I’m glad I went. Yesterday, I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear the sight of that charming and lovely little six-year-old seriously ill and hospitalized again. I didn’t want to feel the pain her parents and grandparents carry. But it turns out that, after facing the initial blunt and frightening reality of things, and despite the power sorrow and pain can carry, we were powerfully inspired and fortified by the essence of the people present in the room.
She was sleeping when we walked in, her grandma sitting on the bed next to her. The side of her face visible to us was so swollen she didn’t look remotely like the little girl I knew, and between that and the look on her grandma’s face, tears stung my eyes immediately. But then she woke up, turned her head a little toward her grandma, and said “hi Grandma, I want peach yogurt.”
She ate a little, and sang a few lines of Michael row your boat ashore, and fell asleep again. Her parents returned from a brief outing they’d been urged to take, to get a badly needed break from the bedside, and I felt the lump in my throat again. But they hugged us, and smiled, and filled us in a little more: their daughter’s pain threshold is so high that infections like this can get really, really bad before they’re diagnosed. Surgery may now be their only option.
I marvel at their coping ability. “For her, around her,” her mom tells me, “I try to stay positive and happy. I don’t want to distress her by crying.”
They tell us about their youngest daughter’s wardrobe preferences, her sharp three-year-old mind, her outspoken ways and the lovely ways she looks out for her older but infinitely more vulnerable sister. The stories make us laugh: they have clearly managed to retain their sense of humour, and share a very happy family life with their two young daughters even in the face of the burden they’ve carried since their baptism into the harsh reality of life with a seriously handicapped child.
Annika wakes up again, asks for some more yogurt, sings a little more of Michael row your boat ashore, eats some more yogurt, sings yet a little more. At one point, when asked how she’s feeling, she responds with “I feel happy.” In response to some utterly necessary and boring suggestion or another, she says, “that’s a great idea!”
I wish for the millionth time in my life that I could simply implant that kind of positive, grateful, joyful personality into my being. (I do work on it, truly, I do.)
We caught up some more with her parents and grandparents, and when we left felt as though we’d been in the presence of pure Light: courage, joy, hope, love, optimism, generosity–all things that so often elude me in my ordinary and comfortable life, but present here in the face of so much sorrow.