How Loss Drew Me Closer to “The Other”

This past December my grandmother landed in the ICU in McKinney, Texas with a host of health problems. After two weeks in a coma, my family removed life support and she passed on. She would have been 71 years old on April 11th. She was nothing short of a queen.

I spent my last night in Texas at the hospital so I could say goodbye to my grandmother by myself. As I sat there trying to process my farewell, one of the nurses came in whom I hadn’t yet met. While he took care of the fluid lines, I introduced myself, and he said his name was Mohammed. He saw that I had been reading my Bible and jokingly asked me if I was reading anything good. I laughed and said yes, and we started getting to know each other. I was grateful for the distraction and he was incredibly fascinating.

As I shared with him my passion for my faith, he told me about his faith as a Muslim man and how incredibly similar our beliefs were. I admitted I knew very little about Islam and he didn’t look surprised. He briefly taught me about his religion, stressing a fundamental striving for peace and harmony while living in our broken world.

That foundation resonated with me deeply as a Christian, and I told Mohammed as much. His face fell slightly and his story became personal. He told me that he didn’t encounter many Christians who seemed to care about peace and harmony—in fact, he even had patients decline his care, just because of his name. He said that one patient on the brink of death had told Mohammed not to touch him, because of his “heathen hands.” In that moment, I wept. My heart shattered at his experiences with people who claimed to love Jesus.

My heart shattered because I wasn’t surprised.

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Throughout the remainder of the evening, Mohammed took great care of my dying grandmother, treating her with tender respect and dignity. I took my time saying goodbye to her, and then thanked each nurse as I left the ICU for the last time. Mohammed hugged me like I was his own daughter and said, “You stay strong. God be with you.”

What may have seemed like a small moment—a nurse comforting a visitor—was actually a world-shifting expression of peace. A Muslim man and a Christian woman, no longer strangers—embracing over loss, stronger than before.

So on March 15th, when a white supremacist took 50 lives at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, I knew it was my time to show up for my Muslim brothers and sisters. Inspired to show support to my Muslim neighbors, I emailed my local mosque to see if I could come by with flowers and a note from my church. The Imam responded by email and said yes, so I stopped by on a Sunday to drop them off.

I peered into the mosque but could only see children playing, and although they saw me they didn’t come to open the door. I put the flowers and card down next to the front entrance and walked to my car, but right before I opened my door I heard a “Hello!” from behind me. About six men walked out as I hurried back to speak with them. I told them how sorry I was about the loss of those 50 lives, and that I was praying for healing in the community and for our world to find peace in the midst of the chaos.

One man said, “If only people would spend five minutes with a Muslim…they would see that we have the same eyes, the same ears, the same nose and mouth—we even drink coffee! Five minutes with a Muslim could change everything. People only have hatred because they don’t know us.” Another man said, “This small effort, from your church, goes such a long way. Thank you.”

For the second time in only three months, in what may have seemed like another small moment—expressing sympathy with flowers and a card—I sensed the significance. Muslim men and a Christian woman, no longer strangers—embracing over loss, stronger than before.

I remembered the words of my friend Mohammed as we parted ways: “You stay strong. God be with you.”