Yesterday, I awoke to the most saddening sound. Through my bedroom window, I heard a girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, sobbing. She wasn’t just crying; it was obvious that she was filled with sorrow of the worst kind.
I immediately jumped out of bed and ran to the balcony to see if this girl was in need of help. We know a few of the young girls that live in our 8-unit complex, so I was filled with equal parts worry and dread in thinking about which girl it was and the cause of her sadness.
I leaned over and saw no one outside. I quickly realized that she was in the unit that is one beneath and one over from ours. It was complete silence but for her whimpers. I knew in that instant, deep in my heart, that someone dear to her, likely one of her parents, had passed way. But I didn’t want to believe it.
We found out later that morning that my suspicion was correct; her mother had passed away in the early morning hours. She was the organizer of our apartment building, a lovely woman with a doting husband and bright daughter on whom everyone counted to gracefully manage the trivialities of our common living space (garbage disposal, security, grounds-keeping, etc). My heart sank.
Over the course of the day, relatives of the family came to pay their respects. It is Zambian custom – in fact, one that is shared by many cultures – to stay with the family during their period of mourning. A large tent was erected in the grass in front of our building to accommodate them. The women set up several charcoal stoves in the back and have been cooking up seemingly endless stream of food for the visitors.
From time to time, I hear long wails of grief coming from newly arrived relatives. In Zambia, this is a loud and cathartic way to share in the family’s sorrow. It is also a reminder to me, as I go about my day, to let the gravity of this moment sink in.