working through tragedy
by Kayla Raymond
I wrote the following last Sunday morning, July 10, when prayers didn’t seem like enough:
I don’t think the notorious knocks on the gate will ever stop giving me a knot in my stomach.
It’s not that I’m afraid of the knock or the person behind the knock, but there’s a fear in the need behind the knock. Because, there’s always a need. And there’s a fear I won’t be able to fix or help the need.
Several months ago, a young mother came knocking on my gate asking me to help her four-year-old son who didn’t walk. She said she had heard how “I help kids who don’t walk” (meaning she had heard how I had gotten a medical visa for Chedline to go to the United States). Funny how people “hear things.”
I went and met her son, Chivens, the next day and what I saw broke my heart: I saw a four-year-old with severe Cerebral Palsy, who could not sit up on his own nor eat on his own. He was fighting a severe respiratory infection and could only interact by eye contact. I saw a little boy who was well taken care of. I could see how his young mama, Landina, loved him well, but with no resources to physical therapy, wheelchairs and healthcare, she was tired and seemed hopeless.
I stood in their house as the mom spread Chivens across her lap, trying to feed him something resembling baby food. He would gasp and cough up some of the food; eating seemed very difficult for him as he couldn’t sit up straight. There was a blanket and pillow in the corner of the room, where he would lay the rest of the day. I turned to my friend Lindsay and asked, “What can we even do for him?” We knew Haiti didn’t have the resources to help this little boy and fear of not being able to meet the need settled down deep. We contemplated rigging up a special chair for him that would allow him to sit up straight, but he couldn’t control the movements of his head, so that never happened. We had him be seen by a visiting physical therapist, who showed the mama some stretches, but nothing that was ever going to make a long-term difference. There was simply just not a whole lot we could do, except try to love and care for him and his family.
This past week another respiratory infection settled deep in his lungs and eventually went septic. Lindsay rushed him to the hospital late Thursday evening as he began seizing, but he just couldn’t fight any longer. Chivens passed away late yesterday (Saturday) afternoon and this morning at 6:00 a.m. there was a soft knock on my gate as I gave an uncle money to buy his casket.
I realize there may be relief in this moment. Chivens was never going to get the medical help he really needed. He would always be fighting respiratory infections and his quality of life would unfortunately always be poor. But, he was still just a child. If he had been born in North America, it would be safe to say this story would be written a lot differently. He would have had access to healthcare and therapy and treatments and medicine. I’ve seen firsthand what six months of first-world healthcare can do for a special needs child through Chedline and it saddens me that not all children will have that opportunity.
As I have scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed this past week, watching all the different hash tags, I’ve come to the slow conclusion that I must be living in a world where #poorlivesdontmatter as well. I realize that America and the world are in complete chaos at the moment, so it’s hard for me to make an argument that we should shift our perspective, because the tragedy that continues to strike everywhere in the world needs our attention. But, the longer I work and live in this country and wrestle through another tragedy, I slowly begin to see how we – the world – let the poor go unseen.
Oh, how there must be so many little Chivens’s around the world who lose their lives without being seen. How governments fail them by not giving them the resources to thrive. How infrastructures fail them and stop them from getting the help they need. How corruption fails them. How oppression fails them. How the church fails them. How the world fails them.
For some reason, I couldn’t write anymore last Sunday. I didn’t have the words to end the blog.
Another busy week full of school registration, building the foundation for a new school building, more sick kids at the orphanage, and daily life passed us.
Then, 3:00 a.m. the following Sunday morning came.
It wasn’t a knock at the gate this time. It was my mom yelling my name outside my bedroom window trying to wake both Webert and I up. All she said was, “there’s an emergency” and both of us were wide awake and out of bed.
At 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night, Renato, a three-year-old from the orphanage came down with a fever and began having some pretty serious diarrhea and vomiting. By 8:00 p.m. they had him on an IV with fluids. At 9:30 I stopped by the orphanage and his vitals were fine and he was sleeping. Around 10:30 his vitals began to change and he got restless. By midnight, both Lindsey and Ben (two staff at the orphanage) rushed him to the hospital. By the time they arrived at the hospital, he had passed.
Just like that. So quickly. Our little Renato had been taken Home.
And, because Haiti, you can’t take a dead body home in any vehicle but an ambulance. And, because it was the middle of the night there was no ambulance to be found. So, at 3:15 in the morning my husband and I were sitting at a nearby police station pleading with officers to ride to the hospital with us so we could get everyone back from the hospital. After paying $130, we were racing off to the hospital. Corruption at its finest.
And, because Haiti, the police car literally ran out of gas on our way back to Simonette and we sat in silence as they searched for what seemed like an eternity for a gallon of gas. Seriously.
But, as dawn broke and light began to wake up our world, we prepared to say good-bye to our little Renato.
Renato came into our lives by being abandoned by his father at the clinic. Yes, a man brought his small, awkward little boy to a routine, morning clinic and asked a woman sitting next to him to watch him as he went to use the restroom. But, instead of using the restroom, he ran off and never looked back…and, there sat Renato.
I remember that first night with him so clearly. We brought him over to my house and had him sitting on the rug in my living room with bright toys all around him. He just sat there. With a head of crazy, orange tinted hair, he showed signs of malnutrition and would only make peeping sounds. He didn’t want to be held and barely ate anything.
But, we loved him and took him in.
As he grew, his personality sure did as well. He was the sweetest. My son Loveson always insisted on bringing him a snack, as Loveson would proclaim, “he’s my best friend!” His orange hair faded away and his belly rounded out as he began to learn to walk and run around the orphanage.
It’s funny what love can do for a child. How love can simply heal so much.
At 4:00 a.m. this morning (Monday) a voice woke me up again. It sounded like my mom yelling “Kayla” again outside my bedroom window, but this time no one was there. As I laid wide awake, I began reflecting on yesterday’s events. It’s 5:30 now and I sit at my kitchen table as dawn breaks a day later. A new day has come upon us again.
I reflect on yesterday and see how I’m a part of such a beautiful family.
After breaking the news to our two mommies at the orphanage, I could see in their eyes that they wouldn’t be able to care for all of our toddlers by themselves. So, I asked for their permission to go call for help. I went and told a friend what had happened and she called her sister and without a second thought, they both jumped in my car to help at 8:00 in the morning. They spent the morning helping prepare the kids, bleaching the entire baby room and deep cleaning the clinic. With plastic gloves on their hands and a broom on the side, they joined our prayer circle as we said our good-byes.
Friends from the community came down to Simonette to walk alongside us. Our security guard never went to sleep after his night shift, to help walk alongside Webert as Webert sought out a judge to make a death certificate at 6:00 in the morning. When I was sitting at the police station at 3:30 in the morning, I called a friend in Canada because I knew she would get Haiti and she wouldn’t care if I woke her up and I knew she would be able to offer me good advice. A pastor from another church came to Tytoo for the service and hugged us all so tightly. As we laid Renato in his casket, I wrapped him in a beautiful hand-sewn quilt that had been donated by someone from Iowa and I couldn’t help but think of her in that moment. An international community now prays for all of our children at the orphanage.
How beautiful the body of Christ is. So many people made yesterday’s tragedy hopeful. The hope of Jesus and his return made yesterday hopeful as well.
I ended yesterday by having dinner at a friend’s house. I sat around a table with four other beautiful women as we debriefed the day’s events. We talked real about life but still managed to laugh about SpongeBob Square Pants. I felt so safe and so loved around that dinner table and my prayer for this new day is that I can continue to create a home where people can come and feel that way around my table. Continue to be a part of an authentic community where people can feel safe to call on me in the midst of tragedy. I can have the strength to continue to overcome tragedy with grace and love. Continue creating a world where people feel loved, surrounded and a part of something beautiful.
And as my little Wishla has now made her way onto my lap with her sippy cup of apple juice and I feel flutters of life in my stomach, I can’t help but fight for all of the above. Because that’s the kind of world I want my own children to know and to live in. It’s the kind of home I want them to abide in. The kind of community I want them to grow and learn in. The kind of world I want them to know.
How beautiful the body of Christ is. How I pray and anticipate and wait for the return of Jesus.
Renato came to us abandoned, forsaken and alone in the world. But, if we did anything right at all, by the grace of God, we let him leave the world surrounded, loved and a part of something beautiful: a family.