I was lying in bed late at night, with one of the kids in my care sleeping next to me, as his crib and the extra child’s mattress in my room had two kids on IV and oxygen sleeping in them. I had just come back from preparing a little girl for burial, and wanted to try to sleep for a couple hours. It’s not often that I find myself getting emotional about sick or dying kids anymore, but this night was overwhelmingly tough. I found myself closing my eyes trying to hold back the tears, praying that these kids’ suffering would just end. I felt small hands grab onto my neck and shoulders as a child pulled his body closer to mine. He put his hands on my cheeks and touched his nose to mine, holding himself there until we dozed off. This is one of many memories that I have of an amazing little boy named Darlens.
Included somewhere in the estimated 300,000 deaths resulting from the earthquake in Haiti were both parents of a 3 year old boy who suffered from severe malnutrition and neglect. There is little doubt in my mind that this tiny boy would have died if the earthquake had not taken his parents’ lives that day. I imagine they were not different from many other Haitian parents, both working from sunrise to sunset to earn enough for yesterday’s bowl of rice. Darlens came to RHFH a couple weeks after the earthquake. At 3 years old and 10.5 lbs, his ribs, loose skin and sunken eyes were a shocking sight. With one look at him, most people familiar with malnutrition would have labeled him as too far gone. Luckily, God doesn’t label as we do. His legs were malformed and uneven; likely from being left all day to lie in the shade at home. He could barely be propped sitting up leaning on his pointy elbows long enough to take an admittance photo. He captured my heart immediately. If this kid was going to die, he would not die alone and not without a fight. By making it this far he had already proven that he was a fighter.
In the first months at RHFH Darlens was slow to progress, and his stomach couldn’t handle anything. Spending his days in the office with Lori, Licia, Caroline and I, Darlens quickly became part of the RHFH family. Having him with me at night allowed me to wake up hourly to sneak calories into his feeding tube. He would wake up, see the milk going into his tube and make himself throw up. Getting this child to gain weight was the most trying and frustrating task that I had ever experienced. Every effort he spent rejecting food made me wonder what he might have gone through to be so broken, so resistant to being cared for. Darlens spent a good half of his time with me on and off of a feeding tube. I remember blogging at one point, about his control issues with food- the child would literally hold a piece of food in his mouth for hours and hours until he would fall asleep with it and drool it out. The advice, prayer, love and encouragement I received that week was overwhelming. I had to lean on God for patience so much through Darlens and quickly learned how little control I had over the situation. All I could do was keep loving him, and giving him my time and best efforts and pray for him.
There was no sudden turning point, as there seems to be with many kids suffering from malnutrition. Often a child will struggle for weeks or months and then seemingly turn a corner and all the sudden thrive in weight gain, and development. Darlens did not fit this mold. He fought hard to make up for the past 3 years. He would gain a pound, and then have a bout of diarrhea and lose two the next week. I asked a physical therapist from the Air Force to look at him and teach me things I could do to improve his strength. Every day I would make him work for an hour to straighten and strengthen his legs. He screamed through this whole process for the entire hour. He wanted to be held 24/7 but would reject my attention when I put him down or made him eat or stand. I have never worked so hard on anything in my life than I did on getting Darlens to thrive. After six months caring for Darlens, I began doing everything I could to prepare him to join the RC. At this point Darlens was up to about 18 pounds. He would spend days in the NICU tent with the other critical kids and slowly became more adjusted to life with the nannies. They loved him. Licia knew how much Darlens benefitted from intensive care and hired one of the amazing staff to work one-on-one with Darlens during the day when I went back to school. Sonite worked with Darlens for months and by my next trip a couple months later, he was almost standing on his own. To see Sonite’s love for Darlens and her working so intently on helping him progress was beautiful. He was growing, slow but sure, and so happy.
The thing about kids like Darlens is that they don’t just receive food and recover to go home happily to a family. Some kids never seem to catch a break, or turn that corner. Their lives are a roller coaster of sickness and health. We all invested so much into his life and loved him so deeply that every little accomplishment he had became a celebration. In the same way, every struggle he faced was heart-breaking for everyone who loved him so much. This emotional investment is not a luxury that is often practical in a setting like the Rescue Center because of the frequency of kids coming in and out. Kids die frequently, and miracles happen daily. In November of last year, Darlens was one of many patients to be treated at RHFH for Cholera. Caroline, Lori, and Licia all were busy 24/7 keeping him alive on IV and oxygen. This time was tough on everyone involved, but once again we were forced to pray that God’s will be done. That time, that meant Darlens would make it.
I loved Darlens like he was my own. I loved the way he ignored me the most when he wanted me to make him laugh, the way he loved cuddling with the infants that I cared for, the way he screamed at me from across the room, the way he would fall asleep holding his bottle so tight but wouldn’t drink a single drop without spitting it out. I loved the way he bonded with Sonite who cared for him after I left and the way he bonded with the other kids in the NICU tent and would point to a child if they were crying or throwing up or had a dirty diaper, or hold their bottle to their mouths. I loved the way he fell in love with Licia’s youngest, Ameyah, and the way he would call her from across the yard. I will never forget his quirks and amazing spirit. Everyone who had met him on a trip, his sponsors and those who cared for him fell in love with his sweet personality and the way he would smile with his eyes. Darlens was SO loved.
When I received news that Darlens was not doing well, I had a gut feeling that he would not make it this time. Licia, Lori, and the boys’ first teacher, Keverly, loved Darlens in the last days of his life and I am positive that he knew how loved he was. It will never make sense to us on earth why Darlens died so young. Why did he go through so much, making it long enough to get to Real Hope, and then survive a near-death experience with Cholera just to die a year later? These questions can either haunt us, or they can bring us closer to God in forcing us to trust His will for his and our lives. We can either hold onto the frustration that our unjust world brings us, or look ahead to a day when there will be no more suffering.
I am choosing to honor Darlens’ life by trusting that God’s plan for Darlens was enough. I am focusing on the amazing memories and impact Darlens left rather than finding fault in the way he suffered. I believe that when God allows suffering to happen, we are challenged to rethink the things that the world has taught us. Most of us function under a misconception that a long, healthy life is the ideal life, and that innocent suffering is not acceptable. Through Darlens’ death, I am reminded that health and longevity are not necessary for a life of love, which is what God calls us to… right? God’s ways are incomprehensible to us, but there is peace in knowing that Darlens is God’s son. Jesus died an innocent death, and his life was not in vain. Darlens’ suffering and death does not take away from the fact that through him, trust in the Lord and the love of God was exemplified. His life was in every way glorifying to our God. Every kid in the Rescue Center has a unique story to be told. While I am intensely grieving the loss of Darlens because of how much I invested in his story, I am reminded of God’s deep love for each and every one of us. It’s hard for me to imagine the complexity of a God who feels the way I do about Darlens for every single person in the world… a God who invests so deeply in our lives and wants so much for us to live a life of love, to know Him and to thrive through Him. For reasons only God can fathom, this was Darlens’ time to go. He will suffer no more, and his memories and story will hopefully encourage us to act more aggressively in facing the unjust ways of the world with the only successful solution: trust and faith in our amazing God.
In Memory of Darlens: