Thomas “Eric” Duncan was the first person in the U.S. to die from Ebola. He was also the father of my son and the love of my life. Last September, I paid for his ticket from Liberia to Dallas. We planned to marry.
Instead he died of Ebola in a hospital shortly after his arrival. Tears were running down his face. His loved ones were not allowed to be near him. No humans could touch him. The faces around his bed were behind masks.
While he died, I was in a 21-day quarantine because health workers thought I might have Ebola, too. Many of my friends and family who had welcomed my fiancé, Eric, to Dallas were also in quarantine. We feared we would die.
I lived through the war in Liberia and it was terrible. But somehow it was not as terrible as this time of Ebola. I was alone now because people were afraid of me. They called me “the Ebola woman.” I was afraid, too — every minute. I could not see or hear the enemy that was threatening me and my family. There was no way to hide, no way to know if death was near.
I lost my home and all my possessions in the war. I came to America with nothing when I was 38. For 16 years I worked to put together a new life. Ebola destroyed all of it. When the quarantine was over, nobody in my neighborhood would rent me a place to live.
When my two nephews, my 13-year-old son, and I were quarantined together, we were told to stay three feet from each other. We were scared of what was happening inside us, and we were scared of each other.
Because I was the closest to Eric, my nephews would leave when I came into a room. They would not touch anything of mine. If my phone rang, they would use a paper towel to hand it to me. They kept their bowls and forks in their own bedrooms so that I would not touch them. If I cooked food, they would not touch the spoon I had used unless they had gloves on.
When the world ran away, God did not
One particularly terrible day, the president of Liberia said Eric lied about being near a person infected with Ebola. It was untrue. Then the district attorney of Dallas County said that he might put Eric in prison. I was sad to hear that a man who was so gentle and so sick was being treated like a criminal. And I was afraid for him.
Many people hated us. People said we should die. But Jehovah God knows that Eric and I were innocent.
I spent days and nights alone in my room praying and reading my Bible. I have always been a Christian who trusted God, and now I turned to him even more. While everyone around me feared me and blamed me for bringing Ebola to the U.S., God was there. He never left me.
Some people blame God for such things, but that is wrong. God is the one who cares for us always. People do evil because they don’t listen to God, but he can turn even their evil into good. I was not angry with God during this time. I was calling on God to prove himself to the world by saving us. And he did.
One of those days, I opened my Bible looking for Psalm 121, which reads, “I will lift my eyes up to the hills from whence comes my help . . . ”
Instead, my Bible fell open to Psalm 116:
The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
Then I called on the name of the Lord:
“Lord, save me!”
It felt like God was speaking directly to my situation. And this wasn’t the only way he did so.
God also sent me dreams of Eric to prepare me for his death. Once, he sent Eric’s presence into my bedroom. I felt Eric’s spirit so strongly that I knew exactly where he was and I felt his spirit moving behind me, around the bed. I didn’t see him, but I knew he was there. Not his body, just the feeling of him, so real that I knew he was present. Then I heard him call my name twice. That same night, my son in Africa felt Eric’s spirit also and saw a shadow that he knew was Eric’s spirit. These were gifts from God to us.
God sent many people to love me
When we were first quarantined, we had no food in the apartment and weren’t allowed to leave to get any. Thankfully, charities like Jewish Family Services sent us food. The Jewish people love God, so I know he put love for us in their hearts. When we were forced to leave our apartment, not even the mayor could find anyone willing rent us an apartment.
But Catholic Bishop Kevin Farrell heard of our trouble and gave us a house where we would be safe. When my pastor, Dr. George Mason from Wilshire Baptist, heard that we were being quarantined, he called right away to say that our church would stand with us and would be in prayer.
No one was allowed to come into the house we were staying in without permission from the county judge, but Pastor George wanted to be with us. So he got permission and came over every day.
He was not afraid of us. He prayed with us and brought gifts — including DVDs and CDs to help the boys pass the time. Later, when we came out of quarantine, Pastor George aided us in our apartment hunt and three men in our church put money together to buy us a house to live in.
Pastor George also brought us hundreds of notes from the people of our church. My favorite was from a little girl who wrote, “We love you like God loves you.” I felt so alone with everyone hating me, but when I read the words of that little girl, I knew that I was not alone. God gave her that love for me and he gave her those words to comfort me.
God also filled my 13-year-old son, Timothy, with love and courage. Timothy refused to stay three feet away from me. He hugged me and even ate from my plate. “You don’t have Ebola. I don’t have Ebola,” he would say. “Don’t cry or be sad.” Jesus told us all to have the faith of a child. But only Timothy had that faith.
God didn’t cause Eric’s death, but used bad things for good
Eric’s illness gave a face to Ebola. Thousands of Africans were sick and dying from Ebola, but the world was not paying attention until Eric brought the disease to America.
Reporters from around the world came to Dallas. Their reports made people afraid — and while that was often painful for me and my family, from their fear came help for Africa. After Eric died, the U.S. government sent troops to Liberia to build clinics. Many people sent money to charities to help Ebola victims after they heard about Eric.
Now, Ebola is gone from Liberia.
Eric and I would never have brought Ebola to America if we had known he had it. God knows we did no wrong. But Eric’s life is gone, and so is the life I hoped to have.
I wake up in the night so sad and sometimes still afraid. For a long time, I was scared to go out of my house. I thought people would accuse me. But they did not. God spoke to their hearts. When people recognized me, they would say, “We are so happy you are back.” They helped me feel better as a person. In my church, everyone wanted to hug me all the time.
Even before Eric died, people were telling me to sue the hospital for not saving him. But my son Karsiah, who I had with Eric and who is now in college, told me that he did not want to sue. “I do not want blood money from my father’s death,” he said. “I came to America to make my own money. God will punish anyone who did wrong.”
I agree with my son.
God is in charge of vengeance, so I do not worry about justice. For now, we leave all of the questions that no one answered, the suspicions, fear, rumors, and lies in the hands of God.
God does not fail us.
Image courtesy of Airman Magazine.