Early this morning our watchman’s little baby boy died.
After the miraculous escape from under the car, the child was due to have his casts removed in two days. Two nights ago, the child suddenly took ill, and had to be hospitalised the next morning, and yesterday morning and through the day, the child significantly improved. Last night, he took a turn for the worse, and all night, I had calls from the hospital and the mother. And this morning at about 5:30, in the cold, smog enshrouded, dreary Delhi winter morning, he slipped away.
The mother was inconsolable, having lost four children before this in similar circumstances. The father, was like a child lost in a forest. I had no words. All I could do was hold him and walk with him through the day.
Those of you who have been reading my posts regularly, will have some idea about this family, but for those of you who don’t, here is some background. Almost certainly HIV+ himself, the child was born to HIV+ parents 11 months ago in the village. The mother came back to Delhi to rejoin her husband with the 4 month old baby, very sick herself and looking like death. The parents seemed to have had no idea of their condition, and my family’s involvement was due to our being unable to accept the condition of the woman continuing under our very noses. These are illiterate, uneducated people, who have come to the city to earn something more than what they would be able to in the village. There is a tremendous amount of apathy, superstition and deeply entrenched habits and thinking. It has taken us months of involvement and prayer to see some change starting in them. The problems with the child started with an oral thrush, and since then it has been one thing after another, even as the parents’ condition improved with the starting of their anti-retroviral treatment. The greatest obstruction was the medical system, with the regular hospital refusing treatment to the child on the grounds that they don’t test children under 18 months for HIV. We had to run them to the government children’s hospital, where samples were taken and sent to the main institute for medical sciences for testing. Months later, we are yet to receive them, and no clinic will start any treatment without the corroborating documents. Apparently, the institute, since the last many months, hasn’t been sending back test results in time. I was hoping to try and get some contacts on the inside to try and facilitate the results getting back to us so that we could start some treatment. In the meantime, the child fell sick again and again. The parents have been slow to change feeding habits, keep the area clean, give greater, sensible care to the child, and take necessary precautions to avoid sickness. Any response to suggestion and medical advice has happened weeks and sometimes months later. And they have changed. They are qualitatively different people now. However, there is a long way to go before they would meet any minimum parental standards of childcare. The hospitals are unsympathetic; nurses and interns are rude, irritated and abrasive all the time. Private clinics are better, but very expensive, and will not treat HIV cases as that needs documentation and specialised training. The whole thing makes the blood boil, and helpless impotence is what most ordinary people face in crisis. At every level, it’s an enormous struggle.
Some of you who are not familiar with life here, will have questions, advice and many things to say. I’m not writing this for that. I’m processing the reality of pain and brokenness; to live up to what I am convinced about, both as a person as well as a teacher, and in that, somehow, to continue to hold out hope to people entrusted by God to my care. I had written in my post Pain and Purpose about the presence of community during grief, and today in the funeral I experienced that. Grief is dealt with in a unique way in rural India, where all the women come together and wail in what may seem to be a ridiculous, almost artificial way to the West. We could hear the child’s mother up at the top of the building. The men lit a fire, and sat around it with the father, saying little. We all (only the men) walked a long way to the burial ground for children where the man had buried his daughter before this, and there had to face the snappish, insensitive caretaker of the land. I got back home after a long, long day feeling as though I had gone through a mangler. If it hadn’t been for the company of my friend and colleague Raj who lives in the same building, who was available through the night and who accompanied me to the hospital and back, and then to the funeral, it would have been much harder. In a week’s time, my family and I will leave for a week’s break to retreat, and rebirth, if you will, and there I hope to deal with all of this.
I’m so grateful to the doctors at the little clinic who gave this precious family the first caring experience of hospital and treatment, and who cried with us. I haven’t seen a doctor in tears in as long as I can remember. And who are planning to help us carry this family forward into a future of hope. And where have I ever seen that?
Is this being trite? Talking of hope in the face of such great pain? There is no real hope unless there is terribly real loss, grief and pain. It’s the only place where the reality of Hope shows up with all the fragile and delicate, and yet enduring beauty of her face. In the story of Job, his children who died, did not come back to life, although new ones were added. Hope is always truly ‘seen’ while dealing with real despair.
In this Christmas time, my awareness of the pain it dealt God to redeem humankind, is my window to Hope for this family whose life has so intertwined now with mine.