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When a Child Dies

A while back, I wrote a post about the collateral beauty of death and how grief is a version of unconditional love. I've spent some time with this and was reminded of an amazing story that reflects this idea so perfectly.

I spent some time in child palliative care and it was here that my passion for death education was fueled. It was interesting to see how children dealt with pain vs. how their parents dealt with pain. Children were very matter of fact. It hurt or it didn't. When things were painful, they were sad but searched for things to distract them. Adults on the other hand, focused on nothing but the pain. In fact, they would stop those distractions their children so desperately needed, giving them no other choice but to focus on the pain. If adults were lucky though, there was a tipping point when this anxiety laden, grief stricken, protective crust finally cracked. When the light shined into these dark shadows, a beautiful sense of peace came over them. A peace I truly cannot describe but perhaps this story is a glimps of what I mean.

I was taking care of a wee little lady of 8 months of age. This beauty was completely non-communicative for a plethora of reasons. To keep it simple for the stories sake, she spent her days staring off in the distance. She did not recognize faces or acknowledge anyone's presence. Ever. Imagine, as a parent, your child not acknowledging your presence. Her eyes void of feeling throughout her waking hours. All the singing and storytelling in the world doesn't connect but you don't stop trying, you can't stop trying. It's a very strange place in that paradox. In the words of Samuel Beckett: I can't go on. I must go on.

However things drastically change when this little angel fell asleep in your arms, her whole world seemed to open up across her peaceful face. She smiled non-stop and on occasion she even giggled! It was the most beautiful treat to watch her sleep. I would count down the minutes to feeding time (and yes, I admit, even rush it a touch) so that I could hum and rock her to sleep in hopes of seeing her face light up.

So I asked her Mom, Ann, what she thought Bree was dreaming of that lit her up so beautifully. Ann completely broke down and replied "I spend most nights lying awake beside her just to hear that giggle and watch those dreams play out across her face. It's the last thing I see before sleep takes me away and it's the one thing that pulls me out of my nightmares of a life without her. Those dreamy sparkles have carved out a piece of my soul that I think exists only for her. It is where she will live when she leaves this earth. She is truly a gift to us." I broke down. I felt something stir but as I cried while cradling this amazing bundle of human, Ann looked at me and said "And how lucky are we? The chosen few to bear witness to the beauty and wonder in this small gift, in this small window of time. I think this family and now you, are the luckiest people alive.”

I walked away that day, so deeply grateful. She spoke of love in a time of hopelessness, she spoke of beauty in a time of horrible pain and she took the time to teach me more about life in that tiniest of moments than every moment thereafter.

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