Monday, January 2, 2012

I Remember

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’m exhausted.

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.

A tomb.

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.

Isaiah 25
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.’

Psalm 23
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.

Revelation 21
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.

Revelation 22
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.


  1. "For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the very dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received, and the evil we have suffered." --Elie Weisel

    I am praying for you guys daily--thinking so much about you all there.

  2. I am holding you up in prayer. With thanks and appreciation for all you do to help the patients and the volunteers.

  3. Wow. I'm so blown away by this tragedy. I will pray that God will take the sting away and that we can make sense of this. I can't imagine the pain James and Sarah are going through. God bless you as you continue to do His work.

  4. I'll be adding my prayers to yours, my friend. May you (and James and Sarah, and Gary and Wendy) feel God's loving arms wrapped tightly around you.

  5. There are no words. I will be praying for you and all you are doing there.

  6. Olen, thank you for writing this. I have not known the Appels but have read of them & their work for years now & admired their commitment. I share the pain you all feel, though from a distance & without personally having had to experience quite the same thing. The days of sacrifice in mission are not over. This is well written, poignantly written, & I urge you to submit it to the "Review" for publication. It may seem too personal to you, & surely you would need the permission of the Appels, but our people need to feel the work of mission as you have made it felt here. May God bless, sustain, comfort, & reward them and you--and relieve you also of your very normal feelings of survivor's guilt, and continue to keep your children in good health.

  7. Thoughts and prayers with you and the others in the sad tale. God bless all of you

    Ruth Roberts

  8. As long as He remembers, it will be all right. "See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands" (Isaiah 49:16). Not here, not now, but soon. Blessings.

  9. Olen,

    Thank you so much for posting this. I read James' email yesterday and just bawled. I can still remember Adam and Tcahd like it was yesterday.

    You all are in my prayers. May God continue to bless everything that is being done there.

    Nathan Lindsey

  10. Olen, I have tears streaming down my face. I know they are nothing compared to the amounts you and Danae and James and Sarah have cried. This is just so sad. It's not supposed to happen. . . . Come soon, Jesus.

    ~Kristen Bergstrom Cook

  11. I don't know James and Sarah well, just communicated with them some years ago about the possibility of doing nursing there. However, I know the pain of loss and would like to offer to help pay for them to visit the States if they plan on returning at any point to spend some time with their family here after this life-changing tragedy.
    Please send me an e-mail at to let me know where to send funds if this is their decision. It wouldn't be too much, but I would like to help some...Thank you.
    Valerie Crosier

  12. Their death is not in vain. Now it is so painful that we might not be able to see. But when we get to heaven and we see how many people will be there because of them. Because of you and James and Sarah... now we cry with you all and we wont sleep thinking of you all and more than anything praying for you all. The evil is enraged and all he can do is hurt us where he knows will hurt the most. Be faithful and dont dismay because the Lord is coming soon!!! We have but just a few more months, years perhaps and all we had hope and pray for would be a reality. Love you all.

  13. Thank you for your words. You have written your thoughts beautifully, and we all take comfort in the promise of our Lord to return soon and reunite the families with their sleeping babies. The Lord just can't come soon enough!!

    --Eric and Heidi
    (Gary's brother and sister-in-law)

  14. Kristen Jarnes BrowningJanuary 3, 2012 at 6:30 AM

    Olen - I wanted you and Danae to know that you are in my thoughts and prayers. You have been ever since you headed over to Chad. I was pregnant with Fiona when Caleb died - I didn't know him or his folks, but remembered James from Andrews and his blog entries about Caleb's death and funeral had me in tears for days. Malcolm & Fiona are the same age right now that Gary & Wendy's kids were when Caleb died and I have thought about their family often over the past 2 years. So you also have often been on my mind, ever since you and Danae and your babies headed to Chad too. I also grieved with you over the loss of Baby Zeke this past summer.

    My folks were here this weekend and mom got an email from your mom about Baby Adam on Sabbath. I didn't want to believe it, so I can hardly bear even to think of what you all are going through right now. People here are thinking of you all and praying for you - I've seen 3 posts come through about Adam on Facebook in just the past hour. Please know that you and Danae, James and Sarah, and Gary and Wendy will be in my prayers for courage, comfort, and protection - and extra prayers for the safety of those precious kiddos. I'm also sending some extra ones up for your folks and Charity & Kristin who I'm sure are wishing they could be with you right now. (So glad your folks were able to visit a few weeks ago.)

    You probably don't remember as well as I do, but you'll always be my other little blonde brother toddling around out in the orchards...I love seeing the pics of the next generation of little blonde Netteburgs toddling around.

    Thinking of you with a heavy heart and lots of love,


  15. Thank you for these beautiful words! Crying while I read them, but finding comfort too! Will pray for you and your kids too.

  16. I cannot imagine the pain, the loss, the heartwrenching memories. You will each be in our family prayers at worship morning and night for some time to come. You will never forget, but I pray that God will carry you through this deep valley. No-one knows about losing a son more than he. "The Lord is especially close to those who are brokenhearted and discouraged. He helps those in despair." Ps 34:18 I pray you feel his presence surrounding you. "So be courageous for the Lord and He will strengthen you;take heart, all of you who place your hope in Him. Ps 31:24

  17. " I will pray the Father and He will send you another Comforter, even the Spirit of Truth ,,," "Therefore comfort one another with these words.." "My grace is sufficient for you" "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you". One day soon there will be the right answers to all the hard questions, and our loving God will swallow death up in victory!! To you precious hurting families, take heart and remember soon the clouds will envelope the hosts of glorious angels and The Conqueror of Death, with a trumpet-like voice will call His little children and give them into the arms of His faithful big children for eternity!!! Praise His Name. Trust His love, Trust His Heart, Rest in Him. He will make all things plain. Love and prayers to each family from your sister in Australia, who has experienced loss, too.

  18. Oh. The heartbreak and tragedy and love and selflessness. It is all so completely overwhelming. You all endure and live and find meaning. I feel lost in your intensity. What you all give to the living and dead will not be forgotten.

  19. Olen, I can't even imagine the heartbreak that the Appels and all of you are going through. You and Danae and your precious little boys are in our prayers daily. And our prayers go out to the Appel family as well. Somehow God will give you the strength you need. We love you! "Aunt" Jeanne

  20. Thank you for contrasting such sad news with the wonderful Hope we have.
    I am praying for your family as you continue to do His will.

  21. grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ-- yes, I'm praying for grace and peace for you, for the Appels, for the difficult days and nights ahead.

  22. And yet you continue to give all you have to those around you in the name of God. Your stories are truly heart wrenching and speak of a place where so much pain and heart ache are a part of every day life.
    I pray that you continue to be filled and strengthened by the love of God and your friends and family, and you remember every moment of every day why you are there and what you are doing for God's precious souls.
    God bless you, the Appel's, and all the other missionaries serving so unselfishly.

  23. You are an angel!!