Insight from Haiti:
Dear family and friends,
When I returned to St Damien Hospital at about 5pm yesterday afternoon, after spending the day buying medicines for our hospitals,
there was a woman in the hallway holding a small child, and I sensed something was very wrong.
She was not crying, but her face revealed a restrained panic.
Her one year old daughter, while seemingly asleep in her arms, was, to my eye, lifeless.
The child was dead, and this poor mother could not accept it.
I noticed her ragged dress, her bare feet with dried streaks of mud.
I was not sure what to do, how to approach her denial.
I needed to respect her deep distress, and find the best way to help her.
I quietly asked her name.
“Bertina”, she said.
I asked the name of the child.
“Sabina” she said.
I asked if she was here to see a doctor.
She said she did already, but the doctor is very wrong.
I asked how the doctor was wrong, and she said. “He thinks little Sabina, is dead.”
I placed my hands on her child’s head, I caressed her hair, I ran my hand my hands over Sabina’s small chest.
Sabina was dead.
I felt the muscles of restrained agony tightening on my face.
I said, “Why did you bring Sabina to the hospital?”
She said, “She could not breath.”
Then she imitated the agonal gasps for air, and explained how Sabina’s ribs sank with every breath.
I said gently, “Bertina, I see clearly how loving of a mother you are, and how much you are trying to help Sabina.
It seems like, before you could find help, the sickness grew too strong for her small body.
She fought for days to breath, to live, and you did your best to help her,
but Sabina has gone to God.”
Bertina said, “She is still warm. She hasn’t gone anywhere.”
And she started to blow into Sabina’s mouth, as God had done for Adam.
Bertina gave Sabina life by bringing her into this world, and being fully tied to her by love, and was trying to give her life a second time.
I brought Bertina to sit with me in the office.
During the course of the next two hours, she snuggled Sabina to her neck, rocked her on her lap, blew often into her nostrils, massaged her back.
Over this time, we spoke of many things softly, and all the while Sabina’s feet and hands, then arms and legs, and then chest, grew cold.
Wilflo was there, and Ferel.
Soon came Phadoul, and Marie,
and the nurses Edna and Sonia.
The women, who are mothers, tried to convince Bertina to give Sabina to them, so she could return to the children waiting for her at home..
She would not let Sabina out of her arms.
I said, “Bertina, all of us hope, with you, that Sabina wakes up. We would all be so happy with you, if she did.
But she is cold.”
She blew for a last time into her nostrils.
I though of the gospel reading of the mornings mass.
Jesus tried to heal a blind man, with his spittle and powerful prayer.
“Can you see now?” He asked.
The man answered, “I see people but they look like trees.”
More spittle, and another prayer, solved that.
Bertina seems to live out this gospel story, and this vesper hour of the same day.
With just a little more help, the miracle will happen. Just like it did for Jesus.
It seems sometimes Providence needs a little push.
Beetina had the same spirit as Jesus in her blood.
But for Sabina, the miracle was not destined to be.
Bertina’s husband had come by then, and her sister, and oldest child.
Sabina was now cold as stone.
With great wailing she finally accepted that death had taken her little girl, and gave Sabina’s body to me.
I asked her to come back to see me, which she did today, we we spoke for a while, and we gave them some help to pay for a funeral.
I see Bertina as strong and noble.
She will need those virtues for the many years to come. Her other three children are also very young.
This is the kind of thing that happens when roads are blocked with violence, when hatred rules the streets, when mothers are afraid to risk the roads with their sick children.
We have had a few calmer days with minimal riots, and Bertina finally could come to the hospital with Sabina, today.
When the nurses asked her why she didn’t come early in the morning, she said that morning was her only chance in the past two weeks to refill her buckets, barrels and jars with water.
She could not miss the chance. She needed water for the children, for drinking and cooking, to wash and clean and bathe.
She planned to bring Sabina to the hospital after she could assure water for her family.
This is the kind of thing that happens when you live in absolute poverty, when in the hierarchy of needs, all basic and essential, the needs must compete with each other, since you can only choose one at a time.
It is important for all of us to see clearly the rotten fruit of poverty, and violence.
Its not just about the smashed storefronts, or the burning cars.
Silently and tragically, at the level of a mother and her child, the consequences are deadly.
Also in the readings of mass this morning, after the destructive flood that killed everything and everyone but Noah and his entourage, it is revealed that God greatly regretted the mass destruction that He had wrought, and swore that never again would there be such overflowing destruction.
The rainbow became sign of this promise.
It is a pity that we, as descendants of Noah and Naamah, do not regret flooding our history with wars, genocide, taking to the streets in hatred and destruction.
Sabina has paid the price for this, and there are far too many who also pay with their innocent lives.
Pope Francis asks us incessantly, to open our eyes at the sufferings around us, and to do everything we can to invite those who are marginalized to the banquet that is life. It is ever more urgent for us to do so.
I will go soon, and light a candle in the chapel to Sabina’s memory.
It is a beautiful, golden light, that protests the darkness that claimed her, and yet more importantly, humbly and peacefully, announces the glory that she enters into now.
Let’s all of us light small candles, in our churches and in our minds, everywhere and always, thousands of humble lights to protest darkness,
and keep doing so until the day comes that we, like God almighty did, regret flooding the world with violence, and rather put or passionate energies to the great work of peace.
Fr Rick Frechette CP
Port au Prince
February 21, 2019