Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Death and Dishonor

Flag Cross Quran

God,

All life is precious, all that exists. Even in death you care for their life.

But those that never existed? What then if they did?

Last week sixteen policemen were killed in a shootout with terrorists. Foreign news agencies put the death toll much higher, relying on unnamed security sources.

Egypt reacted angrily, and demanded the names of the dead be listed. So far it has not been done, but they stand by their reporting.

God, honor the dead and their sacrifices, no matter the number.

How awful if some are neglected. How awful if others invented.

The confusion helps no one, God, so settle the score.

Trust is essential commodity.

Unnamed sources are ok in journalism, if multiple and verifiable. But they are not best, and invite questioning.

Government statements are ok in journalism, if transparency is established. Official and best, they invite questions if lacking.

Egypt has released the names of the dead, and promised access to records. Grieving families are hard to silence.

Let the sources give the rest, God, or be silent.

If the sources are up to sabotage, make wise the agencies and empower the government to remove them.

If the agencies are up to sabotage, make wise the industry and expose them.

If the government sabotages its own dead, make wise the people.

These are dirty games, God. Bring forth the truth.

Give Egypt success against those who wish to harm her. Too many have died already.

Let not dishonor surround them. Trust, like life, is precious.

Amen.

Categories
Culture

Dealing with Death at a Distance – 5 Tips for Saying Goodbye

Death at a Distance

The expat life has many benefits, but one of the hardest challenges is being far from family.  This can be felt the most when you hear of someone who is sick, receives a bad medical prognosis, or is in an accident.  Living in a foreign country is hard when a loved one is dying.

What can you do if you can’t travel home as they near the end of their life? Sometimes job, school commitments, or extenuating circumstances prevents travel.  This was our situation last Spring when my mother-in-law succumbed to cancer.  Fortunately, my husband made it home the day before she died, but her health declined too quickly for all of us to travel in time.  My four children and I had to say our good-byes from afar.

1)      Be creative in saying “I love you” and other significant emotional statements.  When I heard my mother-in-law entered hospice care, I knew her time was short. I videoed each of my children telling their grandmother the things they appreciated about her and doing with her. Then I did the same, and was in tears the whole time. Over Skype, we played them for her.  Whatever she heard in her deteriorating shape, it was healthy and healing for us.

2)      Communicate honestly and openly with your children about what is happening.  Sometimes we have the idea that we must “be strong” for our children, our spouse, or others around us.  Actually, this is unhelpful in grief as emotions are better verbalized.  I sat down with my children and we talked candidly that their grandmother would die very soon and we would not see her alive again.  I cried as I said this, and all four kids followed suit.  We talked about what was happening.  We said what made us sad.  We said what we wished could be different.  And we hugged and we cried.  Together.

3)      Make special time to grieve.  That night I received the message that my mother-in-law passed away.  In the morning, I held the kids home from school so we could remember her, cry when we wanted to, and laugh when we could.  We did some favorite activities from times together, like play-doh and blowing bubbles.  We knew that we would be grieving for a while, but though the day was hard, it was memorable and set us on the path toward healing.

4)      Travel to attend the funeral or memorial service.  Though we made a good beginning in Egypt, I still felt like her death would not sink in until we traveled to New Jersey.  We figured out missing school work and made preparations, but time and money are resources well spent on grieving together with family.  The memorial service or funeral brings even more friends together, allowing memories to be shared and sorrow expressed.

5)      Give your kids a picture or special memento of the one who died as a physical reminder.  Even though it hurts to see it at times, triggering emotions for all the things we will miss about her, it is still better to remember.  That which is tangible connects best with our senses and emotions.

To be honest, I don’t want to go through this again.  I don’t want to have to say good-bye from afar.  But I have many more loved ones that may die or go through serious illnesses when I am living overseas.  Following these steps has helped our whole family grieve well, even at great distance. I hope they will also be helpful for you.

Click here to read the original post, as Julie tells the full story of how she processed grief from afar. This summary reflection was requested by our organization, IDEAS, to help expats around the world dealing with similar situations.

Categories
Family

A Long Good-Bye, From Far Away

Tayta and Taxi

Today, September 12, would have been my mother-in-law’s 67th birthday.

Tayta, as our children call her, passed away six months ago. She fought courageously through two bouts of cancer, and the first time she triumphed. The second time, she succumbed. We remember her well, but the relationship will never be the same.

Complicating things completely is that we live in Egypt, an ocean away, where she visited us consistently. Jayson, my husband, got word she wasn’t doing well, and should come home immediately, just in case.

One day later, Tayta breathed her last. She was surrounded by her children and husband, and died peacefully.

But the children and I were not there. Immediate preparations are difficult for a large family, and we had the idea that we would follow Jayson a bit later. There was no guarantee she would die.

With only a few hours before Jayson had to travel, we tried to gently explain to the kids that Tayta was not doing well and it was important for Daddy to go be with her. And as she might die soon, all of us will go to see her as soon as we can.

The kids were saddened by this news, yet not totally surprised. Through Skype a few days earlier they saw that Tayta was not feeling well, even though she still had her same spirit and sense of humor.

But with Jayson in the air, the message came that Tayta entered hospice care. My prayer was that the boys would make it in time to see their mom, but it also hit me that we likely would not. And almost as bad, I had to tell the kids.

Funny the things you don’t think about, and living abroad perhaps it should have been obvious. But I never expected I’d lose a loved one and not be there, nor that my husband and I would not be together.

Years ago, Jayson and I were privileged to receive training in how to handle grief. One of the principles is to communicate clearly with your kids about what is happening, without trying to be strong for them. To let them see how this loss affects you, and learn appropriately.

Another principle is the importance of saying good-bye and communicating important statements, if possible, while the person is still alive.

I wasn’t sure how much time we had, so before school I recorded each of them saying, “I love you, Tayta,” recalling different memories and things they appreciated. It was somewhat easy for them, as they didn’t know the full reality, and now was not the time to tell them.

But privately, I blubbered through my whole recording, knowing that I wasn’t going to see her alive again.

After school, it was time to talk honestly. It was a hard conversation. They loved her very much, and it was a shock to hear she would die before they saw her. We cried together a long time.

Meanwhile, Jayson was grieving in New Jersey. He had spent most of his day with his father and brothers by his mom’s bedside, holding her hand, sometimes talking to her, and not seeing much response.

It was hard to grieve with him and for him from so far away.

Skyping later, we gave the kids the option of seeing a very sickly Tayta on screen as we played their videos in front of her near-comatose body. They chose not to, at first. I did, and it was hard to look. She was no longer who I remembered, and she didn’t respond as I talked.

But perhaps she heard; hospice workers say that it is often the last sense to go.

Afterwards the kids came back into the room one by one, and bravely looked at Tayta and said their good-byes. They cried with Sidu, as we call my father-in-law.

Our oldest daughter recited Psalm 23, and we also laughed and smiled at some good memories. It was a hard time, but a good time.

Tayta died later that evening, and the kids stayed home from school. We had a full day to cry when we wanted to, laugh when we could, and do some things that Tayta would do with them … like Play-doh and bubbles. It was a hard day, but a good day.

We Skyped with Jayson a few hours later, and I saw the empty living room where we had so many memories, but also where her hospice bed had held her. Just like that it was gone, as was Tayta.

It hit me: The loss of a special mother-in-law. The loss of a grandmother to my kids. The loss of a mother to my husband. The loss of a wife to my father-in-law, who now has his whole life turned upside down. And the loss of a friend, as her many close relationships reached out through Facebook and email.

If I was there, I could have more easily shared in this grief, at least some of it. But as we made plans to travel back for the memorial service, I grieved also that we must continue to grieve apart, and from afar.

The tears still come sometimes. They did as I wrote this and remembered the pain of saying good-bye. They will flow again when we return to the states for a visit, and she isn’t there to read books to the kids or laugh at her sons’ playful arguments at the game table.

But sadness isn’t the only emotion that fills me when I think of Tayta. There are good memories every time we discuss her with the kids. They have her dolls; we have her pictures. Today we made apple pie, her favorite dessert.

We miss her a lot, but we said good-bye well. It was hard, but it was good.

Tayta and Apple Pie

Categories
Culture Religion

The Uneasy Life of a Middle East Skeleton

Max the Skeleton and Family

Meet Max. In skeleton-years he is at least 55.

Max came to our home about three years ago, and I must confess we have not treated him very well. At the time of his arrival our young children had Egyptian friends playing over the house, and we are unsure if there was any unspoken trauma from a dead man being hauled through the front door.

The friends have continued to come, so no great damage done. But uncertain comments from parents convinced us to keep him in the storage room thereafter.

Accessible, but out of the way. Part of the house, but not part of life. I suppose that’s fitting—being dead and all—but it still seems cruel.

In the Middle East it is often observed that some parents hide away children with mental or physical disabilities. This pattern is changing, but a sense of shame has condemned many to at-home isolation.

Have we treated Max similarly?

The cultural pattern for death is somewhat similar. Muslim tradition demands a body be buried almost immediately. Unlike the West where a mortician will preserve for final goodbyes at a later-scheduled funeral, the shock of death is quickly muted. So also is grief, at least for half of society. Women may wail and cry out in pain. Men are expected to resign themselves to the will of God, and move on.

So for those who knew, it must have been very strange that we have dead bones in our closet.

Or, had. We recently moved Max to a suitable institution, finding for him a welcoming home. But we signed no paperwork, neither to receive him nor pass him on.

Here also we may resemble Middle East culture. Children in difficult situations may be taken in by relatives or others, but there is no formal adoption. Islam forbids the transfer of family heritage, lest ancient lineages become corrupted.

But we should pause here and say a word about Max. Consistent with all the above-mentioned taboos, we have so far ignored him and spoken only about ourselves and the expectations that press upon the region.

Unfortunately, we cannot say much.

Max likely belonged to a medical school in Cairo at least as far back as 1962. The sister of an Egyptian friend graduated from the university, did her internship, and somehow came in possession of what must have been a favored learning tool.

In time, much like in our story but considerably worse for him, Max wound up in a trunk in her parent’s basement. Several years later our friend found him, and passed him on to her friend taking a dental exam. Max doesn’t have too many teeth, but I suppose his jaw was sufficient.

This was around the same time we visited our friend. It is hard to recall the conversation, but one of our daughters must have expressed an interest in science. Perhaps we even asked about a skeleton, if the plastic versions were available in Egypt.

Little did we know our friend had the real thing. After succeeding in the dental exam, our friend’s friend drove Max to our home, where he has resided since.

 

Until now. We have changed apartments, and in the purge we had to make a decision about Max. I would love for him to rest next to one of our children’s beds, or even dwell with us in the family room. We value learning – we have maps on our walls, we have books on our shelves.

But we also have friends who visit. I recently brought back from America a favored wall hanging of a ‘Wise Old Owl who lived in an oak,’ that was in my room since childhood. We displayed it prominently, until Egyptian friends reminded us that an owl is an ill omen in Arab culture. So much for wisdom.

The owl poem continues: ‘The more he saw, the less he spoke. The less he spoke, the more he heard. Why can’t we all be like that bird?’

Applying the poem with its cultural implications suggested we should at least move the owl to the privacy of our bedroom. And perhaps it suggested also the fate of Max.

Until fate intervened. In lamenting Max on Facebook during our moving process, friends in the administration of a local international school mentioned they had long desired a skeleton. Our oldest daughter was joining the student body after doing her elementary years in the Egyptian system, so it seemed a perfect match.

We restore Max to his original educational purpose, but family is still there to help with his transition.

The last question was how to move him. Around the time Max came to our home I purchased a medical IV stand, and the hook in his head hung him in place.

We amusedly considered rolling him down the street in procession with our family, but thought the neighbors already consider us odd enough foreigners.

 

Max in Car

In the end the school came with a car, and we laid Max down on the lowered back seat.

Perhaps it recalled one of no-longer-alive-Max’s first memories.

Despite the lightness of this post, there is a serious point. Christians believe two things about Max: He was made in God’s image, and he will be bodily resurrected.

Different cultures demand different customs concerning the dead. But immediate burial, final viewing, preserving relics, quiet cremation, and funeral pyres are all expressions of the same impulse: Honor.

A principle means of honoring life is right treatment in death. There is something sacred that lingers. It must be remembered.

It may also be employed. God intends us to enjoy our life, but to find this enjoyment in service of others. Death can be an extension: When my mother died, she donated her body to science.

Maybe Max did the same.

In any case, he has a new home. The school may or may not struggle with the same issues we did, but at least Max is now back to his proper place in education.

We don’t know the details, but perhaps Max also knew God’s proper place in life. May we all, before we all become Max.

Emma and Max the Skeleton

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: Death and Cancelation

Flag Cross Quran

God,

Five more policemen were killed today. Several high-profile militants were killed this week. And to avoid adding their number to the roll, Egypt’s churches canceled summer activities for the next three weeks.

The intelligence services are finding material – warning the Christians and raiding the hideouts.

Yet extremist elements are finding recruits – threatening Christians and targeting checkpoints.

God, the cycle must end somewhere. May it be with the least blood.

Criminals must be found, God. But give them justice greater than death. To the degree possible, help raids end in capture.

Peace must be established, God. But give Egypt justice greater than security. To the degree possible, help rights end in responsibility.

Death comes for all, God, when you will it. But in Egypt the past several years, it has come too soon for too many.

In eternity you cancel death. May Egypt live as if you canceled it now.

Amen.  

Categories
Current Events

Friday Prayers for Egypt: More Deaths

Flag Cross Quran

God,

The week opened with numerous protesters and a few policemen dead after clashes on the revolution anniversary. It ended with many soldiers dead following terrorist attacks on their positions in Sinai.

God, be merciful to Egypt. Pretentions are dropping as pro-Brotherhood and pro-state media openly incite against one another. Beyond the lives lost the battle is for stability, perhaps interpreted as justice.

Justice for one side means exposure and conviction of a clandestine group which manipulated its way into power. Justice for the other means exposure and conviction of a cabal which manipulated them out of it.

But for too many of both, justice is interpreted as death.

And stability is the card. If it can be maintained the status quo will reveal the sins of the former. If it can be upended the reversal will reveal the sins of the latter.

All have sinned, God, and fall short of your righteousness. Make known in Egypt your justice.

And in it, God, be merciful to Egypt. Soften the hearts of all. May police work with utmost respect. May activists protest with utmost peace. When either side violates, may this commitment double among the offended.

Because among many, civility is halving. God, honor all that you can of their zeal, but shine your light upon hatred, revenge, and calculating ambition.

Let death be neither means nor goal. Rid its sting, deny its victory. God, be merciful to Egypt, and grant her your stability.

Amen.