The young father walked down the hall, each of his daughters holding one of his hands. He looked to be in his thirties and his daughters, perhaps 3 and 5 years old. They were dressed like little princesses – dresses with skirts that puffed out, patent leather shoes and white socks with embroidered flowers and ruffles. Their mood matched their father’s – quiet, determined, serious. It was almost as if his energy flowed into theirs and they became one. You could barely hear their footfalls in the long hallway, the lowered lighting bathing them in softness from behind.
Late at night, a special visitation, they were on the Trauma-Neuro floor of the hospital where I worked. They were on their way to see their wife and mother.
In her thirties, she was in her prime – physically fit from the bicycling that was her passion. Each year, she bicycled several times a year for different charities that were close to her heart. Today’s was for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where they provide care and find cures for sick children at no cost.
Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way for a visit.
Earlier that day, as everyone was packing up and leaving the successful Bike-a-Thon fund-raising event, the young mother was struck by a small panel truck that barreled through an intersection without brakes. Med Evac flew her to our trauma center. But it was too late… In spite of all that modern medicine had to offer, massive head injuries left this young wife and mother brain dead. Her family was here to say good-bye before she was removed from life support.
When gathering her things together before her family arrived, I looked at her driver’s license, seeing her smiling eyes and the words “Organ Donor” stamped on its front. She would still be giving of herself after death, and several of her organs were already designated to people across the country.
Late at night, a special visitation, her husband and two daughters were on their way to say good-bye.
As I watched the small family enter her room, I couldn’t help but think of all that she would miss of her daughters’ lives – kindergarten and grammar school, getting their driver’s license and experiencing their first kiss, senior prom, graduation, college and another graduation, their weddings, the births of their own children – gone forever in an instant. A tragedy unfolding in the privacy of her hospital room…
Trauma-Neuro was always quiet at night; those with severe head trauma were often kept in a medically-induced coma while their brain swelling was monitored. I walked toward the only other person near-by – a young resident who had been looking at the wall of monitors behind the nurse’s station. He stood still, staring off into nothingness. Tears welled in his eyes.
I placed my hand over his clenched fist that rested on the counter.
“I shouldn’t be like this,” he ground out without even looking at me, wiping a stray tear from his cheek with his free hand.
“How can you not be?” I offered quietly. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor this family needs right now.” I hesitated. “You’re exactly the kind of doctor medicine needs.”
As he dropped his chin to his chest, I felt his fist relax, as we stood together, both hearts weeping.
I heard a muffled “thank you” and looked up to see the young family standing just past the nurse’s station. The man’s eyes filled with tears, he slowly turned and walked away, his back stiff as he held his girls’ hands. As they walked down the hallway, passing through the shadows, a soft light bathed them in a familiar shape – wings??? – before they exited through the door.
Time stopped. A mother who bicycled for charity, breathing with life support until her family said good-bye and her organs were harvested; two little girls in ruffles and bows, their lips quivering with an unnamed fear; a young husband and father walking toward an unthinkable future in agonized disbelief; and, a physician who now understood that not all stories have a happy ending and that sometimes the simple one word question – “Why?” – is so terribly vast and complex that any acceptable answer defies human comprehension.
At that moment, I heard the soft strains of Brahms’ Lullaby echoing from the hospital’s public address system to announce the birth of a new child in the maternity wing.
As one life ends, another begins in the eternal cycle. An ending to be mourned and a beginning to be celebrated. Second chances made possible by the gift of life from a selfless woman.
I celebrate all of you for coming into my life – the mother and father, their daughters, the doctor…and yes, even the new baby. I keep you in my heart awash with blessings.
Interconnected. Circles of Compassion. Circles of Grace.