Because of my warm friendship with Nelson and Filomena, I grew increasingly concerned in the past few weeks at the deteriorating health of their eight-month-old daughter Paula. They took her to multiple health centers, but due to the limitations of the local medical system, the cause of her diarrhea, vomiting, and fever was never diagnosed. Nelson did online research himself and consulted with a medically-knowledgeable friend, but to no avail: Last Sunday evening he texted me the sad news that Paula had passed away.
I called immediately to express my heartbreak at their loss. Nelson said the family would be gathering at Filomena’s aunt Claudina’s house, and arranged to meet me at a gas station at 12:30 on Monday to lead me there. Benildo, a friend from church, accompanied me. Upon arriving at the home, we found Filomena understandably distraught and exhausted, and I mourned with her.
Other women of the family, with whom I’m also acquainted, brought me into the room where the baby’s lifeless body was resting, covered with a sheet. I surmised there were superstitious purposes for the candles burning in the room. For a while we sat in silence on a bamboo mat. More ladies arrived and they all washed the body with soap and water while it was covered with a thin cloth. After another hour of waiting, this time with small talk, the coffin was brought, and they clothed the body and arranged it in the coffin, using colorful African clothes and some of the baby’s clothes as padding. At the women’s request, I prayed before the washing and again before the clothing of the small corpse. Nelson and Filomena were brought in to pay their final respects to the earthly remains of their precious daughter before the casket was closed and taken outside.
The friends and family who had assembled in the courtyard gathered around the coffin as a pastor read II Samuel 12:15-23 and offered comfort to the family. Then we walked a few hundred meters away to a cemetery where a child-sized grave had already been dug. The pastor proclaimed that Paula’s spirit was going directly to heaven because she was still young and innocent of sin, and that we should do good works so that we can follow her there. As the casket was lowered into the ground, everyone sang a common funeral song, “Here on earth, my brother, we are guests.”
Nelson and Filomena were summoned to cast the first handfuls of earth on the coffin. Doing so, they both broke down sobbing, and were led back to their seats by those close to them. Filomena’s aunts pleaded with her to calm down so as not to bring negative consequences upon her deceased daughter and herself, and she complied. We continued singing as others finished the burial and planted a wooden cross on the resultant mound of dirt over the grave.
The pastor allowed anyone who desired to speak. I stepped up to remind the mourners that our sadness was due to the fact that God had given us something good: a human life, created in His image, which brought us great joy during her brief time with us. I told them that God knew their sorrow, for He Himself suffered the death of His only begotten Son who gave His life on the cross for our sins, and rose again that all who believe in Him might have everlasting life.
Back at Claudina’s house, we washed our hands and sat down to eat heaping plates of rice and beans. Filomena didn’t eat, but returned to repose on a mattress in the living room. I spoke with her, prayed with her, and left her a chocolate bar. Then Benildo and I said goodbye to the rest of the family and took our leave.
The following day, Tuesday, Benildo and I returned, with a 25-pound sack of flour as a gift for the family. The scene was calmer, with fewer people. We sat in the living room and conversed with Nelson, Filomena, and her aunt Claudina. I read Psalm 84, and Benildo prayed for the family.
During our visit, I handed the couple an envelope containing prints of various photos I had taken of their daughter. Nelson immediately opened it and began admiring the photos. Filomena wailed with grief upon glimpsing the smiling face of her dear, departed daughter, but after regaining her composure she reached to see more of the pictures. Claudina exclaimed jubilently that these photos were an amazing gift from God when she’d thought no photos of her “granddaughter” existed, and in gratitude she knelt immediately to say an “Ave Maria”. (Paula was actually Claudina’s great-niece, but because Claudina raised Filomena as a daughter after Filomena’s own mother died, Claudina viewed Filomena’s daughter as her own granddaughter.)
Before Benildo and I left, Nelson said that he and Filomena would be returning to their own home the following day, Wednesday. He asked me to pray with them there on the occasion. I readily agreed, and Benildo once again volunteered to accompany me. However, the family subsequently decided that Filomena would stay longer with Claudina while Nelson first returned home alone. Consequently, the family hasn’t yet summoned me to pray with them in their own house.
Please pray for God’s supernatural comfort for this grieving couple. Above all, please pray that faith in our Lord Jesus Christ would grow in them and in their relatives. Thank you.