For her, grieving was a much longer process. Due to her relationship to the deceased, she first had to cut her hair. Later on, she will leave with her family and go out bush. The ceremony, including what is often called "sorry business", will begin. It could take a number of days or weeks to complete. Part of the process involves her being painted white, waiting for relatives to be informed and arrive, the smoking out of the house of this person, the giving away of all possessions given to her by this person, including the photographs of this person they have in their possession and any reminders or keepsakes they have of this person are given away.
As she fought back tears she commented, "I must give away all memory of this person."
All this reminded me about the difficult emotional times we went through as a family in the first six months of our time in Alice Springs.
We arrived in Alice Springs in 2008. After taking our "leap of faith" to move from one state to another, we sold all our baby "stuff". We were having no luck conceiving a third child, so we thought, "two Modlin boys in this world is enough." The very week after we sold this "stuff" we found out we were expecting our third child. Moreover my wife's father lived 1000 kilometres away and was battling lung cancer.
Five months later, my wife and second son flew back from Alice Springs for two weeks to spend time with her father. This would be the last time she would see him. Two months later he passed away (In our four years in Alice Springs we have had plenty of times to work through the grieving process. In our first 18 months in Alice Springs, my wife's father, auntie, grandfather and my auntie passed away. We were unable to attend any of the funerals). My wife was unable to go the funeral as she was two weeks away from giving birth and medical advice recommended she not go.
Was there an ancient tradition or grieving process we could draw upon to help my wife mourn the loss of her father? How do I help my sons grieve the loss of their grandfather? When does our grieving process begin and end? Does it end? Should it end?
My eldest son took it very hard and cried long and hard for hours. He eventually found his favourite photo of his grandfather and grandmother and posted it above his bed. My wife struggled through the last month of the birth (the baby was induced ten agonizing days after the due date). She contemplated later and suggested this was part of her battle with grief and saying goodbye to her father. The more she wanted "the baby out of her", the more she thought about her father and her loss.
One year later, we sat together as a family- just me, my wife and three sons. We darkened a room, set out a candle, lit the candle in memory of my wife's father, prayed and cried uncontrollably for ten minutes. Arm in arm. I cradled and held my sons and my wife tight.
We grieved. We remembered. We moved on.
Jesus wept over the loss of a friend (John 11: 17-37 NIV). I also love the impact the "teardrop" from heaven in The Passion of the Christ has on me and its part in the narrative- and subsequent discussions. Whatever the grieving process is, or should or could be, I know one thing - God is there in the midst. He is grieving with us, knowing our thoughts and sharing our pain.
I was privileged to have a very small glimpse or insight into the world of this indigenous woman. I was privileged, along with a number of other people, to pray with her and for her.
As we "do life" with others, whether in the trivial, the unspectacular, the ordinary, the mundane, meaningless parts of life or in the real moments, including death, may God grant us the wisdom to be who He wants us to be in the homes and communities He brings us to or we are a part of.
Russell Modlin teaches Physical Education, Health and English at an indigenous boarding school in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. He is married to Belinda and they have three children.