A year ago, we experienced some deep tragedies both in the lives of our ministry staff and in our own personal family life. I wrote this reflection after spending some time thinking about it and realizing we could not afford to rush back home to be with our mourning family. What ended up happening brought us closer with our international staff and reminded me of our human family.
This spring could best be compared to one of Haiti’s lingering thunderstorms. It came with little fanfare, but stayed and hung over us for a while. We anticipated it greatly, but it was not what we had expected in almost any arena.
Spring is usually the celebration of something new. And, while we cling to hope that new things are being done, this spring time doled a harsh slap in the face for us and our staff and our families that the seasons outside do not necessarily represent the seasons in our personal spaces. For us, for many of our Haitian and Dominican friends and for many of our family members, this season of spring outside resulted in a winter inside.
It has been a few months since I have even sat down to write, mostly because words wouldn’t come. This season has been incredibly challenging, and while I felt exempt from it at first, I realized that this was just a season to mourn. The book of Ecclesiastes says that there is a season to everything and a purpose for that season- and this truly was a season to be mindful of those mourning around us, to be in solidarity with them and yes, for ourselves to mourn well, too.
In late March, we were sad to hear that a volunteer for Justice Water DR was killed in a motorcycle accident. He was a hard worker, a great man and the brother to one of our leaders in this nation. In Haiti, one of our closest friends watched as her aging father passed. And, should we think we were free from these burdens, we had a shocking death in our family and another family member struggling with his hospital stay. All of this was within a 2 month period. It seemed that when things were supposed to be being made new, we were left with broken hearts and cool air. We were dealing with a sudden, unexpected storm in the middle of what was a season of joy and excitement. We were grieving.
Loss is interesting. As a child, I can recall when some of my grandparents passed, and how I simply wanted to help my parents deal with their grief. It is a place to be stuck: dealing with your own sadness while also wanting to be strong enough to help others deal with theirs. This…struggle, this proof of our own instability and imperfection and inability to be totally there for everyone all the time…it represents a bigger thing that loss shows us. Loss shows us that we are small and not often in control. Loss reminds us of our own mortality. Loss shows us just how shaky (or for some, also, how strong) our faith is to us and how truly we believe our convictions. Loss takes and shakes and makes us mourn.
But mourning does something different. It binds. It binds us closer to one another, closer to the things we believe in, and closer to mortality itself. I remember in the wake of the news of our own familial tragedy, some of the first people to comfort us were our friends Jose and his wife, Alexandria, those who had just lost a family member 2 weeks prior. It was truly humbling to have people we so desperately wanted to help and be present with turn around and comfort us. They hugged us, they met us with tears in their eyes and they mourned with us as we had with them. In Haiti, the same thing happened. We were met with teary eyed staff members who had been through so much, waiting with open arms to be there for us and with us. Though these men and women are our friends and co-workers in development, our season of mourning allowed us to reach a new level of knowing one another as brothers and sisters. It allowed us to reach out to one another in a way that was only in love and humility. We mourned. We didn’t offer simple answers or big explanations. We cried, and eventually we laughed. Our mourning and sorrow was met by a joy in knowing that we were not alone, even though Ryan and I were in different countries than our family during a difficult time. We were not alone, and that seems to be the power of mourning. It doesn’t soften the blow, but it eases the pain.