Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Weight Of Grief

Never could I have imagined that the first post I would send from Haiti would be filled with the things that I have to share…

I came to Leogane knowing that I was about to be challenged more than I ever have been. But I had no idea how quickly I would need to jump into this life.

On Friday there was a soft knock on my door. I opened it to find Mme Jeanel “we have a problem” she told me. “our baby is dead”.

“Our baby” was Joubens. He was 4 months old and had been taken to a local hospital 2 days before. He had severe diarrhea and vomiting and was not eating. I had just been to sit with him a few hours before and I could tell he was getting worse. The doctors were unable to site an IV and he had been without significant fluids for almost a week. Less than an hour after I left him, in the care of one of our nannies Joubens died.

Mme Jeanel asked me what they should do. How was I supposed to know? I asked what they usually did when one of their children died and she shocked me by telling me this was the first for them! They had no more of an idea of how they should deal with it than I did. I told her to prepare a special outfit for the baby and we would go to the hospital to see him. She replied that they had none, nothing worthy of a burial. I told her that we would take a blanket and ran to get one from my room. Just 6 days earlier as I packed donations I was given 2 beautiful, soft blankets to bring along, little did I know how preciously it would be used.

While I was in my ro0m I heard it, a sound that will haunt me for a long time, one by one the older children started wailing. The nannies had told them about Jouben and they were inconsolable. It broke my heart to hear them and know how much pain they had faced. That at only 5 or 6 years old they had faced so much death that it didn’t have to be explained to them. They knew what it meant when the nannies told them that Joubens was dead. I hate that! On the way to the hospital Mme Jeanel told me that the children will not eat tonight. They will cry for Joubens…

When we arrived we were led to the same room that Joubens had been in since he arrived. There is little privacy in this place and his body was lying, covered on a cot in a room with 8 other patients. All of them turned to stare when I walked in. They watched to see what I would do. When we arrived Mme Jeanel told me that he was my baby and they needed me to tell them what to do. I wonder if they knew that I was making it up as I went along too? I entered the room and a doctor nodded his greeting. In Haiti, when someone dies loved ones are often hysterical, screaming and crying. I knew they wanted to see what this Blanc would do. I approached the bed and a nurse lifted the sheet that covered him. It was clear to me that no one had touched him since he had passed, he was not fixed up and prepared as we would be used to. He was stiff and I was unable to reposition him at that point so I asked for some water and set to cleaning him up. I washed his face and mouth, removed his soiled diaper and followed the nurses’ instructions to tie his hands and feet together with pieces of gauze. When I had done all that I could I took his photo, which we would need to prove that he had actually died, should anyone question. When I was finished I wrapped him in the blanket we had brought along and sat there holding him while the doctor wrote out a death certificate. When he handed it to me the name was spelled wrong, he didn’t seem concerned so I guess it didn’t matter.

I had asked someone to call Jeanel and tell him to come right away but when I was finished he still hadn’t arrived. I spoke to the nurses and asked if they had a place to keep the body until I had figured out what to do. I didn’t want to bring him to the house were the kids were. She agreed and I returned home to wait for Jeanel. An hour or so later he go to the house and we set out to make arrangements for a burial. We went to 3 different morgues but none of them had caskets that small. The last one told us there were none in Leogane and that he could make one but it would take a few days, time we surely didn’t have. He also told us that since the baby was so little we didn’t really need a casket, any box would be allowed. For the first time all day I fought back tears. Could I really just put him in a cardboard box? It seemed so wrong. Then again, what other choice did I have?

We went home to try and find something but every box we had was too big. We picked two of the smallest but even they were huge for such a tiny little body. As we were searching the house I went into my room where I remembered the luggage I had carried in just a few days before. I brought my carry on suitcase out and asked Jeanel if he thought it would be ok, he agreed and so it would be. Joubens would be buried in my banged up, dirty, red suitcase…

When we returned to the hospital to pick him up I had to show his death certificate and sign a piece of paper and then they led me to a small shed with an air conditioner, inside were 2 tiny bodies, someone else had lost their baby that day too, so is the story of life I Haiti I guess. I placed Joubens little body in the suitcase and zipped it closed.

After many trips to Haiti that bag has carried a lot of weight but never has it felt so heavy as it did during that short walk. My arms were shaking by the time I got to the car but I would not put him down. We rode to the cemetery in silence and when we arrived there was a man there who said he could dig the grave for us, for $200.00 what else could we do. I paid him and it was done. Jeanel, Mme Jeanel, Edward and I stood as he took Joubens from my arms and proceeded to fill in the hole, each of us took a turn praying during the few moments that it took and when he was done he scraped the dirt of his shovel, lit his cigarette and announced, “Fini". 

When we left to return to the house none of us spoke, we came home to the children full of questions, “where is Joubens? Will we have a funeral? Does he live with Jesus now?” I answered them the best I could and I told the kids that we could have our own funeral for Joubens if they would like. They agreed that they should at least sing a song for him. For the entire day I was able to hold back my tears but when they began to sing I couldn’t stop them any longer. As they sang “goodbye” to their baby I was aware that this journey I had agreed to was not going to be an easy one…


With aching hearts and empty arms, we send you with a name.

It hurts so much to let you go but we’re go glad you came.

We trust you to the Father’s love, and to his tender care.

Held in the everlasting arms, we’re so glad you’re there.


Anonymous said...

I can feel your heavy heart Rhyan, Jesus is walking this pain with you and He has your hand everystep of the way. I am so incredibly grateful that you are there for these people/Children - you are showing them Jesus in all you do. You are all being lifted up in prayer. May the Lord bring you His rest and peace in the midst......I love you Rhyan x


Annette Franklin said...

It is hard for us to imagine all the heavy steps you have taken so far in Leogane. So many decisions to make. Even as you were not sure how to make them, I know God was leading you. Imagine if you had not been there. You are there for a purpose and I am lifting you and the children and staff up to our loving father even now in this difficult and sad time.Tim has been preaching from Psalm 23 for several weeks. Today we talked about the valley of the shadow of death. This is really a metaphor for the dark places Jesus leads us to. We are His sheep and He leads us through the dark, fearful times so that we can get to the green pastures that He provides. I am praying for green pastures for you and the people of Haiti tonight. Much love and yon ti bo from Gedeleine!

Heather Lewis said...

I am thinking and praying for you all, as I do daily. Thank you for loving them so dearly.

Anonymous said...

Rhyan... "Do everything in love" 1 Corinthians 16:14 This is what I see and know is evident from your life every time I read your blog Rhyan. Love can walk you through so many things that we have no idea how to walk (like for you today). God is love and He will carry you in all the delicate days that you walk in Haiti. THANK YOU Rhyan for being the hands and feet there to the ones in despair!!! Pray is behind you!!!!
With Compassion, Jane Bjork

Jill Wilkins said...

Oh Rhyan... my prayers and thoughts are with you on this journey. I pray God gives you the strength and wisdom you need - always. You are doing GREAT... you are strong. You are allowing work to be done through you. Keep your spirits up and know that you are loved.


Wendy Adams said...

Dear Rhyan~
I am not sure if you remember me, but I am Wendy (Berg) Adams and I also grew up in Fergus. I know i met you a couple times through my friends who went to Hillcrest. I cannot recall how I stumbled upon your blog, but I wanted to tell you how much it has touched my heart. I was supposed to go to Haiti this May for a medical mission trip (I am now a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner), however I was not granted to time off work (a long story).
My desire, however for medical missions, and to help those who are in need is still strong. Reading your story about Joubens brought me to tears. As a neonatal nurse at CHOP, I saw much heartache as well as many miracles every day. I will also never forget the little ones I have lost. Is there anyway to deliver blankets to you and your kids since I cannot yet visit myself? If so, I would love to make some and ship them to you. (
Thank you for the amazing work you are doing to encourage, support, and love God's children.
love in Christ,
wendy adams

Tom, Steph, Jeremy and Nick said...

Rhyan what is the name where you are? Is it an orphanage? What are your responsibilities there? Are you running it? What an amazingly difficult first post.
What are your needs?
My thoughts go to Sabrina after going through her death here and how different things are in Haiti.
God is leading you.
Stephanie Mueller

Michael and Michelle said...

I have been thinking about you like CRAZY!!!! I will continue to pray for strength!! I am so sorry for your loss. I am so thankful the Lord called you to Haiti and you are there for all the children!! God Bless you! Please know there are many people praying for you!!!


Anonymous said...

Oh, Rhyan, my heart goes out to you and all the children who are going through this heart-rending loss of a little one. I pray for strength and courage to go on, living out the heart of the Father for all these dearly loved little ones. When you feel inadequate, at a loss, remember that "as you did it to the least of these, you did it onto Me". May you find comfort in your Heavenly Father's arms.
In His love, Carolee

Anonymous said...


Please know we are praying for you and these children. The Lord has called you to such a huge task and I think about you often and pray that He will continue to give you strength. Know that although we cannot be with you daily in
Haiti, you are daily in our minds and prayers. I am glad my mom and dad will be joining you within the next week and hopefully can bring you some encouragement.
In Him,