May 12th, 2008
I have been so drained the past few days.
Pudding got baptized the Saturday evening before Easter. At the church I now (sporadically) attend, they perform baptisms about 4 times a year, with that Saturday evening considered an appropriate time because by then, the “worst” of Jesus death is over and the miracle of rebirth has already begun.
Along with Pudding, there were 2 other babies and 2 adults. And it was a lovely service – the babies didn’t cry at all despite the hour and the stifling heat and the long wait. Punksin was miserable, but she eventually fell asleep in our pew, and Pudding danced whenever the hymns or psalms were sung. It was a long service, but it was nice. The baptized adults looked renewed, the babies remarkably peaceful given the late hour.
Last Thursday, one of the other baptized babies, now 7 months, was admitted to the hospital after experiencing seizures. The pastor of the church sent an email around on Friday, asking us for our prayers as the baby lay, gravely ill, in the pediatric intensive care unit. The baby’s brain had experienced swelling, and after coming out of the woods, his recovery would entail months of therapy.
My heart immediately went out to the family, given our little “bond”. I didn’t know them beyond the shared time we spent around the baptismal font, but that was enough. I offered to cook something, and the mother responded, via the pastor, that something comforting for her two older boys, 4 and 2, would be a big help. She and her husband were taking turns keeping vigil with the baby, and the older 2 were getting along with the help of relatives who had flown in.
I made mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for the boys and took them over on Saturday. By then another email had made the rounds, this time from the assistant pastor who had been to the hospital.
She said the baby’s prospects were very grim.
I prayed. I did not sit down to pray, because I have never felt that one has to sit to communicate with God; if we are all from God and part of God then we can talk to him/her/it anytime, with thought or with voice. And truth be told, I was praying too hard and too often to be sitting anyhow. I prayed as I loaded the dishwasher. I prayed in the shower, and when Pudding woke up in the middle of the night, I prayed as I shushed him back to sleep. I prayed when I prayed for my own children at night, and I prayed, and I prayed, and I prayed.
When I dropped off the food, the mother had just gotten home from the hospital. She was, of course, tired, drained. She said that she had come to accept that only a miracle would save her son. I knew she spoke through shock and exhaustion – when we had spoken earlier that day, she had cried as she remembered what a sweet baby her son was, how cheerful and loving and pleasant and easy he was. Now, she spoke very practically – but I knew it wasn’t lack of emotion, or lack of love. She was steeling herself, was perhaps at that very moment too deliberately numb to feel the extent of her words, too numb because that was a gaping maw of blackness that she had to avoid.
After I returned home, I checked email repeatedly, so much that sometimes I did so furtively. Seeing nothing was good news – but the silence was too passive. I wanted a firm turn of events. That was what I prayed for.
Yesterday, another email.
The doctors had told the family that there was no longer any indication of brain activity, and that they would conduct tests today to be sure of their conclusion.
I continued to pray, even as I began to feel that telltale queasiness in my stomach, a knot that always accompanies the awful melancholy that descends upon me and sits with me, unmoving, whenever I am confronted with the death of a loved one – or of a child.
Today, I checked email all day, every few minutes while I was home, immediately upon returning to the house whenever I went out.
Until several minutes ago.
This evening, the baby was disconnected from life support. And then…
he was gone.
A baby, not even emerged from the womb at this time last year. A baby- just sitting up, just learning to eat solids, just beginning to make sounds that would be identified as mama and dada.
A baby, whose family will mark his first birthday clutching photographs instead of tiny fingers.
A week ago, he was fine, or so they thought. Perhaps by then a virus, if indeed it was a virus that caused this, was lurking in his system waiting to unleash its awful fury.
He is gone, and a family – and a whole bunch of other people – is left to try to make sense of how it is that you get up one morning with 3 adorable young sons under 4, all smiling and laughing and driving you happily crazy with their sheer exuberance, and by that evening one of them is hurtling towards a destiny so rare and so horrible that you’ve never allowed it to reside within your world of possibilities.
The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And give you peace.