My amazing mother-in-law, Doris Ann Musser, is back again with a heart-wrenching, thought-provoking post. She and my equally amazing father-in-law, Harvey Musser, served as missionaries in Haiti in the early 1980s, directing a hospital in Leogane. The photos are from their years at the hospital in Haiti, although they are not specifically of Joe and Joe’s Mother.
Eighteen-year-old Joe lived in the high mountains of Haiti. where no school was available. Being anxious to learn, he found part time work at the mission hospital, Hospital St. Croix, in Leogane. The cook invited him to live with her.
He was delighted with this opportunity.
One fateful day, Joe was playing and horsing around with some buddies. A friend threw his school book on top of a hospital building. Joe started the climb to retrieve his book, lost his footing, and crashed to the concrete. A compound leg fracture and broken neck. Paralyzed. He was taken to the hospital in Port-au-Prince. The physicians said nothing could be done. No rehab programs available. In a few weeks, Joe returned with deep bed sores to his final home in the corner of the men’s ward, bed eight.
Visiting American physicians suggested comfort measures. Nurses said they didn’t have time. Bed sores eventually extended from near the shoulder all the way down his back. His mother assisted with all treatments. The only times he cried were during dressing changes. Tearfully, he begged, “Just leave me alone. Please leave me alone.” Our daughter, Beth, being the same age, enjoyed visits with chit chat in Creole. Smiles and laughter interrupted routine days. She took the outside world to him by providing a small portable radio. They shared social activities while crunching on her baked cookies, singing with her guitar and praying. She fulfilled his last requests: a pair of her gym shorts for him and a dress for his mother.
Joe’s Mother served in the supporting role of this tragic drama. She had a name, but it seemed inappropriate to call her anything but Joe’s Mother. Forty years later, memories bring a flood of tears. Her example vividly remains with me. She exemplified the fruits of the spirit with a calm and peaceful manner. Always on duty with a smile; compassion, patience, sacrifice, dedication. gentleness, generosity.
She tenderly and courageously tended Joe’s every need; assisted in dressing changes, cooked his meals, did his laundry, slept on the floor by his bed, assisted other patients… never complaining, never away from Joe’s side more than 15 minutes at a time.
We watched Joe deteriorate for nine long, agonizing months. Harvey stopped by on Sunday. Joe smiled and said a few words. Later, he told friends, “I’m dying and I’m so hot, so hot. Please pray and sing.” Joe softly joined in the chorus of “He Leads Me.” Doctors said it wouldn’t be long. Pere Albert, the chaplain, gave communion.
At 10:35p.m., a knock on the door. “Joe died.” Harvey is running. Edson is dashing. Joe’s Mother is screaming. A nurse comes to the back gate, stares at the stars and wipes her eyes. Another nurse is praying. Joe’s best friend wheels his stretcher down the empty corridor. I am watching through the open cement blocks at the end of our home, glued to my spot. He is taken to an air-conditioned room. The first time in months he has been alone. I whisper, “Goodbye, Joe.”
The funeral at Joe’s Mother’s home was attended by hospital staff, family, and friends. We drove to the foot of the mountain, walked across a muddy creek and climbed up quite a distance with mud soaked shoes. The distant sounds of pounding accompanied us. Friends were making the casket. As we waited in the front yard, Joe’s Mother periodically went through the very small house, wallpapered with the Presbyterian Survey, to the far back yard. She screamed to the top of her lungs, then returned, spent and quiet. The casket was carried up the hill. The closer it came, the louder the screaming and wailing from the women.Joe was laid to rest in his brand new, freshly painted casket with silver trim, paid for by the Samarian’s Fund. Joe’s sister had to be carried away during Pere Albert’s beautiful service. Joe’s Mother remained while sobbing quietly. An exhausting and extremely emotional final goodbye.
“Lord, keep these precious memories in my failing brain. Thank you for the example of Joe’s Mother and the encouragement it has given me. May I be faithful in serving You and others until the day I join You, Joe and Joe’s Mother.”
May we continue to intercede for the 17 missionaries held in Haiti now and for their kidnappers.
DORIS ANN MUSSER has been sharing her creative talents for 88 years, spanning the globe from Lewisburg, West Virginia, to Brazil, France, Haiti, and China, and back to Kentucky where she lives now. She has her one and only, Harvey, waiting for her in heaven, but remains delightfully busy on earth keeping up with her five children, their spouses, thirteen grandchildren, and twenty-two great grand-children at last count. She has friends around the world and loves all things Mickey and Charlie Brown.