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