To Everything there is a Season
About three weeks ago we heard of an Akha woman in a village near our home who was very ill and had not eaten in seven days. We went to her home to pray for her and were shocked at what we found. We had never seen anything like it before, except in a National Geographic or war documentary. She was very small and very cold. We prayed for her, encouraged the family to keep trying to get any kind of sustenance into her body and left. It was most probably the very end effects of AIDS. On Monday afternoon she died. One of her sons came to our village and communicated that his mother had died and he wanted me to come to his house... immediately. There followed such a sequence of events as I have never seen. Most of them are flashes of memories, moments that I seem to remember apart from the hours we have spent with the family since. I arrived in the home to find a casket and a body. It became obvious that they thought I knew how to conduct a preparation for burial. I could only pray and be a presence as mourners came to mourn and villagers came to see what had happened.
In America, hospitals and funeral homes have so separated us from death that it has become surreal. In an Akha village death is part of life, and however difficult it might be it must be dealt with by the hands of those who love the deceased.
Most of the next 48 hours were spent sitting beside the closed casket in the home of the family whose mother had died. Many times conversation was disturbingly light, or villagers would laugh at crying family members. There are so many coping mechanisms and cultural differences that we often felt like we were just in the way. However, we have begun to realize that because the Akha have such a great fear of death, they really just wanted us there to show them we were not afraid. And the truth is we weren't. As it is written, Where, o death, is your sting? This woman had given her life to Christ, and has entered into a life where pain no longer plays a part.
For those of us who remain, however, there is great loss. I have not yet begun to feel the pains that life throws in our way, but I have just begun to see the peace that comes when our final pain has been suffered.
Yesterday many Akha from many villages gathered and we walked to the top of a mountain for the burial service. Whether there were tears or jokes being made, everyone suffered except the guest of honor, for she was free.