Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Chapter 20: Dear Nomsa - things that needed to be said.

It’s strange how we want say things to people after they are gone that we couldn’t say to them when they were alive.  I am writing this letter to you, knowing that you will never read it, but knowing that there are things that still need to be said. 

I don’t have the courage to read the letter outloud so I have asked Ian to do it for me.  I hardly had enough courage to write it, but it needed to be written, for me, for Rachel and Leah and for the world.

I have never met anyone like you in my life. I have met people with courage and determination, but you were different. 

If you hadn’t gone and welcomed each new patient who arrived at the TB hospital and sat with them to get to know them, Baby Rahab would be dead today.  What kind of sick and dying person goes from bed to bed of other sick and dying people to encourage them and read scripture to them?  You are the only one that I know of.  I remember the night that Babazile died.  You sat with her until her last breath and then called me in the middle of the night to tell me she had passed.  We cried together.

If it weren’t for your direct intervention, Sepensile would be dead and so would her baby. But it was not okay with you that she was going to die in child birth at the TB Hospital and you made sure that I understood because you knew it woudn’t be okay with me either.  Only because of you, Baby Abigail is with us at the El Roi Baby Home and Sepensile is alive.  

I remember you asking me to bring English bibles for all of the women there and one in siSwati for the lady who couldn’t read English.  Why did you want them? So that you could have a bible study, with a room full of highly infectious women who had no visitors and very little hope for their future.  But you believed that Jesus was their hope, and you were going to make sure they knew that.

I remember you telling me recently that 70% of all the women you met at the TB Hospital had died.  You watched each of them, heard their screams during their night terrors, saw them fall and break bones, smelled them when all human dignity was lost and wept with them when they begged to go and die at home.

I also remember you asking me to bring you goodies.

“What kind of goodies?” I would ask. And you would just giggle and say, “You know what kind of goodies I like. You are my mother.”

Of course if I showed up with the wrong flavor of Oros juice, or if I forgot your Sprite or if the store didn’t have any pork ribs when I was shopping, I was scolded for my inadequacy.  And then we both laughed.

But here is the real truth. I did not like visiting you.  There, I’ve said it.  Not so that you could hear it, but I have spoken the truth.  I was committed to going and seeing you every week that I was in Swaziland, but I hated it.  I hated walking in and seeing women who were skin and bone lifting up their hospital gown to get a needle in their fatless hip.  I hated seeing the dozens of pills sitting beside the unidentifiable food that was required eating so that the pills might be absorbed.  I hated hearing the screams of pain of Sepensile after she fell and broke her femur in two (and her shoulder blade) knowing that Aspirin was the only pain killer available and no other hospital would take her for surgery because of her MDR-TB.   

I hated seeing your weight go down every week and I especially hated the days that I got there and you were having seizures, were not conscious and didn’t know I was there. That happened on your 26th birthday when Ian and I went to see you. Actually it was the day after your birthday, because I couldn't make it there on February 20th.  Too bad I hadn’t though because you were okay on that day, but the day after you were not. We left your favorite meat pizza for you, but I think you Isolation roommate may have enjoyed it.

Worst of all, though, was having to leave you there.  I hated going to visit because I hated leaving.  I grew to truly love you, even though I didn’t want to.  At times I was angry at God that He had brought us together because it caused me so much pain to go week after week, and afterall, why should I be feeling this pain?  You are not my biological child.   But our heavenly Father was teaching me.  You are a child of God, and He is the one who told me that you were the daughter of the King, and I must go and stand by your side. 

But there was another part of visiting you that I must also share.  When I would take my last breath of uninfected air, put on my N95 certified mask, strap on the protective shield around my heart and step in to Isolation Room #1 see you, your smile would light up the room, even when you were the most sick.  When I asked how you were doing you always said, “I am fine”.  That always made me laugh.

I loved the day in November that you were able to come to Project Canaan and get a tour in the back of a broken down bakkie with Lori Marschall at your side while I drove.   I loved that you could go in to Chloe’s room and sign her chalkboard with the message, “Hi Chloe, It’s your big sister. I love your room and I love you SO much!”  I loved that you got to eat your first hamburger at our dining room table and it became your favorite food (after pork ribs of course).  Obviously I didn’t fully understand your infectiousness at that time, but the Lord protected me.  

The day we were able to make a plan to move you to Project Canaan was one of the hardest days of my life.  How could I consider bringing someone with XDR-TB to a place where so many people work and live, not to mention my own family, your own babies, women living with HIV and people who would be exposed to your highly infectious disease.  I was wracked with guilt, but at the same time I knew in my heart it was the right thing to do. 

You will never know how many people you impacted in the 52 days that you lived on Project Canaan.  From the women who lived near you, loved you and cared for you to the people who came from the US and Canada and wanted to meet you and tell you that they had been praying for you for many months. You impacted our family at the deepest level and you have left a hole that will never be filled.  Even now I find myself checking my messages to see if I have received an SMS from you, and when there isn’t one, it is then that I remember you are gone… and there is no cellular service in heaven.

I think you knew you were dying they day you called the doctor and asked to go to the hospital.  Your last words to me were, “Janine, even though I am going to the hospital, will you still be my mom?  And will Project Canaan always be my home?” My answer was simply, “Yes.  I will always be your mother and this will always be your home.”  

Thank you Jere for a beautiful message.
Today we remember you with love and admiration and we honor you with our words, our music and our prayers.  We will tell your daughters about your courage, your strength, your feistiness and your faith in a God who never left your side, even to the very end.

Gcebile, I look forward to seeing you again soon.  But for now I mourn your passing.   Matthew 5:4 says, ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  I pray for his comfort for all of us today and in the days ahead.  

You are loved.


The Swazi singing at the funeral was beautiful. We also played two songs that make me think of Nomsa: 

"Stand" by Donnie McClurkin 


"I look to you" by Whitney Houson



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