Sunday, November 27, 2011
Friday I received my first Christmas card of the season, one that has a very interesting and poignant history. The only time I connect with its givers is at Christmas and they always include a little letter telling of their latest family doings. This sounds very ordinary, but it has a far from ordinary beginning.
About ten years ago I was working in the emergency department one summer when late in the afternoon an eleven year old boy was brought in lifeless, the victim of a drowning. Heroic measures were attempted for well over an hour, but despite this, the boy died. As his heartbroken parents gathered his body into their arms, they told me their story in broken sobs. Jordan was their only child. After a number of childless years they had adopted him as a newborn infant. He was the joy and light of their existence. They were very cautious parents and had only just started allowing him a little more freedom. Jordan and his friend were rowing a rubber dingy in the lake when it capsized. For some inexplicable reason he had taken off his life jacket. His friend made it to shore. Jordan did not.
I spent several hours with Jordan and his parents after his death. When his mother cried and asked for blankets to warm his cold body, I brought them to her. When his father asked "why?" over and over again, I gave whatever poor comfort I could. When they asked that I wait until friends brought Jordan's favourite stuffed dog to accompany him to the morgue, I told them I'd wait as long his parents needed. Mostly, I just listened, helpless in the whyfors of such undeserved suffering.
I didn't cry until I was at home, the images of the past evening flowing through my mind endlessly. I thought of that beautiful child, so unmarred and peaceful looking. I thought of how his dark tendrils of damp hair had gradually dried. I thought of his parents' anguish and grief, of his mother's begging, keening wail, "Please tell me this hasn't happened!" I thought of all they must now go through.
Two summers later, I went into work one gorgeous blue and golden morning. I was working in the O.R. and as I looked at my slate list, one name seemed vaguely familiar; a woman to be prepped for a Caesarian section. As I pulled the curtains aside, her eyes met mine. The smile froze on my face. The last time I had seen those eyes was that sorrowing day in the E.R. wracked in anguish over the body of her little boy. She recognized me immediately. Instinctively, she held out her arms to me, and we hugged.
As she was prepped, with her husband now gowned by her side, she told me about their miracle. After twenty-one years of marriage, at the age of forty-four, she was about to give birth to her first biological child. She told me about how difficult it been after Jordan's death, how there had been times when they had felt they couldn't go on, that life had seemed hopeless and over for them. They saw this new baby not only as a promise of a new beginning but also as a precious cosmic gift from Jordan. Their excitement stretched like a tent over a framework of hope.
"Do you know what day it is today?", she asked with tears in her eyes. "It's exactly two years ago to the day since Jordan died." Then she added, softly, "It is only fitting that you are here today. It was meant to be."
I was immeasurably moved, and I stood with a very full heart as the surgery commenced. By now all the staff working the room that day had heard the story, and the hope and good wishes of everyone was palpable. A healthy, beautiful baby boy was born to collective sighs of relief and joy.
At the end of my shift I made a quick visit to the maternity ward. Baby Matthew's mother cradled him in her arms, her eyes shining with happiness. One of his tiny hands was clasped around his father's finger. Both parents faces were alight with love and the amazement of discovery. On the bedside table next to them rested a framed photograph of a dark haired, smiling boy; the big brother that Matthew will only ever know through stories and pictures.
Since that time, once a year, at Christmas, I receive a card from Jordan's family. Matthew is now nine years old, a wonderful, loving child, full of life and normal boyhood joys.
Life can indeed be mysterious. I had only worked in the Emergency Department for a short time choosing to return to my previous position in the Operating Room after only a month. The day of Matthew's birth, I had originally been assigned to another room but a colleague had asked if I would switch with her.
Through the loss of one child and the birth of another, I am enfolded in the love of a family who have been both scarred and graced. Jordan's gift is one of hope.
(Giovani Battista Salvi Sassoferrato, 1685. Madonna and Child.)