It’s 3 a.m. Do you know where your children are? Mine are upstairs in their bedrooms. One sleeping soundly. The other in the throes of a full-blown tantrum, beside herself that I’ve finally stopped giving her milk at night. It was a bad habit. One that needed to be broken. And as much as it breaks my heart, and hurts my ears, I am grateful. Each scream is a blessing. Each cry is reminder that she is here. She is alive.
Somewhere, not too far from here, in a linoleum-floored hospital room, a mother holds the hand of her young daughter. She is dying. Cancer has wrapped its treacherous tentacles around her little body, and no technology, no modern medicine, can release its grip. She is fading. And now, all they have is time. Precious time. Time to say goodbye, time to prepare themselves for her passing. But how can one prepare? How is there ever enough time?
Up and down the stairs I go, waiting a bit longer between each time I go to console her. Soon, she will sleep. Soon, she will get tired of fighting. I rock her, I smooth her hair from her damp forehead. “There, there honey. It’s not so bad. Just go to sleep sweetie. Close your eyes. There…there…” And when she finally does succumb, I can be confident that when the sun rises, so will she. I will lie in bed, desperate for another hour of rest. “Just sleep awhile longer, won’t you?”
But in that beeping, subdued hospital room, a mother’s wish differs from mine. While she longs for her child to feel comforted, to feel at peace, she fears this deep slumber. A sleep she may never wake from. This mother will lie in her bed at home someday, not able to sleep, desperate to hear her daughter awake in her bedroom once more. But for now, this hospital is her home, the beep…beep…beep…the rhythm of the night, and day.
As I rock my baby, my toddler who has nearly outgrown my lap in the glider, I find a rhythm with the squeak on the backslide of the chair. Whoosh forward…squeak backward…whoosh forward…squeak backward. My arms ache. My eyelids are thick and heavy. Her face is pressed against my neck, tears and snot adhering to my skin and she gives her last appeal. Then, a shudder. It’s time. This is the end of her fight. I feel her body sink into mine. Her muscles relax. Her breathing slows. She is asleep. I dare stand up, and try to seamlessly place her in bed. She startles. I “shhhh…shhhh…” in her ear, and lay down beside her. I create a cocoon around her on the little mattress, my legs bent, my neck bent. Anything to comfort her, as uncomfortable as it makes me. But I am grateful.
Isn’t this what any mother would do? To twist and contort her own body, her own mind, her own heart to comfort her child? To perch precariously on the edge of a hospital bed, just to lie as close as possible to your sick child? To create a place of warmth, of familiarity. And perhaps, as much as anything, to comfort yourself? We can never know how much longer our children will reside on earth. How much longer we’ll have to fold them into our arms, to feel their tears dropping on our shoulder, to comfort them even at our own expense. And as tired as I am, I am grateful. She is here. She is alive.