Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Losing Another Patient: Prayer Service and Mourning

About a month ago I blogged about losing a young girl to AIDS. She had waited too long to be tested for HIV and died within a few weeks of finding out her status. It was a tragic loss but also one that has motivated me to make significant efforts in getting people tested early and often. Hopefully her death won't be in vain.

Recently, we lost another patient from our home-based care program. She was an older woman, a grandmother, who was both HIV+ and diabetic. We had been transporting her to medical appointments for a long time and helping the family with her other medical needs. Sadly, her condition had deteriorated to the point where she slept on a mattress on the floor because her family could not get her onto the bed and she could no longer do anything for herself. She died with her large family by her side.

As is tradition here, the week preceding the Saturday burial was filled with prayer services. These are gatherings where friends and villagers come together each night to pay their respect to the family and the deceased. There is often wailing tears by those closest, prayers made by the guests, and some of the most beautiful singing you will hear anywhere. The prayer services for this sweet grandmother was no different. I sat among the women, helping to knead the dough for the diphaphatha that would be served, and listened to their voices fill the air. There has hardly been a moment in my life where I have been filled with more emotion. The tears of so many over the loss were heartbreaking but the togetherness of the community was palpable. By the end of the first night, I had met countless new people, cried alongside a small child (a grandchild perhaps?), offered a blessing to the family, was in awe, and felt a range of emotions that seemed in perfect contrast to the last.

Sadly, after so many losses in this country, these services run like a well-oiled machine - every person has a role and they all gather to make sure it is fulfilled for the family. There are people leading the services, those making the bread and tea and the greetings being given and songs being sang. The loss aside, they are a beautiful testimony to the people of Botswana and their sense of community. I am grateful for being allowed to be a witness to it.

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