The day before Christmas Eve - 23 December 2007

It was one day before Christmas Eve when little Hawukelani*, just under 5 months old, was brought to us by his mother. He had diarrhoea, was constantly vomiting and did not want to drink properly. So we took him in at the children's ward in the hospice. We tried to offer him food in small amounts over and over again so that he would not vomit again straight away. It took a lot of patience and time. And since we didn't have so many children at the moment, I was able to look after Hawukelani very intensively.

And so I started to get more and more involved with him. He was quite weak and we nursed him back a bit. It was a constant up and down. Sometimes he was fine and a few days later he had diarrhoea and vomited again. Then he got better again. But since two weeks he became weaker and weaker. The last few days he hardly ate or drank. And I noticed how this little one grew more and more attached to me and so I gave him more and more of my time and love. That is what we can all give away here.

It's Sunday morning at 7.00 am. I come into the baby room and notice that Hawukelani is not well. His breathing is not okay. I show him to the nurse and she says that he is not well. I wash the other babies, but keep glancing at Hawukelani. I go to have breakfast, but I can't really eat anything, I am more preoccupied with Hawukelani. In the meantime, Sister Sheilagh is in the room watching the babies. When I come back, the nurse and Hawukelani are no longer in the room. I go into the nurse's room where she is sitting with him in her arms. Tears are streaming down her face and Father Gerhard is also there. I see Hawukelani is still alive, but it is obvious that he will die and probably on the same day. Sister Sheilagh puts him in my arms and says she is trying to reach his mother, which then worked and she also wanted to come. By now it is 9.30am and I go with the dying baby to the church for the service, he is getting worse and worse and has hardly any strength left to cry. I can probably see that he wants to cry, but he is too weak to do so.

After church, I sat down in the room and waited for his mother, who arrived shortly afterwards. She told me that her whole family had no idea of the baby's existence and she lived alone with Hawukelani. It is quite common here that none of the family wants to have anything to do with you as soon as they find out that you are HIV-positive or even that AIDS has already broken out.  But now both Hawukelani and his mother have AIDS. Therefore, she had already been ostracised by her family even before her pregnancy was visible, and her father did not want to have anything more to do with her either. But she called him anyway and told him that Hawukelani was dying and he promised to come, but he did not. By now it was about 11.30 a.m. and Hawukelani was visibly getting calmer. His breathing intervals were increasing and he was getting weaker and looked quite relaxed. His mother and I were in tears and there was nothing we could do but wait, keep waiting, pray and hope. Hoping that he would be better soon. At 12.10pm he died and it hurt me very, very much because I loved him very much and I will miss him.

We laid him on the bed and both cried. He looked so peaceful and sweet lying there on the bed. Hawukelani's mother was probably also crying because she is all alone now. We were both very sad and will miss him very much.

Our nurse on duty was very kind to me. She said, "We're going out in the ambulance to pick up a patient. Come on! You drive! You have to get out of here now!" That was really nice of her. Gloria from the laundry also said that she was sorry and that she had always seen how much love I had for the little ones, and that if one day I knock on the door, God will say: "Come, Angelika, there are all your babies! Go to them!" It really touched me that she said something like that. The whole day I didn't feel very well and I know that it won't be the last time, because a hospice is usually the "last station" of earthly life. If we can make this a dignified experience of being loved and safe for our patients, both young and old, then we have fulfilled our task.

* The name Hawukelani (Zulu for "have mercy") is not his real name.

Angelika Müller