Last week I saw a picture of mourners viewing the open coffin of one of the miners killed after a demonstration in South Africa. The coffin triggered a memory of the tragic death of one of our Youth Alivers more than forty years ago. I’ve only seen that type of coffin in the picture in South Africa — completely closed except a square window opened to reveal the face of the deceased resting down in the satin quilting.
It brought back a memory of a sweet Christian young man, who had been chosen to be one of four young people to travel to the USA to represent the youth ministry. Not only was Jerome a gifted singer, but Al, my husband, taught him to drive. This was very unusual for a young black man under Apartheid! The team practiced together for many months, and then we sent the four guys off to Swaziland as a “dress rehearsal,” where they sang and danced and shared their testimonies. People loved them.
But Jerome had become very thin during this time. In fact Al had taken him to Baragwanath hospital for a check up. But in the rigid system of the government hospital, they listened a few minutes to his symptoms and sent him to a gastroenterologist. So the team took off with great anticipation for Swaziland a few weeks later, and there Jerome died from a hemmoragic bleeding caused by advanced TB.
Al and my son Nathan drove to Swaziland to bring back a coffin bearing Jerome’s body in the back of our Kombi. He spent the night in our garage (How did we get away with that?) and then Al took him out to his mother in Soweto. As the body rested in his mother’s home, hundreds of friends and family came to console her and to look into Jerome’s face through that little window in the coffin.
In less than two weeks I’ll be going back to South Africa — to Johannesburg, to Soweto, to visit Youth Alive and see many old friends. And to have many memories, joyful and sad, re-awakened . Probably about things I haven’t thought about for many years — just like that coffin reminded me of Jerome. I look forward to seeing him again– in that wonderful place where we’ll never forget anyone.