Happy New Year!
This past Christmas, I was given an opportunity to wrap lots of presents for sick kids in the hospital. We as a family have spent our fair share of days as residents of Massachusetts General Hospital. In fact, we have spent every major holiday there at one point or another. We are what might be called “frequent flyers.”
But that’s not why I was in the hospital on December 23rd. I was there to wrap Christmas presents for other kids and their families.
Here’s the deal. Christmas in the hospital totally sucks and everyone knows it. Doctors and nurses do everything they can to get kids home because no one wants to be in the hospital for Christmas. But sometimes, kids can’t go home. So there are wonderful, generous, kind-hearted people who do the best they can to make Christmas as nice as it can be for these sick kids (and their parents) who just don’t want to be there. There are sports players and pop singers who come for visits. Santa comes by. There are special events to make Christmas Cards or crafts. There are special cookies on the food trays. There might be someone who comes by to sing Christmas Carols. All of this helps, but it’s not the same as being home and we all know it.
The Child Life Services at MGH along with their charity organization, “Angels Above” had managed to buy or procure dozens, perhaps hundreds of presents and spent about a week setting them up in a storage room so that parents could “shop” for their children. Each parent could choose five presents for their child. Sometimes, if they had more than one child (only one of whom was sick), they would divide the presents up: three for the sick child, two for the well child. They would be given a shopping bag and the opportunity to find something special for their kids because time and money are tight when you’ve got a sick kid.
They were so grateful, they couldn’t say thank you enough. Thank you for the presents. For the thoughtfulness. For the wrapping. It was the kind of overwhelming and exhausting gratefulness of people who were simply worn so thin that all they could do was express their gratitude. They had spent all of their emotion and energy showing up, talking to doctors, putting on a brave face, and trying to make sense of it all. You could see the weariness in their eyes, in their smiles.
Bags of toys in hand, they would then come to me. I was in the family room, in the corner, with big windows that overlooked the State House with its golden dome. The weather outside was gray but it hadn’t snowed yet. I had a special wrapping station with paper of any color and bows, and cards, and ribbons. I would wrap their packages. They would sometimes help, but most of the time they would just sit. And then, ever so slowly, they would talk.
What exactly do you say to a parent in this situation I wondered, and so I started with the question, “Tell me about your child.” And they would. Who they were, how old, where they lived. Then, what they were in for, how long they had been there. How much their child inspired them. How grateful they were to the doctors. How scared they were all the time. All while I was wrapping presents. All with other parents in the room. The overwhelming theme was that their kids were their heroes.
There were people from all walks of life, from all ethnicities. There was a Chinese woman who so wanted to be understood, that she spoke slowly and in clipped phrases. Her son was in pain. He was scared. She was scared. They had been there two weeks. She had no family in America. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she trembled trying to get the words out.
There was a grandparent couple there with their granddaughter who was their whole world, who travelled back and forth from New York State for treatments. Another little boy with the same diagnosis and his parents from Maine, when the parents and the grandparents found out, they compared notes on symptoms and side effects, on doctors and treatments.
There was a South American Woman who was afraid she was going to lose her job because she was in the hospital so often with her child, who had weak lungs. She lived locally, so she tried to do the work at night as best she could.
When the Child Life staff came by to ask if I needed anything, the only thing I could think of was tissues, because sometimes these parents got a little teary, a little emotional. Can anyone blame them?
Now here is the thing. I was only there for two hours. All of this happened in two short hours. As one of the parents was leaving, she looked at me and thanked me, not just for the presents, and the wrapping, but she thanked me specifically for the conversation. She said, it was so nice to talk to someone new.
And I remembered feeling exactly the same way when Wendy was in the hospital.
That day was the genesis for this blog. Sure, in the past I have thought about writing my experiences, in fact people have told me I should write a memoir. For now, that’s not my focus. I think it’s important to talk about our brave, but fragile, warriors. And talk about how difficult it is to parent them at times, because we want them to be normal kids but they have extraordinary circumstances.
The truth is that a lot of the things we want to talk about make other parents uncomfortable, even our friends. It’s like they don’t know where to look when I talk about Wendy’s next kidney transplant, or the horror of having no health insurance, or the many hours and days I spend in the hospital. It’s not that they don’t love us, it’s just that it’s very difficult for them to relate without triggering their own deepest, darkest fears of having a sick child.
Our sick kids are not only the brave fragile warriors. We as their parents are too and we deserve a place to talk about it, to comfort each other, to celebrate the victories and band together in the defeats.
And so, a blog is born.