When I first got to Cusco, the school director asked me if I had any experience with little ones. One of their newer students was this little one, Angelina. 2 years old, virtually no head control, hypotonic, minimal voluntary movements, with a diagnosis of CP, and likely other neurological involvement. She was significantly visually impaired, with unclear auditory capacity as well. I didn't have access to any medical record for her but I loved her and got to work with her only once or twice.
Angelina passed away on Tuesday night. We had an anniversary celebration only hours before where I took these pictures. These beautiful images are of a little girl growing up in a tough culture, not friendly to the needs of children with disabilities of any kind. I had recognized my limited resources as a PT quickly, as Angelina could have benefited from durable medical equipment and frequent therapy from all disciplines. At the school, I was looking forward to working with her, her potential, her smile, the joy she brought to her family. These images caught that joy, and her mom that night asked me to get her copies of these pictures. Neither of us at the time knew I would be bringing them to Angelina's memorial.
Last night when the other volunteers and I arrived in the neighborhood where the memorial was, we were struck by the number of funeral homes, flower shops, churches, and a general sense of heaviness in the air. We were gently warned that this memorial was already in full emotional swing, complete with wailing and shameless display of emotion. I was glad for it. The death of a child is something there are no polite ways around. Its horrible. I walked in the home, these precious pictures in my hand, and when it was my turn to pay my respects to her mother, her precious abuela (grandmother) spotted the pictures and broke down, thanking me for them and taking them over to Angelina's father, currently separated from her mother. What happened next I was totally unprepared for and I'm sure it will be a lasting memory with me forever. Her father, in mid cry, took them and began to cry even harder, "Mi crispita, mi corazon, mi princesa" he wailed. "My curly haired girl, my heart, my princess". I couldn't take my eyes off of him, his grief, his pain, his despair hit me to my heart.
I had been told that an appropriate condolence was "Pesarme" meaning "Let me take your heaviness", and I felt it. If only I could have known how to say "Let Jesus take your heaviness, your sorrow, your burden" He came for this reason, he became human for this reason, to feel our grief, to be tempted as we are, to know our pain. And then took all suffering, sin and heaviness upon himself and defeated death itself on the cross. Laying down his life, and being glorified by the Father to have victory in LIFE. Life is always something to be valued. Always. The death of this precious curly haired angel reaffirmed this truth in me as I shared in the pain of this family.
With my eyes fixed on this aching father, I saw him take my pictures and kiss them, wipe his tears with them. These images of a child taken too soon, in a culture not equipped for children with special needs, and in a family broken by the pain and heaviness of grief. "Let me take your heaviness" isn't enough. I can't, I couldn't. I am limited by the language, the culture, not to mention my humanity. The only answer I see is looking to Christ, the only thing that makes sense in a time like this, to the only One who can and will and has taken our heaviness.
"Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest. For I came to bring good news to the poor, bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners. Keep your eyes fixed on me, the way, the truth, and the life."
And life is always something to be valued.