October. It’s my birthday month—a time I look forward to celebrating. For me it is usually a month filled with anticipation, wonder, joy, excitement and celebration. (Yet, in a month which ushers in the festive holiday season, why are the October calendar pages always drab brown, pale orange, filled with dead leaves and sparse landscape? For once I’d like to see a pretty October representation grace a calendar page. If you’ve seen one, please share it!!!!)
Last year, just a few days after my birthday, Geoff and I were awakened at 4:30 a.m. by an insistent Uncle Mutaka knocking and pleading on our bedroom window, "UNCLE GEOFF! WE NEED AUNTIE MARY TO COME QUICKLY! AUNT SARAH IS DELIVERING HER BABY RIGHT NOW AT UNCLE OPIO’S!!"
I included a short snippet of the delivery on Facebook, but I never wrote about the balance of that day. (Geoff wrote a bit about it in one of our e-newsletters which you can read here.) https://us10.campaign-archive.com/?u=ff941d7dddc933fea5b364f87&id=494d9144fa )
Every once in a while I have contemplated blogging, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even now I still feel the reeling emotions. In fact, every single day since October 22, 2017, I have reflected on that day and its far reaching ramifications for my life and those around me.
That day sobered me in a way from which I have never fully recovered. And yet, though life goes on, of course, I don’t want to fully recover, but stay VERY aware of making each and every day count for HIM. I am hoping that sharing the events of that day, and the numerous challenging losses we experienced that month will deepen and further the needed processing.
The last blog post I wrote in 2017 was in October on the 21st, the day before fresh reality of our own mortality arose and pummeled us. Little did I know, the title of that blog, “The Blink,” was to be a precursor to the blow we would receive on the 22nd. In it I spoke about death and life and relationships as I lamented the short life of an infant son of dear friends—he had been born October 5, and died October 15th, 2017. The deep anguish and loss in just ten short days was profound. Even more so, after the 22nd I just couldn’t put words together for quite awhile. In fact, I couldn’t bring myself to write a blog again until the following February, and even then I kept it lighthearted in comparison to what was going on inside of me.
The opening of “The Blink” blog ( http://brittonsinuganda.blogspot.com/2017/10/the-blink.html ) was this:
“‘Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance,
they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.’
The days. In single form: some drain, some energize. As the sum of hours: culminating in weeks, months and years hopefully a rich, rewarding blink.”
Our friends Steve Brown and Wanda Martin concluded their “blink” on October 22nd. The understatement is that it was a surreal day. From about 7:45 a.m. onward I moved through most of it numbly.
We returned from Kiwoko hospital about 7:30 a.m. that Sunday after taking Aunt Sarah and Uncle Godfrey to the hospital to make sure Mama and baby were doing fine. We were so thankful to have been a part of the joyous and very unusual birth!
We were only home about 15 minutes when Geoff answered his phone and gasped, “What? Uncle Steve? Isaac, what are you saying? NO!” With a horrified and panicked look he hung up and said, “I don’t even want to speak what Isaac just told me. I have to verify it.” He would not speak the words, but we all knew what we spent the next 45 minutes frantically trying to verify. I immediately texted Kathryn Brown stating that I’d heard Steve was very sick and asked if she could please call. No response. In fact, somehow we had received the news within moments of Steve’s actual death and Kathryn, alone at Rubaga Hospital, was herself shocked.
In Kampala, news spread quickly. Meanwhile, Kathryn picked up the kids and our IY house coordinator Rachel, and took them to the hospital. Even before they arrived back home there were people gathering at the house to mourn in the traditional Ugandan way—to flood the home and sit is a sign that we are with you in your grief.
Out in the village we gathered our kids in our living room, confirmed the unreal news and sat, wept, prayed and wailed as a family. Then we coordinated who would go to town with us to comfort Kathryn and the Brown kids. It was decided to take Uncle Robert Ayola, who had worked so closely with Steve in the IY program, and Uncle Stu Dendy, a fellow English staff member and good friend to the Brown family.
The journey in was a mixture of silence, heavy sighs, tears, offered up memories, chronicles of recent conversations and plans made with Steve, repeated statements of unbelief as to what had been told us and where we were going as we rolled down the road together.
It was one of the longest trips into Kampala EV-ER. And not because we hit jam in unusual places, had to take pot-holed side roads, made a wrong turn and hit more jam, but because we couldn’t believe where we were going—to mourn the loss of a dear friend who had been so full of life and passion, who was fun-loving, animated and a friend to all. Even today, I can hear his spirited laugh ringing in my ears. Throughout this past year since Steve’s death, whenever I am at the Brown’s house I can hear his common expression, “Come On!”
As Geoff drove we contacted as many people as possible to get the news out, but most of them already knew. The speed of the grapevine here is nothing short of miraculous. I was able to get ahold of someone at their church as they were gathering together for service, so they sent quite a few of the Brown’s closest friends to the house. When we arrived Kathryn fell on me and wept. My insides wrenched and tears streamed again down my face, a path already wetted many times that morning.
Most of that day, surrounded by friends, she was a picture of strength. Taking what had been delivered and moving forward to what needed to be done, talking quietly with various ones of us about details of travel to the UK, the need for decisions about the body, the burial, service, timing, flights, etc. But, each time friends entered the house she hugged and cried again. Seeing people who loved Steve and had been such an integral part of their life together opened up the well of grief with each arrival. And each and every time as I watched my tears began again to flow.
We saw friends we hadn’t seen for years, and given the reason we were seeing each other we vowed to be better at getting together. It was a time of reunion for all and for those of us from New Hope Uganda, meeting some for the first time. Steve’s life was intertwined with a diversity of people. In addition to his involvement with IY, he’d played in a local Kampala football league, participated for a number of years in the Kampala Amateur Dramatic Society, worked with the youth at their church, and served in parent leadership groups at their kids’ school to name some of the activities to which he gave his best. The impromptu gathering of an estimated 200+ illuminated the testimony of his love for all people.
At some point around midday, with a friend from the Brown’s church, Geoff and I accompanied Kathryn to the mortuary appointment to make arrangements. I could NOT believe we were actually driving to take care of the paperwork regarding Steve Brown’s death.
On arriving back it was immediately apparent that the house had continued to swell with people so Kathryn asked that someone announce that at 6 p.m. the visiting conclude and she and the kids be allowed to be alone—something they had not been afforded since returning from the hospital that morning. As Geoff took time to make it known, he also began the process of informing how the honoring of Steve would take place and where. There needed to be an understanding of how things would be handled differently than the usual Ugandan approach.
We had spent hours moving from person to person and group to group sharing memories, speaking disbelief, comforting each other—it was exhausting and yet, Kathryn’s and the kids’ grief far surpassed any one of our experiences. When it came time to leave the shock was still so fresh. We had been jolted from “normal” life and throttled with mortality and the fact that ANY of us could be gone from this life in an instant.
A powerful awareness of our fragility has followed me daily this past year.
The drive home was mostly silent. We were spent, yet suspended in overwhelming disbelief.
Upon entering our house I deposited myself on the dining room bench immediately inside the door and just stared. No thought of what to do next, but sit. A musical ringtone broke up the nothing that I was doing. I had no energy to even move to pick up the phone to answer, so Geoff responded. Another call, this one from the states and the same gasp, but this time from me as I heard my sister tell me that my long time friend Wanda had died that morning. I crumpled in a heap on the bench and began to wail again. It was too much. It was more than surreal. I couldn’t process! God, what are you doing? Steve had been sick for only a few days with a seemingly normal, run-of-the-mill illness. Wanda hadn’t even been sick!
Realizing again that my next breath could be my last, I cried out to God to help me make my life count for what He’d created it for! A plea I have made countless times this past year.
This month, October 2018, I am continuing to process intense loss amidst the desire and privilege to LIVE. I vacillate hourly between being lost in thought over the death of Steve, Wanda, and baby Jessy, an infant whose life began and ended last October, and swept by devotion to endeavors that I hope will make every moment count for His kingdom.
I spent the anniversary of Jessy’s life and death with his mama reliving painful, breath-stealing, heart-shocking moments. I wonder if the 22nd will also find me in emotional suffocation.
But, I have to keep living. I can’t stand still, I can’t wallow in mournful memories or get swallowed by what-if? or why God? I can, however, let Him encourage me with the truth. The Bible is truth and He Himself is wisdom, ever present, good, faithful, forgiving, just, true and sovereign. I trust Him with my life and the lives of those around me. As much as I don’t understand the losses we’ve experienced, I know that I can trust Him with both life and death.
My time was set before my life began. My time will end according to His good plan. Though I have plans and desires to accomplish much in this life, I trust Him with its length and breadth. And, though I do not want to experience loss, I trust Him with the lives of my family and friends because He is trustworthy. Ultimately, this life is a short breath, yet an eternal gift.
I don’t know why I am sometimes suddenly arrested by memories of my friends, reflecting on times with them, things they said or did and then getting lost in the muse. It most surely is a stage of grief. Without doubt denial rises frequently as I catch my breath and realize afresh that I will never actually hear Steve’s voice again or laugh out loud with Wanda or watch baby Jessy grow through childhood.
|Wanda and her husband, Bruce|
|Irene, Sam and their son, Nissi|
But, another deep breath and I move forward seeking to make the most of the moment I’ve been given.
God, let me honor you in the days You’ve ordained. And let me encourage others to seek You, for in You is true life.
Thinking back on the 22nd again I recall that I managed to quickly type out, in the 15 minutes of calm, the announcement of the 4:30 a.m. baby arrival. Shortly after it posted on Facebook, I received this text from my fellow staff member, “Okay. Let me hope the drama and excitement of your day are over.” WE HAD NO IDEA THE STORM THAT WAS TO COME!
And honestly? We never truly know what is coming. Only God knows and controls our destiny.