Two weeks later, another death
In my last post, I described the death of our neighbor's child, and our other immediate neighbor, Evert, preached the sermon at the funeral. Two weeks after he preached that sermon, we got another morning phone call and this time ran out to Evert's house, where his son (our son's best friend) had awakened to find his dad having suffered what seems to have been a heart attack. Isaac gave Evert CPR, and we found ourselves at a loss about next steps when there is no 911, no ambulance, no medics who would arrive and tell us what to do next. Eventually some other co-workers came running and Evert was taken to the hospital, where the doctors confirmed that he had passed away. For Isaac, the most difficult thing is to have tried desperately to save a friend and co-worker, and instead seen him fade away in front of him. For Kacie, it was a privilege but heartbreak to bear with the women of the family in their raw grief.
Our community went into motion and with unbelievable speed our students and fellow professors were there preparing the house and yard, setting up canopies and chairs, preparing food, and taking care of the funeral and burial proceedings. Here, the preparation is all done at the home of the bereaved. All day long we would all come and go, sitting in chairs outside the home, present for the family and talking to each other. I was struck that what was being done is what is done in a counselor's office. The story is told again and again. We go over what happened, how each person experienced it, how we feel. In counseling this is to help traumatized memories begin to organize and make sense, and help us process. That is what we were doing, in community. That evening there was a service and right at the end Evert's family from his home village arrived, having traveled hours in a canoe across open ocean as soon as they heard the news. They came through the dark of the night with piercing cries and gathered around Evert's body. Papuans grieve with open lament, crying out and holding the body for hours, through the nights, until burial. Evert was the second oldest of 13 children, and his 80+ year old mother is still living (shocking for a place where life expectancy for women is near 60 years).
We spent nearly three solid days and half the nights in the proceedings around the rememberance ceremonies and burial. We shed many tears, as did our whole community and Evert's family. It's difficult to convey what it was like, all-encompassing, being with people in this rich community that was such stark contrast to the isolation of these months of COVID. Half the people we were with had recovered from COVID in November or December, some still weak. To cry out and remember together, to feel drained dry of tears, to remember Evert's own words two weeks before about how we can walk through suffering and death and know that we have the hope of heaven confident through Jesus. And then, after the burial, our school community gathered again outside our neighbor's house in the night, informal this time. Till late in the night we sang praise songs in three languages, we told stories, we laughed and teased, we prayed and when we collapsed in bed afterwards we were overwhelmed by the comfort that it had provided. Our community had together evidenced that we are able to lament with raw honesty before God and are able to celebrate and marvel at life at the same time, and these two things are not mutually exclusive.
There is comfort too, in Evert's own life. He had a testimony of a changed life when the gospel was first preached to his family, and his passion for salvation through Jesus and justice for his people has impacted this community for a long time. He'd recovered from a bad case of COVID a couple of months ago and spent the time since spending extra time and care on his family and friends. The day before he died, he posted the lyrics to his favorite hymn, "It is Well" but in Indonesian, to the group message of the staff at this school. How powerful to think what it meant for him to write, "And Lord haste the day when my faith shall by sight.... it is well, it is well with my soul!"