The gift of watching a child die

(I wrote this post shortly after the events of that fateful day, 21 June 2017, but never shared it publicly. I decided to share it today, on the anniversary of Princess’s death, in her memory, but also because I remain grateful for the lessons I learned through the tragedy.)

The Gift of watching a child die

I had second-thoughts about that title. I realized it could sound sick. Twisted. My aunt still mourns the loss of her son 13 years ago and I don’t know how she’d feel if someone referred to his death as ‘a gift’. Perhaps it might be better if I make it very clear that the death of a child was not a gift in and of itself, but what I learned from it was. It is an honest title though. Because that is the raw, awful truth: watching a child die was a gift to me. Painful? Yes. The rip-your-heart-out-and-put-it-through-a-shredder kind of pain that actually words cannot even begin to describe. But a gift, still.

A message came through on our neighborhood group that a child had been hit by a car on a road that runs parallel to ours. I started to fume. I’d said countless times that that road was a hazard. Then another message: ‘Help! Child needs CPR’.

I yelled for my eldest daughter. She has training in infant and pediatric CPR.
‘You drive!’ she yelled back as she threw me the car keys, grabbing her sneakers.

As we ran out to the car we could hear sirens in the distance. Messages were coming through the group saying EMS were enroute but still a few minutes out.

It took us less than 60 seconds to reach the scene. As we ran towards the crowd we saw a paramedic arrive to take over from a civilian who had started CPR. We pushed through the crowd and saw her. A young girl lying on the pavement. More medics arrived and got to work quickly, setting an IV, bringing equipment, continuing with CPR.

Not far from her a woman was on her knees, crying a hoarse, gut-wrenching cry. The child’s mother. Still unsure of what had actually happened, I asked her.

“The pool. She was in the water.” she told me. She said it a few times, as if still processing it herself.
“Not a car accident?’ I asked.
“No. The water.” she said.

At this point I realized what was later confirmed. The child was found floating in the pool. No one knows how long she had been there. Carrying her, the mother had run into the street to flag down a car for help. That’s how she landed up beside a busy road. That’s why people presumed a car had hit her.

She scrambled to her feet and started moving towards her daughter who was surrounded by at least a dozen medics. My daughter and I held her back.
“Let them work. They need space.” we told her. She collapsed, sobbing. We wrapped our arms around her. She was wet. We prayed. We tried to speak words that soothed and comforted. But what do you say to a mother watching strangers try to pump life back into her lifeless child?

Every few minutes the medic in charge would ask how long CPR had been in progress, and he’d ask to check for a pulse. He asked for more adrenaline to be administered a few times. The medics took it in turns to keep CPR going.

After a while, a friend arrived to offer the mother support. Relieved of my duty, I moved away, closer to the child, and just looked at her.

My youngest daughter is around the same age. In fact, she has a pair of sweat pants identical to those this girl was wearing. I thought about how when her mom dressed her that morning, she had no idea it would be the last time she’d ever dress her little girl.

Whoever began CPR had cleared her airway first. There was some vomit beside her. Her mother could not have known that breakfast would be the last meal she’d ever prepare for her child.

I looked at the braids in her hair. Her beautiful, soft skin. Her arm, limp and lifeless beside her. The enormous hands of a paramedic pumping her chest, her soft tummy distended below it.

I saw the paramedic in charge signal to his team that CPR would continue for two more minutes, and then they would stop.

They did. After 30 minutes, the child was still unresponsive. This precious Princess (her name really was Princess) was pronounced dead. There on the pavement. Spitting distance from my home. A place I pass almost daily. This beautiful, beautiful child, was gone.

I don’t know if anything can prepare you to watch a child die. To watch a mother watch her child die. And as the scene played out in my mind over the next days, and the image of her limp, lifeless frame came to mind over and over, in wakefulness and fitful sleep, I realized that I was traumatized.

This felt selfish. She wasn’t my child. I’d never met her. Her mother works at a home very near to mine, but I may never see her again. But I’d seen a horrible ordeal. I’d gazed upon a beautiful child, lifeless beside the road, and hoped and prayed with every fiber of my being that the monitor would show a pulse, that she’d start to breathe. I held a mother while she lived through what every parent dreads most: the death of a child. I knew my life was forever changed by watching this sweet little girl die.

When I got home after leaving the scene, I looked at my youngest who had toddled out to meet me as we drove in. I mean, really looked at him. The look that comes from genuine love and concern. I had been so ratty with him that morning, before that fateful message came through. He isn’t a good sleeper. Never has been. He’d had a particularly bad night. And I had held it against him. I realized that mother would have given anything, anything to hear her child cry again.

As that thought filtered down through my brain and into my heart, my perspective changed. It wasn’t a voluntary flick-of-a-switch kind of change. It wasn’t a decision or a process of thought. It just happened.

I have spent too much time getting worked up about things that just don’t matter. I’ve allowed things beyond my control to stress me out. I’ve permitted people who don’t have my best interests at heart to drag me down. I’ve half-heartedly lived through many moments, not paying enough attention or worse, getting frustrated and irritated because I’ve been distracted by other things, more important things sometimes, but usually just other things that selfishly pull my focus away from ‘little’ things like helping a child with their jacket buttons, pushing a child in a swing, listening to a story or changing a diaper. I’ve worried too much about things that really, truly just do not have any significance later, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year… eternity.

We all know this stuff. We really do. It’s the stuff we all say. It’s the stuff authors and motivational speakers and Oprah say. It’s the stuff we say to our friends, and they say to us. It’s the stuff I’ve said. It’s the stuff I knew. Theoretically anyway. But where the rubber hit the road, it is not what I lived. Watching Princess die ripped open my very soul, exposed its inner workings and reprogrammed it to operate differently.

Yes, my baby boy is still clingy and cries a lot. He doesn’t sleep much. But I will sleep again. Probably within the next few months. At worst, a year or two. It’s not forever. Soon all his baby-problems together with all his baby-cuteness will be gone altogether.

And the children drag dirt into the house and leave toys scattered about. It doesn’t really bother me anymore. But it used to drive me bananas! Now I’m just glad they’re having fun. Honestly. I just don’t mind cleaning it up anymore.

Our humble home with its cracked windows, holes in some couches, doors that don’t close properly, the unfinished concrete floor in the bathroom still awaiting tiling. Our kitchen that is, quite literally, falling apart. We’re comfortable with it. It is perfectly functional and in very creative ways, we’ve made it all work. We live here very happily, and host many, many friends and travelers who, mostly, seem to be happy and comfortable too, even if a bit taken aback at first. I say mostly because we’ve had the occasional snipe and derogatory comment. And I gave those people and their opinions way too much power. I allowed them to make me feel ashamed, embarrassed, and fear that I had nothing to offer.

In the weeks following the drowning, those feelings have blown away like clouds in the wind on a beautiful sunny day. Not because I decided I needed to get over those negative feelings. Really, I didn’t sit down and analyze anything and everything in my life and decide I needed to change my perspective. I didn’t choose this any more than I chose the color of my eyes or how tall I’d be. And yet, my perspective on everything has radically changed. I see my life, indeed the world, in a vastly different way.

Now more than ever before, worldly preferences and silly comforts just seem, well, silly. Empty. Foolish. Inconsequential. What has opened up before me is a life of thriving, not merely surviving. Abundant living like I’ve always said was my goal.

I could write volumes about the real, practical ways of how this change in perspective has affected my entire life in the most phenomenal ways. But this post is already long enough.

All that really remains to be said is this: Watching a little girl die was one of the greatest gifts I have ever received. My life changed that day. Suddenly what does and what does not matter became crystal clear to me. What does not matter no longer gets my energy and attention. And what does matter has been getting the very best of me, perhaps for the first time in all my almost 40 years. The trauma is healing, but I will never be the same. Thank God, I will never be the same.

Rest In Peace, precious Princess. Your loss of life helped me gain a whole new life of my own. Thank you for teaching me the most valuable lesson I have ever learned.

(In the months following the drowning, while completing the CPR portion of her first aid training with the American Red Cross, my daughter went to pieces. She reached out for counseling and came to recognize she had suffered post traumatic stress. She is doing better now, but she too seems changed forever by what we saw that day.

If you ever witness an ordeal like this, please reach out for help and support. It’s not selfish. It’s not weak. It’s not pathetic. It’s the good thing to do.)

Answer your enemies

Answer your enemies with excellence.

It probably won’t win you favour. It’s more likely to incur more venom. Wrath. Judgement. Criticism.

But, you will be above reproach. Beyond accusation. Strong, with clean hands and a clear conscience.

Don’t allow this to let you grow prideful. Remain humble. Even the worst accuser grows silent then.

The way I see it

I was pouring out my heart to Andrew about something earlier and he said “You should write a blog post about that”.

I grimaced. He noticed, and asked why.

I’ve grown quiet in most spheres. It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, everything to the contrary actually. Enter our home or car and you’ll soon discover that, as a family, we all have PLENTY to say!

But, do you read blogs? Do you go on Facebook, ever? Do you listen to, or engage in conversations around you? Do you read newspapers, more specifically, the letters and comments in response to articles posted?

I was going to say “perhaps it’s just me” but I know it’s not. Good news is hard to come by. This past week water shortages, drought and a prolonged heat wave have brought my country to her knees. The attacks in France have brought the world to her knees. And splattered in between and among those heart-breaking stories are more heart-breaking stories of the terrible things happening in our homes, communities, countries and indeed across the whole wretched globe every moment of every day.

That’s just the current events. Then we have news of the more personal kind. Facebook and Twitter. Bloggers sharing their stories and perspectives on their blogs and websites. WhatsApp chat groups, emails, radio show hosts and callers-in and I suppose TV shows too (we don’t have TV, so I’m guessing there). And then the rubber hits the road with face-to-face communications: across the dinner table and at parties and gatherings, at book club, at Church, in the staff room or around the copier at the office, our children’s school events and sports clubs and so on.

It’s not really the sharing of stories or news that is the problem. It’s the response to them. It seems to me that we have fallen so in love with our own opinions that thoughtfulness for the recipient of whatever comment we think is important enough to toss back at them has been unceremoniously thrown under the bus. A decade ago many would apologise upfront, prefacing what they knew was going to be offensive with the “no offence BUT….” that I grew to hate. Yes, I said it. Hate. I always wondered why someone would knowingly say something offensive, and if they really thought saying “No offence but…” excused them.

But now we just open our mouths, or set our fingers flying across the keyboard, and let rip.

I’ve noted a growing trend of defensiveness as a result. We cannot say a jolly thing without desperately needing to anticipate the negative responses and nip them in the bud, or justify ourselves, or defend something we’ve done, said or stood for. So we spend as much time, space and energy emphasising what we’re NOT saying as we do just saying whatever it is we want to say.

(And here’s my own bit of pre-empting: my feelings here are based almost entirely on what I’ve observed, not what I’ve experienced. I’d lie if I said no amount of poison or ridiculous response to something I’ve said or written somewhere had ever been spewed in my direction. I’m a homeschooling Christian mother of 5 with stronger-than-average views on politics, social issues and society in general. I’d live in a bubble if I didn’t know people consider me “intimidating” and “opinionated”. But my feelings about this are not based on those few personal experiences.)

Of course we are all entitled to our own opinions. I’m not of the same school of thought as my father who used to tell me “if I wanted you to have an opinion, I’d give you one”. But I also think that in this day and age of fluctuation and the breathless rate of change all around us, we’d have some respect for different views. Discussion, constructive criticism and even disagreement are healthy; harsh criticism, lack of empathy, a refusal to seek to understand and outright hatred is not.

As I’ve watched us go from bad to worse in just how highly we treasure ourselves and own opinions regardless of the cost to others, I’ve simply but purposefully stepped back, wanting no part of it.

I have also watched some bravely endure, knowing that what they had to say was of value and worth the risk. Strangely enough, it is from these individuals (some on Facebook, some bloggers, some journalists, a few personal friends) that I’ve learnt the most.

Andrew’s response when I shared all this with him was not only a mutual feeling about the matter, but these words: “Well, I want to encourage you to write again. I think you have something to say.”

You’re free to disagree, of course. He has offered to moderate my comments section for me.

What am I here to do?

Take a look at this

Powerful, isn’t it? It is just one of several powerful things I have watched or read or listened to or thought about….. I’ve read Shane Claiborne’s “Irresistible Revolution” and Jeff Goin’s “Wrecked” and “Banker to the poor” by Muhammad Yunus. I’ve read the accounts of people who work in orphanages in deepest, darkest Africa and the stories of those who have made short trips with organisations like Compassion International. I’ve longingly read about the work of groups like Heifer and Soil For Life, changing lives, saving lives by teaching people to grow food or care for animals. I’ve been inspired by blog posts like this one: 7 ideas for a Stay at Home Summer Mission Trip.

Food Gardens

All left me feeling “Yes! I want to do more! Make a difference! Make my life count!” As a Christ-follower, I especially seek to make this difference in a way that brings God glory. I want to work for Him. I admire anyone who desires to and works towards making this world a better place. I honour and respect all humanitarian efforts. But my personal driving force are the words and works of Jesus and His commands to love and defend the poor, helpless, defenseless, sick, the orphan and the widow.

Knit A Square

So Eric’s video above challenged me, again. And it also frustrated me. I’ve felt like this for a very long time. This drive to get out there and work – to care for people, to clothe them, feed them, give them shelter and uplift them – spiritually (by sharing with them the God who has not deserted them and loves them and in Whose name I’d be there serving) and physically by meeting practical need and teaching skills, equipping lives to be better lived.

I’ve prayed “Lord, use me. Show me where. Show me how. Send me.”. I’ve dreamed, out loud and silently. I’ve lain awake at night in deep and sincere thought about the multitude of things I could do.

But nothing. No answers. I have NO idea what to do. Where to go. And so I vacillate between longing and inspiration and frustrated indifference, the desire to go and do becomes a resolution to stay and be.

I’ve dabbled in various things: participated in short-term missions, worked with charities, raised and donated money, raised awareness to try inspire others to give and serve. For several years we bought/made blankets (as a family) and distributed them among needy and deserving people every winter. We’ve worked at soup kitchens. We’ve worked at an orphanage. We’ve fed hungry people who come to our gate.

But none of these activities have led to a lasting involvement. Or a life calling. Or a mission.  And I’m just left wondering: is this it? Is it enough?

I’m quick to draw comfort from Mother Theresa who said “We can do no great things. Only small things with great love”. Great love I have! Small things I’ve done, and do. But is it enough?

I have no answer. I’m just putting my thoughts down here.


Orphan Care

Do your bit….

A great quote from a great man! And, I believe it with every fibre of my being! Imagine the impact on this world if every single person bit their own bit of good as often as they could, perhaps even every day?

The ideas are endless. Here are few I can think of quickly (by no means an exhaustive list!). Pick one, or come up with another of your own, and resolve to do it this week.

– Take a meal to a friend (old, sick, lonely, busy, or just because you love them).

– Write a note to someone needing encouragement, or call someone whom you know doesn’t get out much and needs some conversation.

– Check your calendar. Send a birthday card to someone who is having a birthday within the next month.

– Pick up litter in your street or a nearby park.

– Babysit a friend’s children so that she (or he) can have an hour or two to refresh their soul.

– Volunteer for 3 hours at an animal shelter, community center or with another organization that is meaningful to you.

– Make a donation to a worthy cause. Many organizations have online donation platforms and even $2-$5 makes a difference.

– Write a letter, email or make a call to make your voice heard on an important issue. This may mean contacting your local or national government representative, logging on to the Amnesty International website, responding to a story in a newspaper or magazine or perhaps meeting with a business owner to discuss something about their business model that concerns you, like how he or she treats his/her staff.

– Bake cookies or muffins and deliver them to a place of service nearby as a token of your appreciation for those who work there, for example: the library, police station, fire house, clinic, vet or post office, or a local school.

– Sort through some things in your house and donate them to a worthy cause, such as a Hospice or charity shop, childrens home, shelter for the homeless or victims of domestic abuse, Salvation Army or animal shelter.

– Buy some supplies you know are needed by a worthy cause and drop them off – such as baby formula, bottles, nappies (diapers) for a childrens home, non-perishable foods to a food pantry or fresh foods to a soup kitchen.

Knit a square. Or a scarf. Or a hat. Or a teddy bear. For patterns or ideas on where to send them, check out Bev’s Country Cottage or my personal favourite, Knit A Square (note: they don’t ONLY need squares :-).

These are just a few ideas. If you don’t like them, come up with you own (and please share them!), but please do DO your little bit of good this week!