I knew something was wrong. I mean, everything was wrong but this was even wronger. It was wrong our family was fragmented, the kids taken care of by someone else, David and I living between hotel and hospital, our baby separated from us all by a double set of sterile white doors. But the fact the pediatrician rushed past me in the waiting room without a courteous and really, socially expected, ‘buenas noches’ sent my heart into my throat.
It was early February and 5 hours from home, several weeks into sickness and hospital stays, I felt like I was sort of floating in a strange realm only half way into reality. Surely we’d all wake up one morning and find it was all just a terrible nightmare. This couldn’t be reality. These things happen to other people. Not to me.
But the day before I had forced myself into reality. It was a Sunday. February 8th. Sitting out by the hotel pool, staring into the nothingness that is a broken heart, I surrendered my fight with God. “Take him, Lord, if that’s what you choose. I’m going to need your strength, but do as you will. I trust in your eternal love. You gave me your Son, I give you mine.”
Damian had been born a beautiful, healthy baby. He was the sweetest, most gentle little thing. At only two weeks of age he had looked at me with his eyes wide open and given me the most beautiful smile in the world. He loved to sit quietly while Felicity and Matthias “read” him baby books. He never complained.
Those are not rose colored memories. It’s the absolute truth. Never once did I feel frustration at him. Every memory of my little baby is of love and joy (in the mercy and grace of our blessed God).
But when he was about three weeks old, he started with what seemed a common cold. A week later, he was hospitalized, diagnosed with whooping cough, and after two traumatic episodes of near death, was sent on to NICU in the city of Mérida, Yucatán.
I rode in the ambulance with my sick baby, two male nurses and the driver. It was late at night and a several hour drive. As darkness deepened, my fears mounted. I sang to Damian, to comfort him, to comfort me, to send a message to the men around me. Never in my life have I felt so vulnerable, other than when we were held up at gunpoint. And then, at the apex of my near paralyzing fear, the Lord Jesus came. He came, my friends, and He rode with me the rest of the way. I kept blinking, sure that if I was quick enough, I’d get a sight of Christ himself. Christianity is real. Our God is real. His presence….how can I ever explain! His deep, deep love to come ride in an ambulance with His fearful, broken child—-what a Friend he is!
We arrived and to this day, I can’t watch an ambulance trying to get through city traffic. Please, humans, just move over.
He was admitted, we met his doctor, we signed all the papers. To every mother reading this who has seen their child lying alone, sedated in a plastic box, their head covered in an oxygen globe, connected to more tubes than thought possible, bags of blood and platelets hanging over them in constant transfusion, dialysis running down to more bags and a scale, to the incessant, horrible beeping, to the nauseating smell of latex gloves, to eventually the scary life support machine—-sister, I reach through this screen to fill your broken heart with love and compassionate tears. Everything about it is unnatural. It’s horrible and wrong. And if it wasn’t for hope, that desperate, grasping hope you’ll soon bring your baby home to their comfy crib, there is no way you could stand it.
I lived and breathed on hope. I was sure, the doctor was sure, Damian would eventually bounce back. We’d beat the bacteria, we’d heal his organs, we’d bring him home.
But there was too much bad news and I realized I had to give up. Do you know how good our God is? He waited for me to give up my baby before taking him away. I didn’t deserve that kind of consideration.
Late, Monday night, visiting hours had come and gone and they still didn’t call us in. The doctor rushed by. Something was terribly wrong.
Then he came back with those fateful words. “There is nothing we can do.”
I often wonder if that desperate phrase which bound David and I together with ties so, so deep, was given with that very purpose. For truly, those bonds have held our marriage, by the grace of God, through storms I would not wish on the person who hates me the most.
They brought me a chair and handed Damian to me. David stood, bending gently over us both. No face masks now, no gloves. I could finally stroke that little cheek again, just a few more minutes! The numbers steadily decreased on the screen. An image of Mary on the wall jolted me. The doctors and nurses, I decided, would witness something they had never seen before. I would not cry to a saint for mercy. I would not mutter incantations and beg for the child to not roam around looking for a resting place. No. My grief would be a voice. Damian’s death had to be used. It would NOT be in vain.
And, I thought, when Damian gets to Heaven, I want him to look at Christ and say, “my mommy was just singing about you to me.” I was determined to send him off with the lines blurred between Heaven and Earth. And so I sang. There was nothing else I could do. Drown out the beeping. Remind us all of the precious Son that was given. Send Damian home with words of Christ in his ears.
I was just finishing When I Survey when the angels came. They lifted him from my arms and flew him to the arms and breast of the Good Shepherd who gently carries His lambs for ever and ever.
“Who plucked this flower?” said the gardener. “The Master”, answered his fellow workman. And the gardener held his peace.
My arms have never felt so empty, my heart so broken. Yet, the Lord has never been so near, the love of my husband so dear, the believers here in the south so dear. Nothing can prepare you for grief so deep that it passes emotional boundaries and affects the physical. No human reasoning, counseling or care packages can pour balm into that gaping wound. There is only One.
Fly to the arms of the One who spared not His Son but gave Him freely for us all. Rest in the arms of of the One who said, Lo I come…to do Thy will. Find peace in the presence of the One who conquered death and rose victorious from the grave.
Here in Mexico, every casket is pretty gaudy. Tassels, fake silk, images and icons. We went at about 3 am to the funeral home. “That one,” I said without hesitation, pointing up to the very top shelf. The director looked up in surprise. There was a perfect, little white casket, beautifully yet simply carved. I don’t think he had ever seen it before. I am sure God put it there. Just for Damian. Just for me.
God’s love. Indescribable.
We buried our little boy on the 12th. Burials here aren’t suave. They’re pretty crude. The scrape of concrete slabs, the slap of wet mortar….it’s a very definite good-bye. Thank God concrete holds no power against the shout. Oh, for that day, to be together again!!!!
If you don’t have that hope of being in Heaven for eternity and seeing loved ones again, I beg you to trust Christ as your Savior. There will still be pain and there will still be grief, but you will have Jesus Christ at your side, the comfort of the Holy Spirit and the love of the Heavenly Father to carry you through.
It’s been five years. Five longs years. Years I’ve wished at times Damian had never gone. But I can’t wish him back. He will never know the sin of this world. He will never know the grief of a broken heart. He will never, ever be sick again.
No, he’s with Christ. Which is far, far better.