I have talked a lot about the inconsistency in emotions that I experience at the AIDS center. The sadness that fills my heart when a new patient is admitted and is in the deepest stages of illness is something I still have not learned to completely deal with. The struggle to understand death consumes me every time a patient passes away and those feelings are magnified when that patient is a child. But the joy that I find through working with my patients is unparalleled. Each and every time I help a patient pack up whatever small tokens of home they have brought to the Centre with them and give them a hug as they are discharged home my job seems worth all the sadness and tears.
Delisile was admitted to the Respite Centre just after I arrived in South Africa. From the first moment I met her I recognized that her heart not only filled her tiny body, but exploded from it; consuming all who came into contact with her. She has a magnetism that draws everyone to her. The first time I saw Deli, a 32 year old woman whose illness stole her capacity to function, pulled her away from her family and job and ripped weight off her body I thought she was a frail 13 year old. Since those early January days, I have seen a miraculous transformation.
Deli moved from depending on everyone for all of life’s basic necessities (feeding, bathing, transportation) into someone whose brilliant story was featured in Oprah’s magazine. She can eat food without falling ill and has thus regained weight and her mobility. She has been discharged from eight months in the confines of a metal hospital bed to the loving arms of her daughters and family. She has become a survivor and my best friend here.
For selfish reasons there is a teeny tiny part of me that misses seeing her vibrant smile and receiving her warm hug every morning, but knowing that she is at home, functioning as a healthy woman and mother overrides the absence of her in my daily life.
Three weeks ago Mary-Kate and I were invited to her house to spend the day with her and her family. As we got out of our car and approached her home we were greeted with open arms and love by her entire extended family, neighbours and friends. Inside we were presented with a plate overflowing with chicken, rice, sweet potatoes, salad and potato salad-a beautiful token of their appreciation. Although the food was beyond outstanding I couldn’t help feeling slightly self-conscious as we sat eating while everyone else empty handed watched us. Part of living here is recognizing that others give from what they have – Deli’s family had food and prepared a feast for us because they could. I struggle with accepting a meal knowing that I have ready access to an abundance of food and her family’s food consumption is limited. A complex feeling that will always leave me unsettled.
The day was nothing short of beautiful. People from all over kept coming to her house to greet us, thanking us for helping her to get well which is a true testament to the strong woman and integral part of the community that Deli is. Her daughters and other various young children preformed dance after dance for us and even sang the whole Shania Twain CD. I couldn’t help but choke back tears as her two beautiful daughters appeared from around the corner in dresses my Nana had made and sent over here with my family. Although they are beautiful and I would have loved to keep them for myself I gave them to Deli when she was discharged to bring home as a gift for her daughters. I realized that my already overflowing closet was not where the dresses would be the most appreciated and seeing the girls sashaying through the house, big smiles on their face reaffirmed that decision. They send many thanks to you Nana!
The day concluded with many pictures of everyone all together, big huge hugs and a promise to see each other again. With my days in South Africa coming to an end saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things, but knowing that she is healthy, happy and at home where she belongs puts a smile on my face.
Friends come from an assortment of places, with their ages- races- and significance in our lives varying. Deli has taught me that love between friends, true inner strength and determination have no regulated maximum, but rather are the most infectious ailment one could be lucky enough to confront
Deli a few months ago