On Monday morning, May 21st, Mama Mdemu traveled down to the shamba near Mombo to work there and see how the crops were doing. While there, she received a phone call letting her know that her youngest child had died very suddenly in Dodoma. Her daughter, Rehema was 33 years old and four months pregnant. She had prepared breakfast for her three year old son and her niece who attends college there. While dressing to go to her office, she dropped to the floor. The cause of death at this point is still unknown and may never be known.
Mama Mdemu and her daughter spoke to each other almost daily. The night before her death,they talked about Rehema going back to school for her Master’s degree after the new baby got a bit older. How quickly our lives can change. In the blink of an eye, everything is different. Our hearts are broken for Mama Mdemu and her family. We cannot imagine the loss of a child.
The change in atmosphere at the home was palpable. Everyone continued their job, but voices were hushed and the mood was somber. The grief was felt and shared.
In the afternoon, Tom drove Mama Mrishu, two of the students, and I to Mama Mdemu’s house in Lushoto. Many cars were parked along the road near her house, several from the diocese. Folding chairs were set up in a small grove of trees inside the gate. These were occupied by many men. A woman escorted us to the house. We left our shoes outside with so many other pairs and went inside.
The furniture of Mama Mdemu’s living room were moved along the walls of the room. On the floor on the far side of the room, two mattresses were on the floor. The sofas and chairs were filled with women, some young, but mostly older. They were dressed in kangas and their heads were covered. Mama Mdemu sat on one of the mattresses with several women consoling her. It was a moving scene of love and compassion.
We shook hands with each of the women around the room as we worked our way to Mama Mdemu. When we reached her, people moved aside so we could kneel by next to her and offer our condolences. I was then directed to a seat in the room and Tom was ushered outside with the men.
In the living room, the number of women varied from 15 to 26. Occasionally, someone began to sing and the others joined in. It was peaceful and comforting to hear these beautiful women sing the hymns they all know by heart, melody and harmony blending together. When some women left, I went and sat with Mama, holding her hand as we spoke quietly. She asked if I had talked to our daughter Maureen recently. I explained that we Skype with her every Sunday night, but because of her job and the time difference we cannot speak daily.
On Tuesday evening, we traveled to Mama Mdemu’s home again, this time with more of the students and workers at the home. The scene there was about the same. The students from the home each paid their respects to Mama and then sang some hymns.
Outside, several women were preparing food to feed the guests. Again, the men were gathered outside and the women inside. This watch would be kept until the time of the burial.
Rehema’s body would be transported from Dodoma, but the burial was to be north of Moshi, not in Lushoto. Transportation was arranged for Mama Mdemu and her family by the diocese.
The amazing thing was that when I said “pole sana” (I am so sorry) to many of the women there, the response of several of them was, “All we can say is Thank God”. What a faith-full response to give in such a time of tragedy.
Please keep Mama Mdemu and her family in your prayers.