It is the same room that we held Marilyn’s wake in just over 8 years ago. Only this time, there is no food, no coffee, no gambling set up outside, no sound of mourning, and no tears. Marilyn was 12 when she died a horrible death caused by untreated meningitis. Her family was one we were very involved with in our work under the bridge. They were so poor that the 7 children rarely had food and certainly no education. I remember when we took Marilyn to be buried in the cemetery how their four-year-old clung to me. The wailing and mourning of the parents and relatives was frightening even for me. I couldn’t imagine how this little one felt.
Just two nights ago, little AJ was brought to me too late. He was only 3 weeks old, severely dehydrated and malnourished. Just one look, and I knew he wouldn’t make it. Regardless, I put him on oxygen and cooed softly to him. I sent Eddy to speak to the grandmother and the aunty who had brought AJ in from the province. He explained we didn’t think the baby would survive but that we would try. They thanked him and surprisingly left.
I spent the next 3 hours praying and talking quietly to AJ. I told him Jesus loved him and that he shouldn’t be afraid. I sang softly to him and rubbed his little forehead. Brittney, who had been through an infant death with Pamela a few months ago, held his tiny fingers silently.
Only 3 hours later, precious AJ breathed his last breath in my arms. I know he was whisked into the arms of Jesus in that instant. We were silent for a moment, each of us with questions of our own roaring in our minds. Noah, my beautiful son of 17, dared to speak out with emotions and thoughts that we all understood. What a senseless waste of a precious innocent life, he sighed. But at least he will suffer no more.
Now, as I stand alone by the casket, my face is hot. The sounds of laughter and bantering by the girls and their friends as they visit with Brittney and Lacey (our two short-termers ) almost deafening to me at the other end of the room. Marissa, the mother of this tiny baby, is just a child herself. She is only 14. She wraps her arms around my waist and says, “Ate cher, can I live with you? I promise I will change. Please take me.” I hold her tiny face in my hands, the memories of her vicious childhood racing through my mind. She has been living on the streets for over a year and she is a broken little girl. I remember holding her ten years ago. She was already broken then.
My heart is heavy. I think I am carrying the grief of this family. They are so detached. Life has been brutal for them. But I am honored to have been the last one to whisper ‘you are loved’ into AJ’s little ear and the child in front of me is staring hopefully into my eyes, her trusting smile just like the one she gave me at the burial of her big sister more than 8 years ago. How merciful of God to give me a chance to love her again. Tears for AJ will come but not now. I have other things to do.