Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Imago Dei

It doesn't feel like it's very often that I stumble on something that can say JUST what I am thinking or feeling.  I have been thinking all day about Mallorie, and her beauty, and how impossible it is to explain the phrase running through my mind, the one that's been running through my mind since they day I met her.  Image of God.  She came to us, perfectly meant to be her.  Exactly her.  And created in the image of God.

We felt "right" in some choices we made about surgeries or treatments that we believed would help her health, and not change her essence, but in our family, we all admitted to having strong reservations about some things ... like letting her have cleft palate and cleft lip surgeries.  If somehow we could have done just palate, I think we'd really have struggled there, because the lip didn't feel like the issue, anyway, the thing that put her at risk for sinus and ear infections, meningitis.  But after the first surgery, that beautiful, kissable lip

was changed, so stopping at that point wasn't really sensible.  So we continued.  Even though she smiled so broadly that she split the first lip adhesion apart within a few weeks! 

So she had to have it redone, entirely, 3 months later.  That's a whole other story.   

Created in the image of God, so she somehow, even with her differentnesses, was a reflection of the same God that the more "regular" people reflected, who expresses Himself through humans in a way that is unique from what He does with His other creations.  Being created in God's image means a person has value that doesn't depend on anything they can do or provide, but just because they contain God's image.  For some reason,  in order to show us who He was through humanity, God created a beautiful little girl with 9 fingers and the kind of arms that made an orthopedic surgeon feel really compelled to suggest straightening.  Maybe Mallorie's uniquenesses were necessary for her to show us something that no one else could show us about God.  Or maybe His image has nothing at all to do with how many fingers we have, or limbs, or ability to walk or ultimately even to smile or talk, since she lost those abilities in February.  I honestly don't at all know what it means for us to be created in God's image, since Mallorie was born and I realized that this concept referred to her.  But the phrase is running through my mind a lot these days, and today I found an artist who took my breath away.  His name is Tim Lowly.  And he created an ink drawing (of his daughter, Temma) which he called Imago Dei

I wish I could do art of my children like this artist can, but at least today I was able to scour the internet for a chance to see more of his work.  He seems to understand what it means.  I know Illinois isn't as huge as Texas, so someday I hope Jessica will go see this man's work in person, for me.  :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sad, lost, grateful

Everyone is asking how I am doing. I don't know how to answer, or how to function, really. Today, I saw a woman I used to work with, years ago, who had retired from working as a unit clerk on the pediatric unit where I used to work. She looked 20 years younger than I remember her looking; retirement is good for her, and I asked what she has been doing to keep busy. She says she can't sit home doing nothing, so she is a foster grandparent, and right on cue, a tiny boy came in and was told to say hi to "Grandma."

Then she asked me if I am still working on pedi. I didn't know how to answer; I don't work there anymore, haven't in a few years. So much has changed, so what do I share? Within a couple of minutes, I blurted out that I had had a baby, with "special needs," and we just lost her 2 weeks ago, and my eyes welled up with tears and I couldn't add anything else. She didn't know what to do, and I suppose we weren't anywhere near close enough for that sort of sharing, and I ordered my son's sandwich and moved on. It wasn't the first time I've done that, shared my deepest part of my heart in the past couple of weeks with someone who was just wrong. I realized that I've read this sort of thing on other blogs, where girls have lost their babies. I just don't remember anyone saying what was the final solution? I am torn, because I don't want to share my broken heart like that with someone who isn't even close to me, but I also feel that not sharing about her is somehow denying that she existed, that she pervades every bit of my consciousness. I don't believe an hour goes by when I am awake that I haven't thought of her at least a dozen times.

I had to go back to work on Tuesday after the funeral on Friday and cremation on Saturday. I wanted to hide in my office and not see anyone all day, but nothing is like that. I realized pretty quickly that people know. Some people I probably have never even met, know. Sometimes it is a sweet blessing that lets me know. One woman on my old floor came to me, hugged me, and just said over and over, "God be with you." Other times, there is an awkwardness, because I'm asked how I am doing, and we all know there is no good answer to that, so I mumble something, smile, thank them for asking, and wish I had a lock on my door and a mail slot, and a fax and printer on my desk.

In my work situation, mostly I have chosen to say nothing at all during conversations with parents who I know already know of my little girl, but the visits are not about me. They are about THEIR child and their medical needs and their worries about upcoming surgeries. So I spend a lot of time at work and other places, pretending that nothing at all has changed in my world, and I’m just a nurse going on with my job. And wishing I could be invisible, or that I could even more, just stay home with my family, holding them when they cry. Not just checking texts that beg me to call so they can talk.

I had a meeting to attend later in the week, and a couple of hours into it, someone began talking about a girl who is in a vegitative state, "and the family just doesn't see it. They keep believing that she will come out of it." I was in a moment of shock, and thought, I know that is what some people thought of us. Thank GOD her parents are like that, and they hold out hope for healing, and refuse to not believe that the God who created their little girl can also heal her. But what the hell is vegitative? Can a human being, created in the image of God, really be called by anyone, "vegitative?" I realized that my heart couldn't take where the discussion might be going, so I grabbed my cell phone to pretend I had some important phone call to make, and it crossed my mind that I don't have an excuse anymore for taking calls in meetings like that, but I had to walk out. I AM that mom, and John IS that dad. We knew and we still know that God knew before He created Mallorie, what her last day on Earth would be like, and He loved us enough to figure out the details to provide us assurance that He was there, He had not forgotten. But even though she is not here with us, and even though He did not heal her brain and return her to full health to live several more years with us, I still know. I know that we were not hoping in vain. Because of Mallorie, I know some of what God is capable of, and when I wasn't sure that I could remember, I asked other parents.

I asked Alicia how long until Gavin responded to them after he had his stroke, and recognized his family. I asked a parent of a child whose son had a very serious meningitis, and was predicted to not survive, but over time (9 months, I believe she told me), he woke up and responded to her, and today he is doing homeschool courses with his mom. I took those stories into my heart, so when the overly persistent resident kept trying to drag me out to LOOK at the CT of Mallorie's brain in May, I didn't care. When one of the stream of neurologists, just meeting me for the first time, stood in the doorway to Mallorie's PICU room one day and told me that he "didn't think we would ever get control of her seizures," I gave him a tired smile and told him that I had more optimism for Mallorie than some of them seemed to, because I knew other children. I was willing to wait for her to heal, before I really worried that way. And what I probably didn't say was that Mallorie never really lived her life by predictions.

But now, I have to go to work, and sit in a meeting where someone talks about a vegitative state, and someone else says in a role play, "Are you retarded?"

Mallorie has changed me. Before Mallorie, I had already been sensitive to words like the R -word and some other pretty ugly words used to describe human beings, but back then, I just saw people who persisted in using those sorts of words as uneducated. I felt sorry for them, for their ignorance, and looked for ways to educate them without making them feel as foolish as they sounded. Because they didn’t know, I assumed. At least until they persisted after I’d educated them. :) But now, those sorts of words pierce me to the heart. They didn't while Mallorie was alive, really, because I refused to own any such definitions for her. Mal's kidney specialist surely thought I was a nut the day she asked me if Mallorie had any delays, and I said, well, how would we know? She's a baby, right? She seems just like a baby to me. Let's give her a chance. I refused to have the Early Childhood crew do any "tests" on her, because heck, I have heard what people say it feels like to have someone spell out in months exactly HOW delayed their precious child was supposed to be (even when the child had physical disabilities that prevented them from responding the way another child might, so the testing, itself, was flawed). I had looked at the sorts of things she'd be tested on, and figured if she couldn't use her hands to grasp, then how in the world could she "pass" on a skill that required she be able to do just that task? So we chose the no-testing route.

But now, things are different. Now, I will accept if she had an actual chromosomal difference, because I accept all that is/was Mallorie, gladly. Maybe it was an extra chromosome that made her so adorable, so cuddly, so joyful. The "denial" that I'm sure it looked like I had was never an unwillingness to accept her limitations or embrace every inch of who she was. We LOVED and still love the uniqueness that came along with her being exactly her. I only denied those labels out loud, and refused to go blindly along with others giving her labels. Initially, it was because she wasn’t supposed to live long after birth, and I wanted people to know her as a beautiful little GIRL by the name of Mallorie Rose, not “that baby with trisomy-13 or Trisomy 18 in Room 313." Pretty quickly, it became a way to prevent anyone from gaining "proof" that they could use against her when deciding about surgeries or other interventions. When the NICU fighting days were over, eventually it became again just wanting them to see HER. To prevent them from limiting her according to what they could see or read about her, instead of waiting to see HER unfolding. If she was "retarded," for lack of a better word, then we just never had to see it before, because as Matthew said recently, she was like any other baby. She had a first smile, a first tooth, a first time she laughed, her first babytalk word, the first time she realized she could see and move her hand, so she could play with it. We never, ever had to define her by those sorts of labels that I suppose are useful for people that need to plan lessons or write up medical visit reports. Because we always intended to homeschool her, just like all of her siblings, I felt she was blissfully free from all those names.

But now that she's gone, God needs to help the people around me who just don't know. In their not-knowing, they are going to say things that they have NO idea could hurt anyone in the room with them. I know now that I must have done things like this, myself. Because I am the queen of saying random things, all the wrong ways, especially when I am stressed, I already recently have heard myself stumbling with saying things all sorts of wrong ways, and had to make apologies, and I'm not even sure what I've done or said wrong, but I can see it in the eyes, that I've stepped on a wound. So I know it's ignorance mixed with innocence, but I don't know how many times I can just look at my hands in my lap and not say anything. Suddenly, these words mean a lot to me, and I want to shake people and say, “Were you looking for a word like ‘silly’ or ‘goofball?’ Because the word you just used is a medical diagnosis, not a funny slur. And someone might be hurt by the way you used that word.” Like me, or my husband, or our children.

I miss Mallorie all the time. So much. And I cry if I say it, every time. Even if I just say it to myself, or write it in a text. I'm grateful, you can't even know how much, to God for thinking of me when He thought of Mallorie. Messed up me, and as precious of a gift as she was for our family. I can never go back to wondering about whether I really make a difference in this world to God. He let me have her, and he sustained her through all those precarious moments and hours and days and weeks and years. He gave us months and months of relaxing in just how medically complex she no longer seemed to be! He let us see her personality blossom. He let us hear the cardiologist's proclamation that her heart was "perfect," after he watched her grow and develop for 3 years. He allowed us to watch how nursing moms who never had met her would be willing to give her milk to help her grow. He let us hear her laughter and baby talk.

There was a time when I said to myself that while I was grateful, because we "got" to have her as a blessing, I felt a little sad that her meaning was "wasted" on the doctors in Houston. Dr. B truly "got" her meaning, as did others like the OB who delivered her (what a beautiful email she wrote to the priest, which he read in her funeral). But by the end of her life, I began to wonder. Sometimes we never realize who or what moment changes our thinking, but we can be changed by an interaction, some words said. It's enough for me to know that she was there for so many months in Houston, so there must have been people she touched even there .... even though some of them had never been able to see her bubbly personality that was so evident before February. It seems impossible that she didn't have a purpose for that time, too.

I miss her so much, but I am so grateful that we kept having kids long enough to get to Mallorie. :) Every one of our children is unique, some more so than others :) .... but Mallorie .... She was so worth the wait.

This was one of her favorite songs. She was on my lap when I was playing that viral youtube email of the pink glove dance, and realized that she loved moving to its beat. Just like Bob Marley's singing.

Yesterday I learned that she and Bob shared a birthday.