THERE IS AN AFRICAN PROVERB - IF YOU WANT TO WALK FAST WALK ALONE, IF YOU WANT TO WALK FAR, WALK TOGETHER...
At the Tiny Tim & Friends Clinic death and loss can be a daily part of our lives. We deal with some of the most vulnerable children and adolescents, often either reaching them too late, or their social and medical problems are beyond what we can help, or can be dealt with within the limitations of the Zambian Healthcare and social support systems.
Whilst the loss of any child or patient never gets any easier, working in this field with vulnerable individuals, it is never usually sudden or completely unexpected. Dealing with vulnerable populations you have to quickly learn how to adapt to maintain your own sanity in what can often feel like a senseless loss.
They say there are seven stages to grief; shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, sadness and finally acceptance or hope. Working at Tiny Tim & Friends you often have to compartmentalize emotions and move quickly through the grieving process focusing not on the loss but accepting what has happened as a part of our work.
Acceptance doesn’t necessarily mean not questioning what could have been done differently, but acceptance that sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control.
Last month the staff and patients at TTF faced a sudden and unexpected loss with the death of our Country Director and Founder, Dr Tim Meade. Tim was an incredibly passionate individual who was constantly putting the needs of others before his own.
Dr Tim, saw so many successes at TTF over the years and also experienced the loss of patients he had treated since they were children. He never accepted loss as failure.
Tim was always giving; he had a kind heart and a willingness to help others in such a selfless way that he was inspiring to all of the staff at TTF and those who met him. He was a dedicated leader, supportive doctor, loving father and also a great friend.
Tim had worked on three continents in the fight against HIV & AIDS. When he came to Zambia he found a need for specialist pediatric HIV services, and alongside his family in the United States, founded and started Tiny Tim & Friends. Working to support vulnerable HIV+ children and pregnant women became a part of his daily life. Over the course of 12 years Tim worked to build TTF from a small ward at another hospice to our own seven room clinic dealing not only with medical issues for vulnerable HIV+ children, adolescents and pregnant women, but also building a team of specialists to develop programs to support our patients social and psychological needs.
Since his passing staff at TTF have been working through their grief in different ways but coming together for the greater good soothed by the many patients (and family of patients) who have come forward to express their gratitude to Tim for enabling themselves, and their children, to live healthy lives. People we had never met before have approached staff to express the multitude of ways that Tim had a positive impact on their live; like inspiring them to get into medicine, to travel and see the world, or volunteer for a cause close to their hearts. Partners have approached us to tell us how important TTF and Tim’s work has been in expanding pediatric HIV services in Zambia.
Dr Tim used to tell me that with every patient loss there has to be a lesson learned. Without learning anything from a loss we cannot grow or move forward. By learning from loss we can become a better organisation and better people. It sometimes it takes longer to figure out what this lesson is than on other occasions.
So what have we learned from Tim’s passing to help us move forward towards acceptance and hope?
With people sharing their stories and memories of Tim with us, we learned that being dedicated to a cause, like Tim was, can be infectious and therefore impactful to individuals outside of our networks in positive ways you don’t always see. We learned that commitment to change really does have a huge impact on the lives of the vulnerable people we work with. And that by working together, in partnership, we can learn from each other, and attain bigger goals than when working alone.
There is an African proverb – If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together.
Whilst acceptance of his death is a long way off for many, we try every day to walk together to emulate his passion and commitment to keeping Tiny Tim & Friends running. We hope that you can join us on this journey and continue to build a legacy in Tim’s name - where no child in Zambia has HIV.