a prayer for Shelbi… and Staci

At my dentist’s office today, I learned that the insurance expert Staci, had a baby girl a few weeks ago. Sadly, she only lived for 12 hours. Her lungs did not fully develop.  As I shared in previous posts (“facing death,and living” and “a godsend, so cherish),” the death of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. I could not imagine what the parents of a newborn must feel, having gone through 9 months of waiting to hold their infant, whose life is then cut short.  And this wasn’t Staci’s first loss; she’d had another child who died.

I thought it amazing that Staci looked as peaceful as she did, so soon after her baby’s passing. Perhaps the hardest days are behind her, although I’m not so sure the loss of a child can be easily relegated to the past. It was a blessing that Staci’s sorrow was cushioned somewhat, by the compassion and support of Dr. Quickstad and the others. With their help she is moving forward, with a smile on her face.

As I left, Staci handed me a slip of paper about Shelbi Sue Ray’s passing on July 26. It read, in part, “Sadly her time here with us was brief, but we are grateful for the time we had with her. In her short life, she touched many hearts and no one will ever look at life the same way again. She was so beautiful and her pure soul was encompassing. She is now with God, where she will never feel pain again and she will remain forever young. …Shelbi was preceded in death by her infant sister, Hunter Jean Ray.”

from my lips to God’s ears, a prayer…hugmamma.

facing death, and living

A thin paperback, only 237 pages, Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience” was not a book I could breeze through easily. It was written as though she were talking to me, but not seeing me. I might have been a tape recorder capturing her innermost thoughts and feelings, as if their release might ease her chronic pain, more emotional and mental than physical.

Chapters 1 through 6 explored the anguish she endured from the loss of her 16-year-old son Wade to a car accident, whose cause might have been considered “an act of God.” “Wade was driving to the beach when he died. The invisible wind crossed the eastern North Carolina fields and pushed his car off the road, and he could not right it and it flipped and, crushed, it fell in upon Wade, and he died. The invisible wind. The hand of God? The hand of Satan that God has loosened on Job? Is his death a response to his or our failings, or is it a test of God? How can I lean on a God who had taken this righteous boy, or even on one who had allowed him to be taken?” After much soul-searching, Edwards decides that the God about whom she was taught is not the God of whom she has now gained a better understanding.

“God…does not promise us protection and intervention. He promises only salvation and enlightenment. This is our world, a gift from God, and we make it what it is. If it is unjust, we have made it so. If there is boundless misery, we have permitted it. If there is suffering, it came from man’s own action or inaction. Cain killed Abel; God did not. Wade’s death didn’t belong to God. It belonged to this earth. I could still pray for Wade’s eternal soul because I no longer had to blame that same God to whom I prayed unsuccessfully for his return to life.”  

While she continues to reference her son’s death through the remainder of the book, Edwards also speaks at length of her bout with incurable breast cancer. In the midst of John Edwards 2004 vice presidential campaign, Elizabeth learned she had breast cancer. It seemed that in 2005 she’d been cured. But 2007 saw its return. Among other things, she discusses her struggle in coming to terms with death. On one hand it is not totally unacceptable, for “Death looks different to someone who has placed a child in the ground. It is not as frightening. In fact, it is in some way buried deep within you almost a relief. The splendid author Mark Helprin wrote, in the introduction to “Almost Spring” by Gordon Livingston, ‘If you were on a ship battered by immense waves (and, believe me you are) that swept your child from your arms would you not (given that you had no others for whom to remain) throw yourself into the deep, hoping for the chance that in the vast black ocean you might grab onto him? Comforted just to know that you would suffer the same fate? And if you had to remain, to protect others, would you not dream all your life of the day when, your responsibilities over, you would finally get to the sea?’ It is not a death wish. It is an appreciation that there might be in death some relief that life itself could never offer.” But Edwards concludes that her son’s death is a reminder not to take the gift of life for granted.

“I knew that I have to get ready to die. There is still no prognosis on which I can rely. All I know is that it will be at my door more quickly than I want. I don’t think, as it comes, I will have my father’s grace. Now, despite my words that I have a reason why death would not be so terrible, I want to live. I admit that I spend a great deal of time pretending that I would be fantastically lucky to live a decade, that I would be happy to have another decade when I know I want much more. But just as there is more than a decade, there is also less. There are moments when I believe death is only a whisper away. I try to get the teeter-totter to balance somewhere in the middle; it is rarely possible. When my mind teeters to death, I push off as hard as I can, trying to land on life. Mostly I can do that.”

Elizabeth Edwards comes to terms with her life, as it is. She has adopted lines from “Anthem,” a song by Leonard Cohen, as her anthem. She has had them inscribed high up on her kitchen wall as “…a reminder that the pain, the loneliness, the fear are all part of the living. There is no such thing as perfection, and we have a choice about how we integrate the imperfect into our lives.” Her anthem reads “Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

A stranger who happened to be in the audience during Edward’s speech at the Cleveland City Club in March, 2007, inspired her to work harder in her efforts to bring affordable health care to the unlucky among us who go without. After the luncheon speech, the stranger whispered in Elizabeth’s ear “…I am afraid for my children. I have a lump in my breast, but I cannot get it checked. I have no insurance.” When she went in search of someone who could help, the stranger disappeared into the crowd. And so it was that Elizabeth felt the woman believed “…that we live in a country where things can change if we just whisper in the right person’s ear.”

I share “Resilience” with you because there might be a lesson in it for all of us, for we begin to die the minute we are born. Facing imminent death, Elizabeth Edward focuses on living…

a new day always dawns…hugmamma.

deadly dilemma

One of my favorite reads is The Wall Street Journal. “Whaaattt?” you ask. A middle-aged woman who’s been out of the work force for 24 years actually comprehends the white-collar worker’s “bible?” “No way!” you say.

I was a regular commuter to NYC for 11 years, first on the LIRR from Long Island, and then on Metro North from Connecticut. I trekked in and out with thousands of others, head down, nose to the grind. In the Big Apple I learned street smarts and corporate chicanery. I left the workforce as a paralegal for a major international airline for a better offer, motherhood. Best career move of my life. I happily set aside the Journal in favor of parenting books. More useful in my new job.

I don’t subscribe to magazines, newspapers and the like anymore. When I did, finding time to read them became another chore. Piles would accumulate, and so would my guilt. Hiding them away in cupboards and closets when company came only delayed the inevitable. Into the recycling bin they’d get tossed looking as fresh as when they were “hot off the press.”

Recently the Journal snuck into our house through the “back door”, my husband’s job. At first I thought he was bringing the office copy home to read. Eventually I noticed the paper appearing on the kitchen island when I awoke to make breakfast for myself. By then my husband had left for work. The Journal’s regular appearance made me suspicious so I confronted my husband. Not surprisingly, he assumed that I knew he had subscribed. What could I say when he explained that it was on his company’s “dime,” not ours.

Guess what? My guilt’s returned. A pile of newspapers is neatly stacked upon my desk awaiting my attention. Like I need to add to my household list of “Who Needs My Attention Now.” Does my spouse share my guilt? No. He’s perfectly content skimming the news summary on the first page. Well, it’s his loss. When I do get around to perusing the paper( in other words when I have the time), I always find little gems hidden away between the pages.

“Is There Life After Jim Thorpe For Jim Thorpe, Pa.?” is an intriguing story of 2 neighboring Pennsylvania towns bordering the Poconos, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. In 1953 the citizens promised Thorpe’s widow that they would merge, becoming a new town named “Jim Thorpe.” In exchange she had to allow his bones to be buried there.  A suitable monument would be built to honor him. 

The Chunkers (as the townsfolk are known) felt that Thorpe, the 1912 Olympic winner of both the decathlon and pentathlon for track and field, would boost their tourism. Besides, they honored him. It didn’t matter that he  had no connection to the area whatsoever, and probably never paid a visit either.

Last month, one of Thorpe’s sons filed suit to have the town “surrender his father’s body so that it can be buried with other family members near Shawnee, Okla.” The locals agree. They claim that visitors go white-water rafting, see the fall foliage, tour mansions once owned by railroad barons, among other things. But Jim Thorpe’s memorial site is not prominent among them. The situation remains unresolved.

The article started me thinking about my own burial plans, and not for the first time. Where would I want to be interred? Or would I prefer cremation? Should my remains stay put, right here where I’ve lived for the past 12 years; or should they be returned to my birthplace? Who would visit my gravesite there? Should I consider ease of visitation for my daughter or my husband, if he outlives me? Does all this really matter once I’m gone? I won’t know where I am or who’s visiting? It would be nice if someone would leave flowers for me once in a while, fragrant ones. I like them best.

I may not be famous like Jim Thorpe, but we have one thing in common. It’s uncertain where his final resting place will be, just as I’m uncertain about mine. However the difference, a biggie, is that I can choose; he can’t.

what do you think…hugmamma.