As many of you may have heard we lost Ma Victoria to liver cancer a few weeks ago. She has been staying in Kumasi (her hometown a few hours north of here) since September to receive medical treatment. For months we heard good reports about her recovery. And in fact the only official title we heard of her sickness was hepatitis. Her husband Emmanuel Effah went back and forth between staying with her and continuing his duties as a house parent here. Georgina Nanor, the substitute house mom was filling in as mother to the kids and performing the cooking and cleaning duties over the past few months. We all thought that Ma Vic would be returning soon until a few weeks ago.
On February 10th Emmanuel called me aside to tell me that he had gotten a call from the preacher of the church they attended in Kumasi telling him he had to come right away to be with Victoria. It had been over a month since he had had the chance to go see her. He, Fred (the director), and Ma Gladys (head child care manager) all went the next day (Feb 12th) to visit her. Ma Vic’s condition had worsened, so Emmanuel stayed there with her. On Saturday the 13th we had a 24 hour prayer session over her. The doctors had said there was nothing else they could do for her, so it was all in God’s hands. We had two hour prayer slots by houses. On Sunday the 14th, half of the house parents went to go and visit her and pray over her. They came back late that night really unsettled by her condition. She was not even able to wake up enough to recognize their arrival. Sunday morning in Bible class all of the kids wrote her letters of encouragement and love. She never received the letters. Monday morning the 15th she died with Emmanuel holding her hand and praying over her.
They called a meeting of the teachers/staff at 8:00 Monday morning to announce to us. The house mothers immediately started weeping and wailing aloud. In Ghanaian culture grief must be expressed quite publicly. My own tears were silent. We all sat in shock. Not really believing it could be true. They announced to the school children shortly after. The kids were dismissed to go back to class and I was mortified at the thought of them trying to carry on with their lessons as if nothing had happened. Some teachers told the students they would not do any learning that day because the kids were too sad. Thankfully Monday’s I don’t have too many classes, so I was able to use my free periods to just sit with some of the kids who had lived in her home. Ebenezer was crying off and on all day, along with many others from the home. How heartbreaking it is to see children lose their parents for the second time! The other kids respond to those who are crying by telling them, “Sorry, don’t cry ok?” As if the feelings can so easily be dismissed.
I was able to spend a little time talking with a few of the kids from her house over the course of the week. Tommy Drinnen (the American missionary whose home I am staying in while he is staying getting his phd) came to visit and share in the grief of the VOH. He and I along with Fred and his wife Faustina traveled up to Kumasi on the following Saturday to visit Emmanuel and his family. We sat around in mostly silence for several hours at his home. Each time new visitors would come they would walk around the room shaking everyone’s hands. Then after a couple of minutes, those who had already been in the room would get up and walk around and shake the new comer’s hands again. Then they would sit down and ask the purpose of their visit. There was a steady stream of visitors—Emmanuel had been a preacher before coming to work at the VOH 9 years ago, so they knew many people. Linda, the youngest daughter was in South Africa playing for Ghana’s national field hockey team at the time. She just returned this week to the news. I sat and talked with her for a few minutes tonight, and just ached for her as tears streamed down her face. She has not yet been able to go and join her family.
Death rites and funeral customs are quite different here. Funerals usually don’t happen for 5-10 weeks after the death of the individual. There is a one week celebration held after the death when the family all comes together to set the date for the funeral. Funerals are a really big deal. Many people are invited, and much much money is spent. Tv advertisements, posters, etc. are used to promote the event. Families provide programs, a meal, shade tents, a p.a. system, cold water sachets, and take away meals for all in attendance. Some funerals last for several days, and if it is a chief it can be weeks! I learned that most funerals even have people who are paid to weep and wail. Often times these people have never even met the deceased! Many of the old traditions are fading away with education and the influence of western culture. We will all be traveling north to Kumasi in order to attend the funeral on the 27th of March.
I laugh now at the fact that when I came in 2007 & 2008 I thought Ma Victoria was Ma Gladys. And in fact many of us called her Gladys both those trips. I was able to get to know her much better this time. I keep remembering one particular morning when I hand washed her cltohes with her. I had never done a whole load of laundry by hand before. She was amused at my washing, and tried to give me the smalker garmets to wash. She had a lot of spunk, energy, and love for the children in her home. Please pray for all of the children and parents as they grieve for her in the coming weeks and months.