Wednesday, September 19, 2012


The other day an old lady tried to touch my face at the DI (thrift store).  Somewhere between the abandoned Health Riders and vintage suitcases our paths crossed.  She slowly shuffled toward me in her red house dress, and I noticed her wispy gray hair and the almost transparent nature of her skin.  She seemed too fragile to be wandering such a junk cluttered aisle.  I pressed myself into the exercise equipment so she could pass by me, but instead she reached for me.  Not in a creepy way.  Her hand gently moved toward my face in a slow, loving way; as if I were her child. 

What should I do? I thought. My brain tried to process the appropriate reaction to being touched by a stranger at the DI.  Honestly, I'm surprised it has never happened before.  Anyway, before her hand reached my cheek it was caught and gently retracted by the young woman who walked beside her, and apologies followed.  No need to be sorry, I said and they continued their tedious journey.

I instantly felt a twinge of regret, really strange regret.  If only she would have said something to me, I thought. 

When Jonah was a few months old I had a similar moment while we waited in a hospital.  I wrote the following about it in my journal:

We went to see Dr. M today and had to wait for a long time in the hospital hallway.  This elderly woman was wheeled by and it was clear she had some dementia.  She kept asking if she knew the people in the hallway and her son said "no don't know any of these people." 

Then they went further down the hall.  A few minutes later while her son was distracted she made her way back down towards us, slowly using her feet to move the wheelchair forward.  She stopped right in front of us and smiled at Jonah.  He gave her a big smile.  I told her his name and asked her what her name was.  She said "Beverly." 

Then she said, "Does he (Jonah) have a hole in his mouth?"

A little taken aback I said, "yes...he did you know." 

She said, "Because I know him, he is my relative."

It was pretty crazy.  I don't know how she would know that or even ask about it.  You can't see it from the outside.  I like to think that Beverly does know him! 
As I continued my search through second-hand clothes and mismatched dishes I thought, What if I missed a Beverly moment?  What if this seemingly senile woman in her red dress had something important to tell me; something that she could see that I could not.  I wondered if she could have given me a message about Jonah, or about God, or about my life.  I find that in my grief I am constantly looking for experiences to reinforce my belief in an afterlife...some sort of evidence that can transform my hope into faith and understanding.  

I like the idea that those who seem to lose their grasp of this life have a greater understanding of the next.  I loved that even if she did not have a message for me, this sweet old woman felt moved to reach for a stranger.  Perhaps she craved the softness of human touch.  Maybe she could see the invisible heartache that is buried in me and felt compassion.  Or maybe she knew Beverly knew Jonah.  Maybe we are related.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Hard Things

Last week I made my way north to Salt Lake, curved around the east side of city, and arrived in the foothills of the Wasatch Front.  It is a familiar drive for me.  My grandparents lived in those foothills for most of my childhood, and the neighborhood still reminds me of picking warm summer raspberries, and enjoying my grandpa's homemade apple juice.

But last week as I drove through the familiar, the warm sun seemed to melt my nostalgia leaving me with the underlying uneasiness it temporarily masked.  I arrived at Primary Children's Medical Center for an unexpected interview, and felt afraid.

Whenever I visit a place that is charged with memories of Jonah I feel nervous. I just don't know what to expect, or how I will react.  The pain I feel is so lightly buried.  I never know what breeze of memory will uncover it.  

Our last visit to Primary Children's was when Jonah had his cleft palate surgery.  He was 9 months old.  I felt prepared and relatively calm as we entered the hospital as a family.  Jonah was as curious and energetic as ever.  We laughed as he charmed the pre-op nurses with his dimpled smile.  We took pictures of him in his baby-sized hospital gown.  Then we tried to entertain him - and ourselves - as we waited and waited for his surgeon.

The doctor and our anxiety arrived together.  We looked at each other as if to say, "this is really going to happen."  Jordan and I gathered Jonah and his things: blanket, binky, and diaper bag.  Then we slowly made our way down the long sterile corridor. When we could go no further, we squeezed him and kissed his sweet cheeks as we handed our precious child to the anesthesiologist.  Jonah didn't seem to mind.  He always loved new people.  He smiled and admired this new face, while we tried to maintain our brave ones.  As the doctor walked through the operating room doors she said, "don't worry, we will take care of him."

We did worry.  What if he was scared?  Would he feel abandoned and alone?  At the time it was the hardest thing I had ever done.  We stood for awhile peering through the flapping doors, until they finally shuttered closed and came to a rest.  Jordan and I immediately fell into each other's arms and wept.

So last week as I sat in the parking garage of Primary Children's - working up the courage to walk inside - I thought about that moment, and all of the others we experienced within the walls of the hospital; the helplessness of watching our child in pain; the joy of his quick recovery; the carefully considered follow-up visits and consultations.  This place represented for me a physical manifestation of our plans for Jonah, of all the heartache of ever having to make such plans, and the pain of a future that would not be. 

I took a moment and said a prayer that God would give me strength and I stepped out of my car.

I smiled when I walked past the garden where we wandered last summer as we waited or an appointment.  I read the familiar plaque above the doors.  It reads, "the child first and always." I breathed deeply and walked through the revolving doors.

Once inside I instantly felt the pain of memory. But I also felt the peace of being in such a special place.  I felt gratitude for the kind people who helped us.  I felt proud for choosing to face my fears instead of avoiding them.  I felt brave and reassured that I can do hard things.

In the last two years I have done so many hard things; some that are very public and some that happen within the sacred space of my heart and mind.

I never thought I would have a child with a genetic disorder. I never thought I would have to learn to feed him in a special way and help him learn sign language and put him through painful surgeries.  I never thought I would watch him die in my arms.  I never thought I would sit in a mortuary discussing the details of my own child's funeral.  I never imagined I would have to dress his lifeless body.  I couldn't anticipate that I would have to try so hard to be happy.  I never thought I would have to work so hard to preserve my marriage.  I never imagined how hard it would be to answer the question "do you have any children?"  I never thought it would take so much courage to visit my friend Katie in her home (we were at her home when Jonah choked), or to go see my mom in the hospital, or to have a simple meeting at Primary Children's.

And yet, in the past two years I have found the strength to do hard things.  I have found it in the generosity of my family and my friends.  I have found it in the kindness of my husband.  I have found it in the charity of my neighbors.  And most of all I have found it in the knowledge that I am a child of God.  I am his daughter, and he loves me as much as I love Jonah.  He is my strength, and I believe I can do all things through him...even hard things.

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13