Since my last blog was about a time when God answered a prayer for me that was ever so small, showing me, he knows me well. This time I will tell you about a time in my life, when my prayers were devastatingly important, but God remained silent. It felt like I was praying through a muffled blanket, in a foreign language, and he wasn’t understanding a word I was saying! When in fact, I was speaking very clear, he just wasn’t doing as I asked. My companions on this journey were Fear and Sorrow.
Most of us are smart enough to understand that sorrow or grief brings with it, its own communication, realized later, to be rich in meaning. So rich, that our usual busy lives cannot begin to take it in. We know this is true when a person, who has become friendly with death, through repeated exposure to its nearness, tells us about the beauty of life. We stare at them, trying, wishing, determined to grasp their full meaning, knowing they are saying so much more, than four simple words. Yet we find ourselves asking them to break that statement down, from their perspective, wanting, wishing to truly understand the depth of their words. With this post, though I know without doubt, that there are others who know much more than I, I will tell you about one of my experiences in which my days and nights were spent with fear and sorrow.
Sitting in that chilly little room, with dark gray walls patterned with larger darker shadows. A charcoal bed held a dimly lit girl breathing silently. Watching her closely, I could see only the slightest lift of her chest. I shivered with cold, glancing longingly at the thermostat on the wall. It was set at a freezing 65 degrees. And desperately, I wanted, to turn up the heat. Instead, I tucked the blanket tighter around my legs; and began typing on my computer. How was it I was in this dark little room? I never once thought that I would be spending night after night in the hospital watching her breathe. The thought that I was here shocked me, horrified me. And as always when that thought entered my head, I felt a shot of adrenalin surge through my body, as it had every time before, as if this were the first time I was thinking it. My nerves would tingle, then weird prickles would race painfully up the surface of my skin. Very much like needles of ice rain. Everything hurt. My skin, my head, but my chest hurt the worst. It felt like a hundred pounds of pressure was crushing my chest. But there was another pain too, intense, sharp, stabbing me incessantly in the heart. A cold little tear started down my face. My beautiful girl was in that bed, she was the one breathing ever so slightly. Her breath seemed to me to be almost an after thought, so carelessly was it breathed. As if each breath held no importance, and did not in itself hold the sum of all my hopes and dreams. But I knew if this went wrong then the story of my life from this day till forevermore, would be summed up in one word: ruined.
I watched her stir, moving restlessly.
“Rose?” I said hopefully, sick to death of this cold, silent, darkness.
Often enough I just use her middle name. I named her Savannah Rose. Rose is my favorite flower and before her birth I looked up the name Savannah. I loved the sound of the name. But the baby name book scared me by defining “Savannah” as a desert or barren place. In a stroke of pure genius, I decided that if I named her Savannah Rose, her name would mean “My rose in the desert”. Having been raised in San Diego, California, I know that the biggest, most beautiful roses thrive in the desert. And I am glad that I know that. For roses planted where I live now in North Carolina, are spindly, deformed, little plants that need constant attention. And then for all the hard work, get devoured by the June Beetles. I should know, I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars, and probably poisoned my lungs with pesticides, trying to grow a rose garden here.
Some things that seem so important really aren’t. And other things that we take for granted are absolutely essential. Truth is, we don’t often know which is which. In this dark moment I suddenly realized that the years spent trying to grow a rose garden here in this humid state, was a huge waste of time, money and energy. But this child, I have nurtured for the last 14 years, she has thrived. Looking at her in that bed that day I was reminded of North Carolina roses.
Weird symptoms started showing up two weeks before. Headaches, body aches, nothing that seemed unusual except they suddenly became very present. And then she had a gotten sick during gym. But even after explaining to her teacher that she was too dizzy to run and had a pounding headache, he had told her to complete the course or take a zero. She forced herself to finish it, only to collapse later on my bedroom floor with her head throbbing, and a rash spreading all over her body.
“Rose?” I said again stronger. I needed some assurance.
“What?” a quiet voice answered.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked, “It’s freezing in here.”
“No, I’m burning up, it’s hot.”
“How is your head?” I asked, again hoping against hope.
“I can’t talk Mom. My head hurts.”
The doctors had been in every morning all 7 of them. They stood around the foot of the bed while an intern would read all of the symptoms. Then silence. I had even decoded some of the Latin terms they would say like “febrile” and I googled it on my computer. I found out that it meant, she had fever. Finally one of them would ask if this, or that, had been tried. Was it scheduled? Silence again. Dead silence. The white elephant in the room was the silent question, “Is there anything we are missing?” Several more of these mini conversations would happen. Silence, then the intern would read the complete medical record again. Next one of the senior Doctors would state which, of all the things mentioned should be the next plan of action and then they would all nod and quietly shuffle out the door. The specialist of rare diseases had been in too, with his plastic gloves, staring silently at the rash. The pattern it had laid all over that beautiful olive skin. Skin I had nurtured, and made endless sacrifices, in order to protect. He picked up her hand looking harder.
“Usually with Rocky Mountain spotted fever the palms have the rash too but that’s not the case here”. His brow furrowed. Not talking any more.
Honestly, this was destroying my faith in doctors. They would just stare at stuff uncomprehendingly and never seem to answer a direct question. Looking back I realize they were always quiet and solemn when they entered the room. I had been told she had the symptoms of either Rocky Mountain spotted fever or meningitis, and that she was being treated with the meds as if she had both.
The doctor had come in after the second day and explained it all to us, that these two infections had similar symptoms and since both could result in death, permanent neurological damage, heart failure and a plethora of other organ disasters we had a very short window of time, with which to act, and could not even wait for test confirmations. We never even knew whether she had had a tick on her body. So they were treating her for both infections.
I cracked the blinds open to tilt the light away from her face. I felt unsettled that the sun was shining. Why were people going places? I felt so distanced from them. They seemed carefree, and I was so horribly afraid. Is this the way it was going to be on the day I died too? I wondered if the rest of the world would be laughing, busy, and entertained, except for a few people who would leave my gravesite, to grab groceries for dinner. And a handful of loved ones who would actually grieve my death? I rarely think long about dying. But thinking of losing her that day, made me consider my own death. Until now my thought was why should I waste my life thinking about death? But this time it felt like death was very near me, forcing me to acknowledge its presence among the living.
Life seemed incredibly meaningless to me at that moment. What good are the joys of life, if it’s all going to end up in a chilly little dark room alone? It all seemed terribly frivolous. It finally came to me that life was a huge disappointment. Like it had been revealed to me, by some divine revelation, a vision, and I finally knew how the story ended. That happy fairytale life, the one I always felt to be mine, was a fallacy. I actually knew this. This isn’t the first thing that had ever gone wrong. But nothing had cemented this knowledge so firmly into my brain, until that moment. If my child died my life would never be the same. She still had high fevers, and even on all the heavy meds after 9 days, no one was assuring me of anything anymore.
I had prayed constantly on and off. But I couldn’t help but wonder, what if it was God’s will, that she pass on, into his loving arms. What then? I shuddered with horror, knowing others have had to walk this path. I just hoped I would have the grace I had seen them have in their time of grief.
But no, I could not bear that thought nor could I accept it! Their path was not my path. I have my own path! Until I had no more say, until it was forced upon me, I would not receive it!
I began to pray again, fast, furious little prayers, one after another begging, pleading and quoting scripture, saying “In Jesus name”. I would do everything that I had been taught to do my whole life, to get the attention of God. I would not give up so easily. He had answered many prayers before.
I stared at the blinds unseeingly thinking how I could not bear life without her. The one rose that I had put my heart and soul into nurturing. The rose that paid me back by blooming, blossoming, thriving into gorgeous life.
That face. That heart. Always sneaking around trying to buy me a present when we went to Cracker Barrel. Sometimes the workers would even wrap it for free because they thought she was so cute.
Her little voice singing, shaky little vocal runs, from the back seat of the car trying to sound like Whitney Houston.
“See Mom I can do runs just like her” as I grinned inwardly, thinking “I have got help her find her own style”. At this stage of her vocal ability, Whitney, was not it!
I decided I was going to sit right there and wait for health and strength to come back to her! Even when this nightmare was over, either way, I would never feel as carefree ever again. I knew the “fairytale” had ended. My child could die. I could be sad on every holiday for forevermore. I leaned back. Breathed. And begin to pray again “In Jesus name”.
Many days later when she seemed through the worst of it, and after her first decent morning, they told us we could bring her home. Exhausted from all the stress but happily believing the worst to be over.
But then as she lay on the couch just as darkness fell, a high fever came back. Her head began hurting her again, and she started saying things that didn’t make sense, asking us if we could hear a roaring sound. My husband and I looked at each other horrified and both started googling all the possible lasting effects of these diseases.
I was crying as I did this, furious at the hospital for sending her home with us when we had no idea what to do, except to offer her the handful of medications prescribed for her, and to bathe her head in cool water. My husband and I sat there not even trying to lift each other’s spirits, at our lowest point. For everything we read that night continued to scare us, rather than give us peace.
It took months for the rash to leave and another year till Savannah stopped getting migraines. Along with many other side effects that needed healing, her immune system was weakened for several years, after this event.
One thing I learned from my time spent with fear and sorrow is that life is a very different story from that of fairytales. For after all, living is experiencing. And when the days of living are over, whether the days bring us joy or suffering, all life ends in death.
Prayer sustained me through all of this, for even when fear came into my mind like a flood, faith brought back my hope. And faith which is hope lives beyond the grave. Faith being the very substance of things hoped for. Time spent in the company of fear and sorrow, gave to me, a nugget of wisdom. To live life well every day and to spend the days of my life nurturing the things that bloom.
Prayer has proven, to be one of the things in life that blooms! Always giving back. Time spent, is time gained. So often when I have prayed all alone tears dripping down my face, the enemy has told me “You are just talking to the wall” but even his trivialization of my prayers didn’t stop the words that I spoke “to the wall” from blooming into miraculous coincidences. I want you to know that whatever little dark room you find yourself in today, you will discover that God is there.