Ever since the birth and death of my daughter Therese, I have had a special place in my heart for sick babies. Each night I pray for the general intentions of all parents caring for sick children. Unfortunately, I also pray for some of these children and their families by name.
This past month, I had to add another baby boy to my ever growing list. My friend's beautiful, smiley, 11 month old son (who I will call baby F) was diagnosed with SMA. SMA is like Lou Gehrig's disease in children, it is a degenerative and fatal neuro-muscual condition. The news brought me to my knees in prayer.
Any time I get the news that a baby is sick or dying, it touches a very broken part of my heart, a part I feel will never fully heal. I am not normally the type to shed tears over the joy and sorrow of another. Empathy is not a natural gift. And yet the face of baby F, and other babies like him, is with me regularly. Each night I lay awake and pray for baby F and his parents. I know too well that there are few things I can physically do to help my friend and her family. While I can offer some help with their practical needs (things like meals, babysitting for her other children, or fundraising), I cannot help them sleep at night, and I cannot take away their tears. When my friend lays down to sleep each night, she is very much alone in her grief and fears. Only God can comfort her broken heart. Only God can give her the strength she needs to wake up each day and face the reality of caring for her family. Only God can give her the grace she needs to choose love over fear.
I know this too well, and it is why I fall to my knees in prayer. For an overly practical person like me, a sick child is a real reminder that the most important thing I can do is pray. And by that I mean remember to pray. It is easy to go on with my own life, and forget their very real need for prayer. Months or even years from now, baby F will still be sick, and their family will still need prayer. Through my prayers, I can help this family carry the very heavy cross they have set before them. But I have to remember to pray.
When I was pregnant with Therese, the prayers of others gave me the grace I needed to love my daughter for the short time she was with us on earth. Prayers sustained me in the first weeks after Therese's death. But only two short months after her death, I felt a real drop in the day-to-day level of grace in my life. At the time, I thought I was just going through the normal grieving process and feeling really depressed and down. In retrospect, I realize that many of our dear friends and family had stopped praying. It wasn't as if they didn't love us, or didn't care, it was just that everyone else had very naturally moved forward. And yet we still needed the prayers.
As time passes, it becomes easier to forget. It is hard work to think about and pray for a sick baby and his mother each day. Baby F reminds me that like my short time with Therese, I am not guaranteed a tomorrow with any of my children. Each day is a gift to be lived and cherished, because another day like it may not come along. Such a reminder is amazingly true and beautiful, but can fill my heart with fear. It brings up emotions in me that are not always easy to control. With time, I have grown to see these emotions--the empathy I feel for sick babies--as a great gift, one of the many lasting gifts our sweet Therese left for me.
It is a gift I will now give to baby F and his family. Following the advice of a wise priest, I will feel the sorrow, pray, and then place the burden on the shoulders of Jesus.