Take Amin's family. His daughter died about 10 days ago. She was a young, single mother of three. She hemorrhaged while giving birth to her baby. The family rushed her to our clinic on foot, across the river, carrying the bleeding young mother on a tarp. Our nurses tried all they could to save her life, but she had already been bleeding for several hours, and there was nothing we could do to help. For that family, this was the fourth of nine grown children to die.
Today, I joined our three home-based care interns on their visit to the family.
The grandma (Rosemary) introduced us to Michelle (probably named after our nurse who had been providing ante-natal care). We sat under the banana tree and visited about the situation. The grandma's taking care of six orphans. She can take care of Michelle, but just needed help with formula, diapers, some clothing. Our home-based care team were buying formula today, plus bottles, plus clothing, diapers.
Those are things you can buy.
You cannot buy love. And this grandma obviously loved her grandchildren.
Some other relatives were trying to convince her that it would be easier to find someone to raise the baby for them, but she was adamant that she can do it.
I was strangely proud of Rosemary.
She didn't ask for money. But she also didn't pretend to have it all together. "I just need help with milk and clothing for the baby."
The home-based care team will continue to follow up, to check in on the baby as well as the other orphans.
They literally live right across the river from me.
As I held the little one, I could feel my lap getting warm. And it wasn't because the sun was beating down on us now that the rains have ended. Her urine was seeping through the rags her grandma had used as a diaper, and through the little blanket she was wrapped in. And through my skirt, onto my legs.
What do you do in a situation like this? You simply sit there. You keep holding the baby. You keep praying good things for the little one. You deal with the wet skirt when you're at home.
And what do you do about the baby? You thank God for a grandma like Rosemary, who, though she has very little in worldly terms, has a heart full of love for her grandchildren, and for God. You give out of that which God has provided for you. And you pray that this little one will grow up knowing that she is loved.
That indeed is the problem with death. Especially in Africa, where too many children are left orphaned by preventable causes such us death during childbirth, or malaria, or TB, or other opportune infections because of HIV/AIDS. They are left in the care of grandparents with no source of income, or other relatives who are already taking care of several other orphans.
And the problem doesn't go away. That's why groups like ELI will always have an enormous task before us. Because death simply is part of life.