This week's UPI Column

So There I Was…


Burundians do not mollycoddle death. There is an official standard length of time that you are allowed to grieve; after that you have to wash your face, get up, go back to work and move on. For a father you are allowed five days to grieve, for a mother – three days – for a child, two. I have been to the graveside of a child death. The coffin is made of weak fiber board. The grave is barely three feet deep. They lay the little box directly in the earth, and then the mother is given the shovel, and she throws the first shovel of dirt onto the top of the coffin. It is a sound that once heard, is not easily forgotten. When the grave is filled they mix cement right there are pave over the grave – final is not a good enough word.

The child mortality rate in Burundi is one in five.

Twenty percent of children born alive will not reach their fifth birthday.

Rates: electricity rates, exchange rates, cut rates. How did we get a death rate? How do we quantify lost babies like francs to the dollar?

We lost one to the rate this week on Thursday. Her name was Mirium, she was seven. She was the daughter of a man named Matthew who works in our organization, Trauma Healing Services. I was in the office with the boss, when Matthew got the phone call. I knew something was wrong when he walked in without knocking, when he did not excuse himself for interrupting. Matthew is a man of impeccable manners. The conversation was French, but needed no translation. Something was horribly wrong. I caught words: child, daughter, school, hospital. I saw gestures, something running down the face from the nose and mouth. The boss was on his feet, hands out. He asked a question, Matthew turned and stumbled out of the office, and then there was a noise that turned into a cry that turned into a scream. These people are tough. They rarely cry, rarely make loud noises. This cry rent the heavens and turned my stomach inside out.

Mirium was a first grader, first graders go to school half-days here. They wear blue cotton uniform skirts with white tops. The garments are bought big so they will last. So the little ones always swim in their clothes. They swim with pride and a new notebook and pen.

Mirium had come home for lunch. She was not been ill. She ate well. She played with her siblings, and then she laid down for a nap. She never got up. Mother went in to call her up and there was bloody foam at her nose and mouth. The rush to the hospital was of no use. They carried her back home in the family car. Then they called the father at work.

The mother washed her as the mourners prayed for her resurrection. It was so sudden, no one could accept it. The pastor was called. He also prayed. The baby did not rise.

They do not know what killed her. They will never know.

On behalf of the International Union of Mothers,


The Mother’s Union Objects!

First with God we lodge our protest. The God we trust and serve, and at whom we shake an angry fist. If the price of our love, our freedom, our glory is the lives of our children, the price is too high!

Tonight I would sell you my free will for one little girl.

We lodge our protest with you, Mister President, Madame Prime Minister, leaders, potentates and petty despots! How dare you spend a dime on destruction, on diversion, on delusions when the basic needs of our children remain unmet? How dare you congratulate yourself for the tenth of the penny that you send to the poor?

You know as well as we do that it is not a matter of scarcity, it is a matter of priority. There is enough for every child on this planet to eat. Enough for every child to have health care.

We are forced by integrity to protest our own choices, the extra car, dress, latte. We know we could not drink that latte in front of a homeless four year old – but we push the thought away.

Our lost children – yes, OUR lost babies, the Miriums, are not a statistic, not a rate, acceptable or unacceptable. Look at your children, your grandchildren, tonight as they sleep and tell me which one you would trade to save Mirium.

The shovel full of dirt hit the cardboard casket with a thump, and skid and a rattle. And then the mother fell, screams choking in her throat.

An adorable 18 month old child named Jeremy, whose family we know from church, was laid in the cold Minnesota ground this week. Like Mirium, he died in his sleep. An autopsy could not give a "reason", but even if it could, it would not comfort. The softest of words cut like a knife, so all we can do is weep with the family. His two pre-school aged brothers are old enough to feel the loss, but who among us could ever say they understand it. The International Union of Mothers is weeping here, too!!
As I read this, I feel so very sad for this family, and for you, and for all the world's dying children. Heaven has more angels, but the earthly loss is still so great.

I am sorry.

As the mother of a seven-year-old first grade girl, this post hit me particularly hard. Yet I felt I must comment--if only to stand in community with you and the other members of the International Union of Mothers.

In the Light,

My heart is broken for this family. I sit here with my five children and cannot imagine what it would be like to have questions unanswered. Who must God be to these people? Truly everything. To trust him when there is no answer would make him very real. Is their faith stronger because of it? It's not often that we here have even the smallest of things taken away. But I imagine that loss there is a daily occurance and has been experienced by all to some degree. We have so much and give so little. I am with you in Spirit and praying for your effectiveness and safe return.

Peggy, I'm so sorry.

No good-bye and no explanation, just vanishing in that quiet minute alone.

Bloody foam at the nose means her vital organs shut down. It's something you see in SIDS deaths. There was probably an unidentified congenital disorder of one of her vital organs, something that possibly could have been identified with more doctors, it's hard to say.

Two days is too short to mourn a child. It takes a lifetime.
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