AN ODE TO ANDRÉ DE LA PORTE, MY BELOVED
In what font could I type this letter that would soften the blow, make flatter the curve of death? We live in a pandemic and it is not Covid-19. It is the pandemic of depression. Unseen silent pain. No death numbers shouted on the daily news. A wrestle between life and death that is not masked by gentle thoughts.
André, you woke up with these words one morning: “Searching for sunshine.” It became the title of your course on depression that you wrote for HospiVision. The darkness inside you yearned for the light. Your commitment to the pastoral care of the sick was limitless. Isaiah 61 was the trading floor for the currency of your pain. “Heal the broken hearted, set the captives free.” Yet, you could not escape the captivity or despair of your own broken heart.
Your doctoral thesis was on the suffering of the burn-wound patients: marred for life by flames. I walked into that ward last week to do an Encouragement session for the nurses. Mummified comatose bodies in white layers of bandages. Scarred as your soul was by the border war. You consoled their souls with a gentle Scripture reading and prayer. Weeks later, having regained their consciousness, they would tell you: “I know your voice. You prayed for me when I was in ICU.” What an indelible imprint you left, writing pastoral care courses, training up volunteers.
Compassionate about the pain of others, attempting to still your own. On Sundays, before you attended your beloved quietude service in the chapel at the seminary in Stellenbosch, you would listen to the Messiah of Handel. The words of Isaiah 53:3 resonated with your spirit where Jesus was described as “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.”
Our sense of humour was your oxygen when depression wanted to strangle life out of you. You called me your “funny girl”. I would make jokes with you. Not demeaning. You were never offended. You needed my magnet of joy.
When we thought “Searching for sunshine” was going to be a book, we discussed the necessity of a chapter focusing on the family and that I should write it, giving some guidelines on support for the family. I joked that my chapter would be called: “Pull away the curtains to see the sunshine.” We partnered in pain.
Your disconnection was a Jericho wall that refused to fall down no matter how many times I marched around it, searching for an entrance to the comfort of connection. I blew trumpets of hope but the frequency could not be picked up by your hearing aids. The walled city of your life, built to keep the pain at bay, cut me off, and kept you in isolated confinement.
God wove a blanket of grace around me on Saturday, 30 May 2020. In a Zoom session at eleven, I counselled a friend whose son had three suicide attempts last week. She spoke about the comfort of John 14: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.” I started crying and said: “If your son or my husband dies, their mansions in heaven are ready for them.”
I had to go out for an errand. I was focused on the debriefing of the nurses in the week ahead. I was speaking on the topic of how we need to shield our souls against all the pain of the pandemic. On my way home, your face flashed before me and I cried out in anguish for what I saw. Oh no God, don’t tell me that the sword of Damocles has fallen on us today – the constant threat of death, lurking in the corner. When I arrived home, I found you exactly as I saw you in my flash vision. God has shielded my heart by showing and preparing me beforehand.
Isaiah 43:19 was the Scripture you got last year in the clinic. “Behold I am doing a new thing. I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” My Pentecost prayer for you was new intimacy with your heavenly Father, whose voice you so struggled to hear. The curtain has now indeed been pulled away for you as you were birthed into eternal life in heaven.
Saturday night I dreamt about you. You sat on a small bench in heaven, playing your beautiful classical guitar music to Pappa God, Jesus your Saviour and Holy Spirit your Companion. When you finished, they applauded you. You beamed. You now minister to the audience of One in heaven.
The Scripture you got for HospiVision 22 years ago was Malachi 4:2 “But for you who fear my name, the Sun of Righteousness will rise with healing in his wings. And you will go free, leaping with joy like calves let out to pasture.” After 35 years of torment you are free. Your Jericho walls disintegrated in the presence of the Trinity’s love for you, welcoming you to your mansion in heaven. I bless you and I accept your decision.
On our journey with depression we will Hold Onto Him: our God, who is our source of Hope.
The Voicebox : a blog for those who lost their voice during their journey with disease. Your earthly voice is now quiet. Your ministry voice will echo on into eternity. You know the voice of Jesus, your shepherd. You followed him home.
He knows you by your name: Andre Eugene de la Porte.
Annette de la Porte (author of Hold Onto Him)