When I was in my thirties, my best friend’s grandmother died. When I asked how her mother was doing she said, “Well, my mom is an orphan now.” This caught me completely off guard. I had just began my work in Haiti with Emmaus House. I was dealing with the plight of orphans on a daily basis. Her mother was a strong, successful woman in her 60’s. How could she be an orphan? The young people I was dealing with, of course, they were orphans…but someone at that age? I began to process the idea of being an orphan on a different level. I realized that our youth will be orphans their entire lives.
There is something about truly being alone in the world. When the two people who were biologically designed to have your back no matter what are gone, there is a sense you are truly on your own. I began to understand that the loss when a person loses both parents is devastating regardless of their age.
When we think of an “orphan” our mind tends to envision a vulnerable, sad 3 year old living in an orphanage or foster care. What most of us don’t often think about is that the plight of not having supportive parents doesn’t ever end for that snotty-nosed 3 year old , or the well-dressed 18 year old, or the well-established 60 year old.
The nagging feeling of being truly abandoned and alone doesn’t end. The constant transitions of their young adult lives serve as a perpetual reminder to our youth of the never ending void in their lives. Many of us never think about how some of the typically joy-filled life moments that fill our young lives are replaced by questions, fear or shame for someone who is lacking a loving family.
College. Where will I go for summer break when they shut the school down?
Who will I spend Christmas with?
To whom will my future husband go to ask for my hand?
Who will walk me down the aisle at my wedding? Who will give me away to my husband?
Who will be there to rejoice with me when my first child is born?
Who will support, advise and guide me in raising my children?
Will my children have grandparents?
The holidays. Who will I be with for the holidays?
These are just a few of the questions that will regularly weigh heavily on the hearts of our youth throughout their lives.
While I was at Emmaus House sitting down in the living room to join our youth for devotional, one of our young men asked to speak to me afterward. As we stood in the dark looking over the balcony of the house listening to the streets of Haiti settle down for the evening, he simply asked me, “Will you come to my wedding?” He was contemplating his life after Emmaus House. This young man had no plans in the future of getting married, but the idea of nobody being there during these moments of his adult life was already weighing on him. He was thinking about not having a mother there to approve, to support, and just to hug him or a father to advise him about being a husband. He was looking to us at Emmaus House to fill this void in his life. I was honored to be asked to be there for him.
As you spend the holiday season with your family this week, please take a moment to think about and pray, not only for the youth of Emmaus House in Haiti, but for those near to you and far away who are living out the rest of their lives orphaned.