Above Image: The full moon as we gathered for a sunrise service this morning
Death and suffering are part of every day here, raising questions about justice, worth, inequality and power. I’ve noticed a lot of parallels to the world of the gospels, where Jesus spoke to many of those questions. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the least of these, and two deaths on Thursday beautifully reminded me of his love and care for those who escape the world’s attention.
After a night on call I had come in to see an obstetric patient, when I heard crying from the paediatric ward. It was quieter than usual, and I popped my head in to see what was happening. Definite wailing coming from the left-hand side down the end – that’s near Cathy’s* bed I thought. We have a few long stayers on the paeds ward, and Cathy was one of them – born premature at just under 1kg, it was amazing she had made it to a year and a half. Cathy and her mum were always a bright spark on my rounds - her mum was pregnant again, had left another child back in the village and her love for this daughter was obvious in her gentle care of Cathy and her face full of worry when each breath was a struggle. Her understanding and care was exemplary, I used her several times to help educate other mothers who were struggling. Cathy was a real cutie, with an array of headbands and hats and a big smile when she had the strength. But she had chronic lung disease with heart problems and had been on oxygen on the ward for over 3 months. She’d just seem to start getting better but then pick up another bug from the multiple children sick around her. There had been many times I wondered if she would make it through the night.
Sadly, this time, Cathy’s heart and lungs had given out, she had given up her spirit. As I approached her bed, I could hear her mum saying, “rest in peace my baby, you’re not suffering now.” About 15 minutes after she had died, she wrapped Cathy up, put her in a bilum (string bag that babies in PNG are usually carried in) and walked off by herself with Cathy’s body on her back, to wait for a car to pick her up. Paeds ward is full to overflowing, and her bed was quickly taken up with a baby that had spent the night waiting for a bed, almost like she had never been there.
Later in the afternoon a man was rushed into the ER. He had collapsed about 30 minutes earlier and was unresponsive. He had no pulse on arrival, and despite CPR and adrenaline, our efforts to resuscitate him were in vain. As we got more of a story it became apparent that he was a bikman, the head of a local ward, a real bigshot in PNG. As Dr Mark confirmed again there was no pulse and told the family em dai pinis, (he has died) a massive cry started. Ten grown men threw themselves on his body and the ground in the ER, while many others joined them outside, showing their grief in the most respectful way they could. It was so loud you couldn’t hear someone else next to you talk. As soon as they could, they loaded up the procession of cars that had followed him and took his body home.
The contrast of these two deaths really struck me. Both precious lives, both sad losses. One was noticed, important, will have days of a hauskrai (house cry, like a tangi) and much mourning. The other was a little girl, who had barely left hospital in her short life, one of the “least of these”. But the thought that she didn’t matter, that her life didn’t mean anything or wasn’t worth grieving as much brought me to tears. Because she touched my life, and reminds me that every life is valuable and precious, no matter how small or insignificant. Reflecting on this, I recalled how Jesus noticed the children, women who were bleeding, prostitutes, tax collectors and sinners. He included and loved those on the outer, the weak, the powerless. He let himself be subjected to a painful, humiliating death imaginable, in order to give each one of us the opportunity to be reconciled to God, providing hope that death is not the end. He is risen! And that’s what we celebrate today.