We had a friend die this week. He was an amazing young man. He had a great smile and a soft heart. Over the past year, he has suffered immensely. One day, he was pursuing a career in the culinary arts, and the next he was facing the fact that he was going to lose his leg to cancer. He was the same age as my younger brother.
Despite the amputation, the cancer spread quickly, soon taking over his lungs. Our HOPE program helped however possible. The church here also wrapped it’s arms around him and his family. How do you accept that someone so young, beautiful, strong is wasting away? It is so difficult to watch a family wrestle with letting go of someone they love so much. A son, a brother, a grandson, a cousin, a friend.
The last few days of his life were very difficult. His brother did not leave his side. His grandfather slept next to him, comforting him when needed. And then he passed away.
I did not see him much toward the end. My Spanish is still so limited and I only felt intrusive to stand and not be able to speak, comfort, connect. I will always enjoy the memory of the time he spent the night in our home. The memory of him eating a half dozen muffins, laughing at our Spanish, beating my son at video games. I will hold in my heart his smile before he was baptized, and the way his father stood lovingly behind him. All of my memories of him center around his smile.
We went to go see the family the day after he passed. A small group from HOPE and church loaded into a minibus and traveled the 2 hours to his home. We entered the yard where a number of women from a local church were preparing for a large dinner in his honor, peeling potatoes and sorting “chuño”. We hugged the family, wanting to comfort but understanding that there is no real comfort for loss. His brother and father were still busy preparing the body. Washing and dressing him, even as he wasn’t really there anymore. His family was at peace, even as his mother said with tears, “but I will still miss him”.
Not sure of what else to do, we sat and began to help peel potatoes and sort the chuño. Slowly, laughter began as we worked together. Our Spanish was met with giggles. The neighbor women were amazingly fast with their knives as I awkwardly handled mine. Stories were shared of our friend, but also of other things, lighter things. We sat for over an hour together. The sun was hot on my head and back, but I didn’t want to move. I said nothing, I just didn’t want to stop being a part of that moment. Then, I felt a hat on my head. One of the younger women took her hat and placed it gently on my head. I looked up and she smiled. Another smile I don’t think I will ever forget.
We said goodbye, sharing hugs again and this time with more laughter, more smiles. His father thanked us for helping with the preparations, but it was more than just that. It was all of us together, no separation of faith or culture. The women brought out bananas and water to share. We prayed together, all of us, holding each other. And then we had to say goodbye.
Suffering is a strange thing. It can hold so much beauty within so much pain. I am writing about this day because I want to remember it. I want to remember sharing this time with my friend’s family. I want to remember these women. I want to remember the way love becomes so authentic in the middle of pain.
I pray for his family. I pray they find the comfort I believe only God can give. I pray that we can continue to stay connected to them. And I picture my friend, standing strong in heaven on both legs and smiling.
“When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come to pass: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
I Co 15:54-55