Friday, January 29, 2010

Friends of friends

A friend of mine, Switters, has some friends named Tom and Tia who had a daughter named Jane. After a difficult birth, which had serious complications, Jane spent her 6 months of life in the hospital. Jane passed away yesterday.

I've known a few nurses in my life, and one in particular comes to mind at the moment. I'll call her Kim. Kim works in the neo-natal ICU at Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. One night while we were sipping wine on the back porch of our apartment building I told Kim about my brother Bill and his wife Diana, and their son David.

It was 1986, and I had just returned from a night class at Loyola. I was carpooling with my brother-in-law Marty and had to drop him off at his parents' (my in-laws) home before returning to my apartment. My wife was waiting for us when we got there. A very unusual thing. For some reason or another, Marty got to the door first, and I watched as Mary briefly spoke to her brother. His head drooped, and his shoulders slumped, and he half-assed his way in the front door.

Then she turned and stared at me sadly as I walked up the driveway. I knew I was in for some very bad news. My mind raced, and I assumed someone in my family had died. My dad was a heavy smoker, and he was the person I suspected had died.

"What is it?" I asked.

"David died."

"David? David who?"

"Our nephew David."

7 months old. Dead of what was called Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, Babysitter found him in his crib, unresponsive, and not moving.

Needless to say, my brother was in shock when I reached him on the phone. Bill has a way of speaking that some say is a bit....uh....loud. He wasn't loud that night. He was obviously just numb. Bill and Diana, and Switters' friends Tom and Tia, experienced something nobody should ever have to experience.

It's still something of a blur to me now. Words cannot describe the sight of a little white casket, no more than 2 feet long. It's like a punch in the face. A fucking nightmare only it's real.

There were only four pall bearers, as there wasn't room nor need for the usual six. As we carried David from the church that day, I looked at the faces of the people as we passed. Friends of my brother and his wife. My family. Diana's family.

It was like I was carrying some sort of nerve gas or something. People were literally collapsing in the pews. Sobbing.

I'd had serious doubts prior to that, but that was the day I officially stopped believing in God. It happened as I carried a dead child down the aisle of a church.

In the weeks and months and years that followed, I came to believe that it would have been better if David had died during childbirth. In the first 7 months, or in Jane's case 6, a human being develops a personality. The child's parents can spot new facial expressions with each passing day. Infantile gurgling gives way to smiles of recognition when mommy or daddy are there. They start giggling. They become people.

In finally telling my brother my feelings about that not long ago, he explained that he understood what I meant, but he assured me that he was glad that he and Diana had had those 7 months with David.

"If he'd died during childbirth, I'd have never gotten to know him. He was a great little guy."

I'm sure Tom and Tia feel the same way about Jane.

Like I said, after telling Kim the nurse this same story that night on the porch, I told her that I didn't understand how a person could possibly work in an environment filled with sick babies, terminal illnesses. Children dying nearly every day.

"Its about caring for people, and wanting to help. I've had parents of children that didn't survive, come back to the hospital to thank us all for our efforts. That makes it all worthwhile. And sometimes, we save the baby's life Mike. And there's nothing in the world that feels better than that."

I'm sure that's true, and I'll bet Tia and Tom are eternally grateful to the doctors and nurses who helped Jane. I am in awe of people with that sort of dedication. I don't know where people like that come from.

But the loss of a child, and the sadness, has to be, must be, the worst thing anyone can ever feel.

Jane was here.

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