Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Picking Up the Pieces

Well, in good news, George smiles at just about everything. Seriously.

Silas has begun singing along to his "Truck Tunes" songs in a falsetto voice in the backseat, all while wearing his superfly shades. Because he hasn't mastered long sentences though, he simply mumbles jargon in a really high pitch with an occasional emphasized "BACKHOE TODAY!" or "FORKLIFT BOOGIE!"

 I somehow can't believe it has been a whole week since Aiden passed away. Only now do I feel as though I have stepped out of my 'fraidy hole and am looking up to the warm sun through tear-dried eyes.  Aiden's death filled me with anguish, if you couldn't tell by the last two posts. I grieved more deeply and intensely for Aiden than I have for most of the deaths of people I have actually known. Over the past few days though, my grief has transformed from feelings of hopelessness and tears to mobilization, to a sense of "how can I help? How can I keep this from happening again?" Aiden's aunt Sarah, who runs both the 50 for Aiden and Pertussis: One is Enough pages, seems to have processed her grief through action all along, and finally I am at the stage where I can join her in this effort. Raising awareness about pertussis vaccinations will take a few different approaches in my life, at least two of which you will have to wait for. One will be a post co-authored by BJ and me in which we discuss the debunking of the vaccination-autism myth, which continues to be a reason why parents do not vaccinate their children. We're currently working on this piece and I would like to have it up by the weekend. I've also begun the word-of-mouth education to parents and grandparents I know, asking them if they are aware that they need to get themselves vaccinated for pertussis. Somehow this isn't common knowledge in Oklahoma, or in lots of places in the United States, which is why the CDC estimates that 92% of adults have not received their pertussis boosters. Unfortunately, it is believed that Aiden was infected with whooping cough by an unvaccinated adult.

My love for Aiden is complicated and difficult to explain. No one has actually pointed a finger at me and said, "You didn't even know this baby! He was only the friend of a friend! What's your problem?" Still, I find myself rationalizing why his illness and death impacted me to the point that it did, and honestly I have no answer. I'm a mother, I have a young child and an infant, and when I look at them I know how much I have to lose. But it's something more than that. I know that Aiden and his situation brought me to my knees in prayer far more often than I have been known to pray in recent years...and yet, it was a different kind of prayer. As my friend Cyndi eloquently stated, "...Mainly we Christians tend to pray...for the circumstances in our life to change. Whether it's about a health problem, financial, relational, etc. We're suffering, afraid, worried, and we want God to change our circumstances. But I think God is mainly interested in changing US." I've thought a lot about the prayers that I lifted for Aiden and what kind of effect these prayers may have had on ME; my soul-searching has led me to the notion that I cannot pray for someone so passionately and relentlessly without coming to love (and miss) that person so passionately and relentlessly.  Somehow, I have profoundly felt the void that his tiny little body created when he left this Earth.  I have learned other lessons this past week as well:

Be grateful for what and who you have in your life. Life can be ridiculously unfair. God provides peace. There is nothing as awful as a broken heart. Thousands of people (especially Oklahomans, I'm convinced!) can truly come together in the wake of tragedy.  And last but certainly not least, your best friends and family can blow your mind with their amazing generosity during your grief. I can't tell you how many wonderful phone calls I got from my best friends, which helped since BJ was out of town all week. My mother-in-law strategically kept me busy on fun errands out of the house with the boys and her. My mom cooked for us dinner one night, and Chanda and Landon cooked for us on another. People close to me let me vent and cry, accepting no apology for the out-of-place tears at work or in public, and people asked me directly about Aiden rather than sweeping the issue under the rug like something to avoid. For all of these things, I am thankful. Also, a thank you for those who pitched in for support on Silas' cut tongue, which was a real doozy and required round the clock Tylenol and pureed foods for a few days. (In this picture, the coloration makes it look infected but it's really not.)
Thank you, friends, for hanging in there with me during hard times.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Goodbye, Aiden

It's amazing how the lapse of time begins healing a grieving heart. Yesterday was one of the more miserable days of my life; I could hardly stop crying. Yet today I am able to type these words without tears. Almost. Last night by the time I put my babies to bed I was simply going through the motions numbly; it seemed even experiencing positive emotions somehow doubled back on itself to anguish.

Yesterday Baby Aiden passed into Heaven as he was removed from life support.

There were solitary moments yesterday when my heart wanted to stop with his. Somehow, though, the world keeps moving and we keep on living, even though a seven-week-old baby has been taken from us by a disease that should have been eradicated. I have never lost a child, but to a small extent I can imagine the pain of his mother Kristen, and that is part of what makes this all so awful. Years ago I thought I knew what grief was, but I was naive. These last three years of life have introduced me to grief associated with the sudden tragic death of an 18-year-old cousin, the diagnosis and course of illness with Owen, a friend's repeated miscarriages, the loss of the Hamill boys in the Piedmont tornado last year, and now this. I am a mother, and mothers as well as mothers-at-heart understand this: I have experienced each of these more profoundly than I personally could have experienced them before. Children suffering and being lost is something else. THIS is grief.  Aiden's family seems to be handling this beautifully, relying on their faith and their interpersonal support network to make it through, and for that I admire them.

The loss of Aiden resonates with me deeply and inspires me to say a few things:
To my family and friends, I love you. Loss renews the need for me to say that all over again, although I like to think that I say it frequently as it is. To my three boys, I love you the most. You have the best of me, and I pledge that now and for always. To the world, please get your pertussis vaccination and save a life; adults need boosters too! Young babies like Aiden depend on you to be healthy as they have no immune system themselves. And to Aiden, I love you and I somehow feel your absence already, even though I never held you. You make me want to be a better person so that I can make it to Heaven with you and meet you there. BJ and I have decided to plant a tree in our backyard, and we'll call it the Aiden Tree, and we'll tell our kids all about you as they grow. You have been part of Silas' prayers at bedtime and will continue to be, dear baby. And finally, I'm sorry that life here on Earth wasn't better for you.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Baby Aiden and a Crisis of Faith

 This sleeping little beauty is named Aiden Smith. He is only weeks old and has been diagnosed with Pertussis, which is commonly known as whooping cough. Aiden is too young to have received the vaccine. He is hospitalized here in Oklahoma City and has been on Ecmo life support for the past three weeks. The situation is becoming increasingly dire as he must be off of the life support machine and able to maintain his own functions very soon, as there is an infection in an Ecmo tube that is planted in his body, and this infection must not reach him. Efforts recently have focused on decreasing Ecmo flows so that Aiden has a shot of breathing and maintaining his own heart rate once they must shut off the machine.
We were first introduced to Aiden's situation by our friend Laurie, who is a family friend of the Smiths. The story is heartbreaking, and I can really sympathize with Laurie on what it feels like to have a great friend with a very ill baby. As Laurie told me more about Aiden over that first week, I gradually became more invested in this sick little baby. The family maintains a Facebook page named "50 for Aiden," and it thus makes it even easier to get oneself wrapped up in this child and his story through daily updates and pictures.

I cannot tell you how close to my heart this situation is. I have never kissed or held this boy, and I have never shaken his mother's (Kristen's) hand. The closest person that I know who personally knows this family is Laurie. And yet, I can honestly say that I think about this boy a thousand times a day. I have shed countless tears for him and his family. As he failed to go longer than 3.5 minutes today off the Ecmo, I openly sobbed as I processed the information that time is now running that much shorter. My heart has felt gripped in sadness for three long weeks. I find myself asking, how can this be? Why does this happen to children? Why do babies like Owen and Aiden suffer, and why do they potentially not get chances to live like I have, like most people get to? It is patently unfair.

It seems to me that the older I get and the more tragedy I see, the more my faith begins taking different forms. Please understand me here: when I use the word "tragedy," I am specifically referring to the fatal accidents and illnesses that have afflicted children in my life...I'm not even accounting for the adults. People call me a compassionate person, and I know that I have been created by One who is far more compassionate than me, One who has created compassion itself. So I just have to wonder, why this? Why does this happen? If my heart hurts beyond belief for this young child, then imagine the pain in God's heart, and why isn't He doing anything about it? What I have come to believe recently is that He can't do anything about it.

Some of you might remember my post in which I called myself blasphemous (indeed a former friend believed that of me as well and she has since sadly terminated our friendship because of my post). In that post, I iterated that I love God and believe Him capable of intervening in our lives, but have come to believe that He won't intervene for reasons that I cannot question. Well, my soul-searching has evolved from that point to a place that I feel fairly comfortable with; what I am concluding (based on my own experiences, not yours) is that God has created a world in which He has given us control and has put Himself into the passenger seat. He attempts to guide us with His love, His beautiful creation with all of its amazing qualities, and His promise of Heaven, but ultimately He does not control what we do or what happens to us. I cannot tell you how refreshing this idea, called the Arminian viewpoint, is to me. I was beginning to struggle from a real crisis of faith as I wondered constantly about the intersection between God's mercy and His almightiness. I wondered, is a God that controls every little detail and causes every affliction actually a merciful God? My last post made no secret of the fact that I do NOT believe that God plans for accidents, illness, or natural disasters. But why isn't He stopping them, regardless? I tell you, I feel so much better about my God and His beauty when I pause to consider that He put a world into creation without imposing Himself upon it, and now these accidents are not His doing, nor can He stop them (which is why He doesn't often seem to). He has completely relinquished His control. Lamentations 3:33 says, "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men."  Amen that He doesn't. And if He could stop the heartache, He would.

God offers me love, support, peace, and an eternal place to rest. He offers me wisdom and mercy. All of these I accept gladly from Him, and I believe it pleases Him when I act in accordance to goodness and peacefulness; after all, these very qualities come from Him. As a friend of mine said, He is there for us to help us through problems, but He cannot fix them for us. He has simply relinquished that control.

Please join me in praying for peace for Aiden and his family. If it was me, I would desperately be in need of it.