Sisters of Mercy

There is a little boy here in Edmonton, born in a difficult birth, and he is, arguably, brain dead, breathing only on a ventilator, scoring – presumably – badly on the Glasgow Coma Scale. The doctor’s at the Children’s Hospital want to take him off life support, and his parents say they see improvement – they were told Isaiah would never put on weight and he has, he would never move his arms and legs and he has. The doctors and the parents are fighting it out in court, orders and third opinions splashed all over the news. 2 sets of people who should never be at odds meet at the bedside of a baby – a child I think they all care about.

I have watched the story,  going so far as to ask questions of a friend – who has a friend- who knows the family. Asking about their motivation, seeking to know why and how these parents are fighting. I look at the courthouse and I drive past the hospital, and I cock my head to the side, and I see them in both places. I want to know if I understand them as well as I think I do. I don’t know that I can. We sing in the same key, but I suspect the verses are different.

People ask me – not what I know or what  I believe – they ask  me what I think – as if Gabriel’s ashes have given me a particular sort of wisdom – the ability to predict the future and pass benediction on the present.  There’s always a moment, as I look at them and I try to gauge. How much do I tell them? What do I say, what do I leave out? Not everyone, not most people, want to actually hear about the nitty gritty of allowing your child to die. They want hallmark moments in the middle of hell. They want me to confirm what they have already decided, either that Gabriel died, and I think we made  the right choice in not trying to save him, or that I have always regretted that we didn’t try everything to save him, and I can’t sleep at night for the guilt. They want to be able to say “I have a friend/colleague/woman I know and her baby died and they didn’t try to save him and she says. . . ”

They don’t seem to like my answer – There will be no winners in this situation. There is no miracle, there is no all better, there is nothing. A mother and a father conceived, carried a child and expected certain things, and none of those expectations have come to pass. I am not given the power to predict life and death, and I who answer two ways to a single question will not answer for another family. There is no right choice, only what allows you the mercy of sleep at 3 am. Only what brings comfort.

I am not an expert – only a small and frail woman, a mother and a wife – a survivor and a celebrant. I have no particular powers or wisdom. My prayers, my thoughts and my feelings carry no more heft than anything else, anyone else. The askers do not understand, this situation makes you a sister of mercy. You don’t give answers, you ask questions. What would you do?

It astonishes and amazes me – they tell me.

Some are smarter than others, telling me in halting voices, pausing to think, qualifying, feeling turmoil and dilemma churn in their gut. I give them a bit more detail.  I tell them the truth, I pause each day to pray for everyone in this whole damn train wreck of a situation, knowing that God has a better vantage point on this than I do. I tell them my heart aches in its place, because I know where this leads to. Death will not be cheated. I tell them I am a sister of mercy.

The stupid ones – they tell me easily, glibly, what they would do. They have their arguments laid out, and there is no room for my story,only my assent, my blessing and benediction on their silly little ruminations. I shrug my shoulders, and I nod. “I loved my little boy“, I say. I love him still and I will love him always. Make of that what you will.

Oh the Sisters of Mercy they are not
departed or gone
They were waiting for me when I thought
That I just can’t go on
And they brought me their comfort
And later they brought me this song.
Oh I hope you run into them
You who’ve been travelling so long.
Leonard Cohen, Sisters of Mercy
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20 Responses to Sisters of Mercy

  1. JuliaS says:

    I have always liked Leonard Cohen – very thoughtful lyricist.

    No, no winners – just survivors, and hurt either way.

  2. Brown Owl says:

    I too pray for the babe, his family, his care givers and those unnamed who wait, that God would be merciful. There are no words.

    Leonard Cohen’s words are insightful. Shades of experience?

    Standing the vigil with you.

  3. A sister of Mercy, abiding, just being in the moment, truly.

  4. Virginia says:

    You’re so right – there will be no winners here. Heaven help them all.

  5. lisa says:

    There are no winners. ((HUGS)) to you.

    Leonard Cohen is at the top of my itunes – he really, really goes places many artists do not.

  6. WhiteStone says:

    Your words always cause me to pause…hopefully, to think. And learn.

  7. a says:

    Unless the situation calls for evil retribution for an injustice, I never answer a “what would you do?” question, because I know that the answer is always “It depends on the circumstances.” I doubt I would ask the question either, unless someone was spouting what I considered an uninformed and prejudicial opinion on the matter in question.

    There are no winners in these situations – you’re absolutely right.

  8. Sue says:

    There is no right choice. No good choice.

    I am really struggling these days, with having faith in people. Trying to maintain faith in the goodness of people. They say these things because it comforts them, not because they understand. We are only human, after all.

  9. Heidi says:

    Is it wrong that sometimes I am thankful that the choice was never given to me. That it was simply too late, and there was nothing to be done. I have a different set of decisions weighing guiltily upon my shoulders…but I’m glad it is this set rather than another.

  10. HereWeGoAJen says:

    Ah. I wish everyone would stop and think, before telling others what to do. (And look there, I just told others what to do.)

  11. loribeth says:

    I’ve been reading about this case too. There was a similar one in Toronto at Sick Kids Hospital last year you might remember. Nobody is “wrong” & nobody is “right” in these situations. It’s all just very sad.

  12. Kristin says:

    A very thought provoking post. Love the quote/lyrics from Cohen.

  13. Two Hands says:

    I have no idea what I would do in their stead. I have no insight into their hearts, only prayers for peace, prayers for wisdom and for mercy.

  14. tash says:

    Having kinda sorta been there, I agree with you totally: no winners. And let me tell you, in a quiet private room with moms exchanging stories, I listened and thought I had made the wrong decision — at least for the crowd at hand. And I told my story and one mother broke the silence calling me brave and telling me she’d never have the courage. Sometimes it’s easier to do nothing, and that too doesn’t really get anyone to the finish line.

    This is all very hard and sad and strictly speaking, the crappiest of choices.

  15. Alannah says:

    I’ve been following this story, and praying for everybody involved. There is no right that can come of it; there is no panacaea, no solution. And I have asked myself, “What would you do?” And every time, I hope and pray that I will never have to learn the answer.

  16. Aunt Becky says:

    There is nothing not beautiful about that song. And nothing not true about your words. No winners. I pray for peace.

    Dona nobis pacem.

  17. Trish says:

    ah to have all the answers.. it must be an interesting way to live.
    It’s funny, when I was young, adults seemed to know everything. As I get older, I find I know less and less. Things I thought I knew suddenly take on nuances I’d never considered and I realize that we can never walk in someone else’s shoes. By and large, I think most people try to do what is right. It’s frustrating that so often it isn’t clear what “right” is.

  18. jen says:

    Yes, there are no winners. And so many more losers than I would have imagined.

    I’ve been told how ‘brave’ I was for the decision I made. I don’t think it really matters what decision you make. You will be wracked with guilt and what ifs either way. No one can see the future so no one can ever tell you, 100%, this is what will happen. I pray for those parents, and doctors, and the baby. What a horrible place to be. Nothing is right, and it never will be.

  19. Jacquie says:

    Baby Isaiah, what a heartbreaking story.

  20. I find it interesting that, in times that are difficult, we seek out people who we perceive to be experts in a particular situation. Even though they may not actually be “expert”. People do this because they don’t know what to do and are uncomfortable- and even though you are not an expert on this exact thing- you are a wise woman who knows a thing or two about sensitive topics and precious babies. Your experience, your wisdom can help others grapple with this sort of thing.

    My heart goes out to you, as always, Mrs. Spit, and to the family of this baby.

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