I remember that through His tomb, Death is overcome.
I remember that just as Father and Son have been reunited, father and son will be reunited.
1 Thessalonians 4
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.
2 Corinthians 1
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
1 Corinthians 15
So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
‘O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’
The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.
He will swallow up death forever, And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. And it will be said in that day: ‘Behold, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He will save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for Him; we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.
He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming quickly.’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
See you soon, Adam.
It still hurts. I still remember. But now, finally, mercifully, peacefully, I can sleep.