Wednesday, September 2, 2009
It's a long one so please stick with me....
I have been avoiding this post for too long now. It has been formulating in my mind since Saturday and I can not put it off any longer.
On Saturday I attended a funeral and as we all know funerals tend to be filled with sadness and mourning. This funeral was by far the most upsetting one I have ever attended and I am troubled by it still.
My cousin Jennifer, who is just a year younger than I, lost her 9 month old daughter Jessica. The story of Jennifer is an extraordinary one due to the fact that Jennifer was in a near fatal car crash over 15 years ago.
While driving to her job as a school teacher, Jennifer was in a terrible car accident that left her in a coma for many weeks. Family and friends gathered day after day as she lay in Cook County hospital struggling to survive and survive she did.
It would take months and years for her to regain her sense of “normal”. Jennifer’s boyfriend at the time, Tony, stuck with her through all the rehab and all the life changing events that would follow.
Tony eventually asked Jennifer to marry him and together they wanted to start a family. Now as many of you can imagine, after a person’s body has been through so much trauma it would be difficult to conceive. Difficult may be an understatement in this case, many miscarriages and losses seemed to pile up on Jennifer and Tony but they were never swayed from their goal to have children.
The first successful pregnancy was that of their first son Sean…the celebration of that little boy was immense as they finally had a child. Yet, there was a longing for more children.
Through more losses there was another successful pregnancy that resulted in the birth of their second son Michael. Both boys were healthy, happy and filled with love. Jennifer and Tony were living out their dreams.
Jennifer became pregnant again and this time it was a very difficult pregnancy, one plagued by health concerns for both mother and child, but with God’s helping hand and the help of the staff at Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, William was born prematurely. He spent many weeks in the NICU gaining strength and weight.
Taking him home was all the Jennifer could think of and finally that day did arrive. He headed home to his brothers and the nurturing arms of his mother. Just as they were getting settled into life with a premature baby and all the extra attention he need, Jennifer became pregnant again.
This pregnancy was very guarded as Jennifer’s body was just coming off having Will and all the life threatening complications that came along with his birth.
At approximately 27 weeks gestation, Jessica Anne was born prematurely, weighing just over a pound. She struggled to life as her lungs were not yet strong enough to support her. She lay in Northwestern Hospital, where they worked miracles that helped her grow stronger and fight off the numerous maladies that tried to hold her back.
Jennifer and Tony worked as a team with their closest relatives, friends and church. They handled their new responsibility with as much fortitude as they could muster. Jennifer would always say, “Jessica is a fighter”, I think it was a great reflection that Jessica was much like her mother.
She fought numerous surgeries, tubes and needles for 9 months. She grew to be 12lbs a far cry from her 1 lb at birth. But the stresses on her poor system were too much, so much so that Jennifer and Tony had to make the decision to take her off of life support in her final days.
As Jennifer told me the story last Saturday morning as we stood in front of a tiny casket covered with flowers and a baby blanket, I was amazed to see a mother’s strength.
She told me how her parish priest rushed her to Jessica’s bed side because the doctors were going to unanalyzed her at any moment and she needed to be there.
When she arrived she would finally get to really hold her daughter for the first time in 9 months. There would be no tubes or monitors blocking the connection between mother and child.
Jennifer proceeded to tell me how she cuddled Jessica, sang to her in her off key voice and even dance with her until her last tiny breathe. The strength in her voice amazed me as I sat their crying.
The church where Jessica lay in state was filled with pictures and art work all dedicated to Jessica. A family photo that was taken just before the decision to let Jessica go shows the love and devotion of their family. Pictures of Jessica’s chubby sweet cheeks and pursed rosy red lips left you believing that there had to be some kind of mistake.
This child did not look ill or weak, she looked healthy and strong and ready to take what the world had coming. But, it was not meant to be … she was gaining strength for her journey into Gods arms, where he would show her all the joys of heaven. A heaven where she would become an angel to her family and most certainly give her mother the strength she needed to get through her coming days.
My sadness is for Jennifer and Tony, for all the struggles, for all the triumphs and all the love they have shown their family, for the courage to be strong and make the tough decisions, to defend a life and yet let that life take its natural course.
My tears are for the sorrow that they will feel in coming days, months and weeks. My sorrow is for the longing of a mother’s heart to hold her baby girl and for the loss of a life.
I only hope my prayers, thoughts and love help them get through this difficult time and I pray that Jessica’s wings take her to Jennifer’s side.