One of the greatest moments of grace in my life came to me when my baby son was in hospital for another heart surgery. His life had been touch and go with his particular problem and we were back again praying this next surgery would buy him some time till he got bigger and stronger for the inevitable following one.
In Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital, the parent waiting room in those days was what I think of as a kind of purgatory yet also a spiritual place filled with kind volunteers, paintings of doctors adorning the stone walls and immensely high cathedral like ceilings. It was the great equalizer room, too. Economic background, culture, race, colour and gender had no place here. It was as if a veil had been dropped over all who entered. A waiting room where some would pass into heaven and others granted further life here. But it wasn’t based on anything that anyone sitting in that waiting room had done – the events experienced here were truly up to the gods.
In the pediatric cardiac ward in those days there were no adjoining suites to rest up in or Ronald McDonald houses to offer some much needed respite from time to time. However, we were very inventive and learned to make beds out of chairs, lazy-boys out of pillows, a window sill and bed rail, and there was only one co-ed washroom for parents to get a shower and freshen up. The June Cleaver pearls and apron were not dawned, but comfort and freshness was. The staff were people with a higher calling and the chapel was visited regularly – for some, it was our second home from the ward.
It was there I had the good fortune to meet another Mom whose son was also having surgery for the same genetic malfunction as my own son. She was a sweet woman also who had other children at home on the farm being looked after by Dad. And when they were able to visit you could see the love shared among them all.
This wonderful Mother and I bonded almost immediately as people often do in these situations. If one of us had to step out the other would watch both boys, or we’d bring back sustenance from the cafeteria and we would talk – about our families, the heart problems, our hopes and dreams, and we would laugh, cry and share our souls. I believe more real intimacy goes on in these situations than some relationships ever share in a lifetime. These expressions of intimacy are one of the great gifts from such trials.
The time had come for our boys to go for their surgeries. The heart-pounding, the tear-filled eyes when the elevator door closes taking your little ones off to surgery, is hard to explain. Crying all the way to the infamous waiting room and settling in for what could be a very long wait in some cases, accompanied with fear and hope simultaneously.
There were no smart phones back in the 70’s. You couldn’t concentrate to read the papers or a book. I filled my time for the most part, other than in prayer, observing the other parents in that high-ceilinged room of stone and marble. The volunteers were the dearest of the dear – another group with a special calling. Whenever we saw the white coats come into the room all eyes were on their facial expressions and demeanors. Our eyes followed them to the parents they sat down with and we held our breath as we watched the parents’ facial expressions from the news. Some were tearful with elation, some with pain of loss and some with extended not knowing.
Later that afternoon the doctors came to us with the good news he had made it through the surgery and was in ICU. It was best to get rest at this point in order to be fresh for a long day coming up. In the morning as I was passing the nurse’s station in ICU, one of them called me aside. She wanted to advise me that while my son was doing OK the other little boy, whose Mom I had become so close with, would most likely not make it through the day.
That age old question – how do you enjoy your delight in your good news while simultaneously keeping your heart open to lovingly support someone who had received such devastating news? To this day I still don’t know that answer, except to take one step at a time and acknowledge all your feelings.
After spending some time re-assuring my son and doing all the things Moms do for their children in these circumstances, I was nervous as to what to say or do. I felt a deep ache for this Mom sitting with her dying child. I wanted to re-assure her too, knowing of course I couldn’t possibly say or do anything to take away her pain or to “fix” it.
I prayed fervently as I made my way around the end of my son’s bed to be by her side. I kept myself open, hoping any or all the Gods would speak through me and offer her exactly what she needed. I gently put my hand on her shoulder looking deep into her eyes asking, “What can I do? I’m so very sorry about your son.”
Then the most profound thing that has ever happened to me unfolded. She looked up at me and with the most gracious, illuminated aura and said, “Oh thank you, I’m OK,” with a slight smile indicating her appreciation for my intention. “I’m so very happy your son is doing well.” I was speechless, unable to say anything.
And she truly meant it with every benevolent fibre in her being. I have never, ever been so beautifully humbled. I felt an angel speaking these words of spiritual love.
Later that day her son passed away. I never saw her again. I neglected to get her contact information – one regret I have in my life. To this day I cannot tell this story without the floodgate of tears that accompany it.
My son healed enough to go home. Stepping back into the “real” world was a complete shock and took me months to adjust getting back to “reality,” but I was never really the same. Oh I succumbed to “get along,” but to me the real world is in the places where such graciousness resides – quietly, selflessly, graciously.
I think of this woman often, whose name I still can’t remember. She has become my beacon of love, hope, courage, strength and grace. The selflessness of the spirit in action. I was honoured and blessed to have had a brief encounter with her and I am still humbled to this very day whenever I think of her. I’d like to name her Grace – because she truly was Grace in action.
– Sharon Danley