Posts Tagged ‘defect’

Make a Wish!

May 21, 2008

Make a Wish!

 

We have a cake, candles, and gathered guests. We sing “Happy Birthday to

 

Bryan!”, but the birthday boy is nowhere in sight. It is St. Patrick’s Day. While others

 

are drinking green beer, we are having a birthday party for her little boy.

 

I look at Gloria, Bryan’s mother, my best friend. Her hands and her dreadlocks

 

are shaking, her eyes wet, but she is smiling. 1 am thankful that she is holding up.

 

Gloria and I met twenty years ago, when we worked for a power-hungry

 

television evangelist who fleeced his flock and mistreated his staff. We quit, but we kept

 

in touch with occasional calls and Christmas cards. A few years ago, we discover we are

 

both in therapy to deal with our childhood sexual abuse. We decide to start getting

 

together once a week as an informal support group. Who knew she will help me through

 

coming out as a late-blooming lesbian, leaving my unhappy eighteen-year marriage, or

 

that I will soon be helping her?

 

When Gloria becomes pregnant, I worry. She will be a single mom, barely able to make it financially, even though she works two jobs. How will she raise a child? But she is determined to find a way.

 

I offer to be her labor coach. When I get the call to meet Gloria at the hospital, I leave a

 

meeting with a vice-president that it has taken me two weeks to arrange. But when I arrive, Gloria

 

tells me that her sonogram says something is wrong with the baby. The doctor comes in and asks if they can induce labor and if she will agree to an emergency cesarean section if needed. “Anything to

 

help my son,” she says.

 

But all the procedures in the world cannot help. Bryan has Chromosome 18 damage,

 

A condition insurance adjusters call “Trainwreck.” Nearly every one of his vital systems has

 

something seriously wrong with it. I call a nurse friend. She informs me the baby does not have a

 

chance. How can I tell Gloria?

 

I stay with her through labor, scrub, enter the delivery room, but am asked to

 

leave while they do the C-section. I pray the baby will at least have a face. God is

 

merciful: Bryan is a pretty little boy with soft, curly hair and all his fingers and toes. His

 

big dark eyes, so full of pain, are the only clue that his insides are hopelessly scrambled.

 

I have never seen a newborn who looks so exhausted. They rush him to the neo-natal

 

nursery.

 

Next I pray that Bryan will at least live through the night, till Gloria’s anesthetic

 

wears off, so she can hold him and name him. That wish also granted, I pray that somehow the

 

doctors can cure Bryan’s life-threatening conditions.

 

But I run out of miracles. God is not a genie who grants three wishes. Even

 

though Gloria will be a loving, deserving mother, even though she has given her heart

 

and body, Bryan will not survive. Her only baby’s breath never rises above God’s softest

 

whisper.

 


I know Bryan will not live much longer, so I overcome my shyness, lie my way

 

into the neo-natal nursery, bringing my partner, who is a photographer, to take pictures

 

for Gloria.

 

The next morning, when Gloria awakens, the nurses bring Bryan to her. He is

 

hooked up to life support devices, barely alive. She cradles him in her arms long enough

 

to name him, read one story, sing one song, give one good-night kiss.

 

Sometimes, even a mother’s love is not enough.

 

The medical staff call me and Gloria’s therapists she has no family to be with

 

her when they withdraw life support. Gloria hugs Bryan and sings, in a splintering voice,

 

a last lullaby, “Jesus loves me, this I know…” She kisses him and whispers good-bye.

 

Bryan dies quietly, in his mother’s arms, in a roomful of love and prayers.

 

Gloria cannot let go of Bryan, despite the nurse’s coaxing. She clings to him for

 

half hour, then tearfully passes him to me so I can say good-bye, too. I hold my friend’s child and tell

 

him, “Your mama loves you and wants you so much. We’re going to miss taking you to the zoo and

 

out on walks.” Bryan does not mind the tears that fall on his face. I touch his tiny starfish hand, feel

 

his nubby baby toes through the cotton gown, kiss his fine hair. It is too late for my usual incantation

 

for newborns, “Don’t let anyone abuse this baby!”

 

When the nurse takes her son to the morgue, Gloria rocks, wailing, keening: “My

 

baby! My poor little baby is gone!” I have never heard such raw grief or felt so

 

inadequate. Gloria shakes and weeps and finally has to be sedated.

 

 

Bryan’s casket is no bigger than a shoebox, set adrift in the backseat of a big blue

 

Oldsmobile. I witness his burial because Gloria is still in the hospital. Someone has to

 

see where the grave is dug. The plain wooden box is lowered down. I say a prayer, drop

 

a white rose tied with a blue ribbon and a letter telling him how much he is loved and

 

missed.

 

Gloria grieves Bryan’s death for weeks. I want to help, but I cannot bring her

 

baby back. I call every day to make sure she is all right. I loan her some money when

 

she quits her job she cannot face working in a daycare again. I want to fix things for my

 

friend, but it is impossible. Gloria tells me that just being there for her, and listening, is

 

enough.

 

Bryan lived just twenty-two hours. He changed our lives forever. He taught us

 

that you don’t have to be perfect to be loved. You don’t have to live a long life to make a

 

difference. You don’t have to do great feats just be yourself. You can be angry at God

 

and not be struck down.

 

Years have passed. We have tried to let go and move on. Gloria took a

 

break from childcare but is working in her field again. Nowadays when Gloria sees a

 

child Bryan’s age, she can smile without trembling or tearing up. We still get together to talk about

 

our jobs, significant others, storytelling, and the play about child abuse we performed in last spring.

 

Holidays are painful – we guess what presents we would have bought Bryan this Christmas, what he

 

might have wanted this birthday.

 

 

           Of course, we still wonder why. Gloria wants to know why God took her little  

boy. I want to know why God gives healthy children to careless mothers and takes them  

from loving ones. We are learning to live without the answers. We are slowly healing,

 

but we are learning that healing is a lifelong process.

 

God does not outline lessons on some celestial chalkboard.

 

Bryan taught us that love hurts, but is worth the pain. That friendship is being

 

there, giving each other support, like a loom woven with joys and the sorrows. Like his

 

mother, Bryan was a soft-spoken teacher, who taught us that life, even just twenty-two

 

hours, is too precious to take for granted.

 

For most children, birthday parties are a ritual of growing up. For us, Bryan’s

 

birthday party is a celebration to remember a baby boy who touches our hearts still. We

 

blow out the candles and make a wish.

 

(based on a real life experience in 1995) (c) Kerry Vincent

Advertisements