I took no special training. No special classes. Shoot, even when I was about to give birth there were Lamaze classes. But there were no your child is going to die unexpectedly so we'd like you to learn how to breath through the grief pains tutorials.
No, grieving the death of someone you love comes very, very easy.
It's the grieving while attempting to appear normal that is very, very hard.
There is a spot in the back of my neck at the base of my skull that has been in a constant, thick knot for over a year and a half. It's a tumor of grief. But I'll just pass it off as I must've slept wrong.
There are days I would rather sleep for 115 hours straight than face the day. I'll tell you I think I'm getting a sinus infection.
But I can't have a sinus infection every day so you'll probably see me at Walmart picking up the bread and the paper towels like a normal person when inside my heart is on the verge of crashing into an oblivion of sorrow.
Songs on the radio will tear me to shreds - and if I'm alone I'll cry. But if I'm with someone you'll notice I take a big gulp of air and then say something incredibly random and probably way too loud to drown out whatever lyrics are tugging at my heart strings.
No, grief comes very easy. It's the appearing normal while you're grieving that is difficult.
I wouldn't wish grief on my worst enemy and while I feel like I've felt enough sorrow it ought come with some lifetime supply of Kleenex.... I chose to walk straight back into the face of grief. And I'll choose it again and again and again.
Because grief isn't possible without a whole lot of love.
When I went to Haiti this second time, I knew in my heart it would be harder than the first. Some inkling in the pit of my stomach said this ain't gonna be easy. And yet you couldn't have stopped me from hopping on that plane. I needed to come back to see this boy:
He has my heart. I love all the children at the orphanage. My days and nights are filled with the memory of their faces. Of their words, their laughter, their singing. Of their hugs and hard questions. My prayers are longer than they have ever been as I ask God's protection over each and every one of these precious lives. I pray that Noramy continues expressing himself through art and that Ricardo continues to use his gift of singing. I pray that Vita can take that fiery spirit God has instilled in her to be a leader among the other girls. I pray that Jerry can feel the depth of God's love during those times when he is feeling alone and sad.
I love each and every one of these children. Children whose past I do not know. Whose families I will never meet. Whose names I can barely pronounce. I love them all with an unconditional love that I cannot explain but just know that by the grace of God I can feel it.
But this boy. This boy has my whole heart.
One evening I found myself sitting with Riquelme and 6 other boys ranging from the ages of 12 - 16. We were talking about many absolutely inconsequential and superficial things. They find it incredibly funny that I cannot pronounce names and words properly in Creole. So there was a lot of laughter.
Then someone asked if I had any children.
"Yes. I had three children ---" I started to explain.
"But one died, right?!"
I smiled. I suppose in any other setting the appropriate response at such a bold interruption would've been shock or repulsion. Maybe I should have been appalled at the audacity of such a remark. And yet, this is their world. People die. Siblings starve. Parents fall prey to AIDS. Friends don't have the money to purchase medications for treatable diseases. Children die.
"Yes!" I said, showing the young boy how proud I was that he had remembered my story from months before. Or perhaps my sponsor son had explained the situation during my absence. "Yes, one of my children died."
"When? When your child die?"
"About a year and a half ago. Not quite two years."
Another boy looked up at me, "how old your child when they die?"
"She was eleven."
"Oh." The boys looked around at each other, at the ground. That age hit a little too close to home, I suppose.
It was quiet long enough to make it feel awkward, but I've learned that the best way to learn from children is to just wait and they'll fill in the silence with what they want to say.
After a bit, one of the boys looked at me with a huge smile on his face: "You have three children but one die so you only have two! But then you get Riquelme and now you have three again!"
I laughed and threw my head back! "Yes! Yes! You are right! You are absolutely right!"
We talked then about sponsor parents and what that means. I am careful that I don't give the impression that I can adopt Riquelme. (The rules make it so it's not possible. Unless God moves mountains, it's simply not possible.) I learned that I am one of the good ones because I write letters. Some kids have multiple sponsor families but they never get letters.
Don't misunderstand me: financially supporting these children is an incredible, selfless calling that needs to be answered. And when answered, these children are blessed beyond measure. Just $35 a month allows these kids to have access to safe drinking water, food twice a day, an education, a safe place to sleep, running water to bathe in, and access to medical care. Financially supporting these children needs to happen.
But they long for connection. They long to feel chosen. Wanted. Loved.
Letters received are kept treasured. Amber (the American Missionary) told me that many children ask her to keep their letters safe with her. This way they will not be lost, stolen, ruined, ripped, etc. From time to time the children will come back and ask to simply hold their letter - even if they can't understand the words on the page. They will ask her to translate it again, and again - even though they learned it by heart two years ago.
I learned that packages are good. A small toy, deodorant, underwear, a book, crayons. But if they had a choice between a package with no letter and just a letter, every single one of the boys in front of me that evening told me they would want the letter.
Letters mean love. And I write letters. So that's how they know I love Riquelme.
I don't pretend to know anything about the life these kids are living. I don't have a college degree and I have no special training. I haven't gone to school to understand psychology of children or earned any letters after my name that declare I'm some sort of expert in the field of orphans.
I just know I know how to love. God calls us to love unconditionally. He calls us to show others who He is by loving others the way He loves us. And I am broken. I am racked with sin a mile long. I have shamed my parents and embarrassed my siblings. I am quick to anger and slow to forgive. I hurt by the hands of others but mostly I hurt others by my own hand. I forget to give thanks and I forget to count blessings. I am lazy and I am full of contempt. And yet, God still shows up day after day to love me. He has never missed an opportunity to whisper in my ear how much He loves me. He has never turned His back on me for someone better, cuter, smarter, nicer, more well behaved.
He simply loves me.
I can do that.
Of all the things God has asked me to do, I can love a bunch of hurting children.
But loving has it's risks. Especially when it comes time to say good bye. I loved Avery with all of my heart and it crippled me when I had to say good bye.
I know what I'm getting into by loving again. Especially loving children in another country.
And so to love these children means to open the door to grief. And for them to open up and risk loving back means they, too, will have to accept grief as part of the deal. Because we will always have to say good bye.
It is so hard. Not the grieving. That part I've got down. No, it's the grieving while trying to appear normal that I struggle with.
So, I might be having coffee with you and will try to laugh along with your story but part of me will wonder if he's happy today, or struggling with sadness or his own grief. I will worry that he is alone and I will pray that God sends the right person to hold him up. And then I will laugh at the appropriate time in your story because it seems I'm getting a bit better at this grieving gig.
And just like I count the days until I see my Heavenly daughter again, now I count the days until I see my Haitian boy again.
And I'll do it over and over and over again. Because the love is always worth the grief.
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.
(1 Corinthians 13:13)
To sponsor a child at Global Vision Citadelle Ministries,
or to donate directly to GVCM,
please visit their website at www.gvcm.org