Gratitude

A few months before my infant daughter died from intestinal intussusception, I was standing beside the grieving mother of a deformed baby who had passed away, despite her months of love and nursing. Though my belly was large with expectancy, as a mother of two toddlers, I felt so saddened by her pain. At the time, my husband and I were missionaries in Peru, South America. No stranger to the primitive lifestyle of these sweet poverty stricken people, I was still horrified at the experience of that day.

First, the mother was in a very primitive hospital, which was, nonetheless, one of the better ones of its kind. Once we got word she had lost the child, we came, and as per her request, I went and purchased a white knit little garment in which she could bury her little boy. When I brought it to her, I discovered that it was common there for them to take the dead babies to the morgue and have the mother come claim her baby’s body by walking through the morgue filled with dead babies until she found her own. I still shudder with horror to think of it. We are so protected here in our culture.

After she found her baby, she had to clean it and dress it. She took her sister with her for this process. After they had done all the red tape bribes, andpaperwork necessary to have their baby’s body released to them, and had bought a little casket, we drove them to the burial cemetery. Again, I was not equipped for the horror I would experience. The tombs were above ground, built out of bricks and concrete, and anything but sealed. The smell of rotting flesh assaulted my nose as we neared the entrance to the grounds. As we stood there saying a few words of prayer, the caretaker of the graveyard stood with his concrete shovel, ready to attempt a sealing as soon as the little casket was shoved in. He didn’t like that we took time to sing a hymn and he started telling the father of the baby that it would be more expensive because of him having to wait for us to sing. While this altercation was going on, the mother was sobbing uncontrollably, and gnats were weaving in and out of the surrounding graves, where visible holes could be seen, nipping at us to see if we were dead too, or living. When i realized why the gnats were there, I almost threw up.

I was told that the graves were only rented for a few months, at which time the caretakers would remove and burn the bones, reselling the casket and plundering anything left inside. I could not fathom this creature standing there demanding more money while his family lived nearby, among the tombs. What a way to live…a modern day Legion, feeding his family from the dead and sorrowful.

We gave the guy more money, and firmly told him to wait a few more paces away, out of sight from the mother. Even so, we hurried the prayers, and helped the mother walk away. A month later, we were there again to repeat it all with another poor mother’s stillborn babe.

Two months later, my beautiful healthy daughter passed away, at the age of three months, a complication from her vaccinations. I never expected this to happen to me. It was extremely traumatic, and even now, ten years later, any time I go into detail, and relive it, I have nightmares. Still, we have so much to be thankful for, here in the United States. Though she died in Peru, upon arrival in the US with her body, things went smoother. The body of my baby girl lies underground, buried in a beautiful country cemetery, where the branches of the dogwood bloom over her each spring. Her tombstone is granite, engraved with her name, a monument I can still visit, encased in flowers in memory of her short life. Her funeral was a lengthy affair, with many in attendance, where several songs were sung, and various ministers touched my grieving heart at no charge.

As I sat today in church, listening to a missionary from India, and looking at the pictures he shared, I thought of the complaining of my children, and their ungrateful American attitudes at times. I realized that I often get my eyes clouded with the fog of our culture, forgetting that I’m blessed just to live in this place. I asked for forgiveness, as I remembered the tragic horror so many people face around the world. In that moment I remembered life and death, and the fine line that lies between, all too visible in third world countries. I realized then, that, more than my longed for vacation to the beach to show my sons the ocean, what they really need most is a trip overseas to change their lives forever and remind us all how to be grateful.