return to the Ro
On Saturday, May 16, we served dinner with some volunteers from our church at the Ronald McDonald House on Kuhl St. That’s the “Ro McDoh” where John and I lived for four and a half months while James was in Winnie Palmer Hospital. We hope to do this dinner every year in honor of James’s birthday. This year was a little different because we couldn’t bring James with us.
Instead, I brought all my framed photos of James, as well as the digital slideshow frame, and put them out on all the dining room tables. I think the residents enjoyed the pictures, and it made me feel a little more like James was there. I wore an apron, but I don’t think I did any food preparation–instead we left the cooking to our awesome church friends as we spent time with the residents at each table.
I gave a little speech to try and encourage the residents there who are dealing with the worry, fears, frustrations, and grief associated with having a sick or dying child, and to try and encapsulate some of the lessons God taught us during James’s life. The main thing I wanted to tell them was that God has not abandoned them, but He loves them and is working through this time of suffering for good. I also told them a little about James, and I think they connected with him in some way.
It was an honor to hear their stories in return. Each parent, each plastic bracelet and hospital admission sticker, represented a family in crisis undergoing something they never planned for, something they were only beginning to cope with.
Being at the Ro brought back powerful memories for John and me as well. This is where we had a cubby with our cereal and had to label our milk and OJ, where we were the first to scatter the morning roaches in the communal kitchen, where we hurried toward 7:00 AM when we could spend more time with James. This was our refuge where we cried at night when we got more bad news or felt overwhelmed, and where we slept in twin beds in a room with one chair and no closet. This is where I pumped milk every few hours and stockpiled it in industrial freezers; where John studied for his first big financial exam and kept a suit ready for his job interviews. This is where I slowly, painfully walked past the blue agapanthus blossoms when James was first born, where we sheltered from the summer thunderstorms, where we wondered if he would ever come home so we could go home, too. 135 days of memories.
One family asked us to return and pray with them in the hospital. The young single mother’s baby was diagnosed in utero with a lethal trisomy that made it unlikely she would be born or live more than a few days after birth. In spite of this, Keianna had clung to life for nine days when I met her. She was a tiny, beautiful brunette, small although she was not premature, and she opened her eyes and turned toward her mother’s voice and preferred her mother’s milk to formula. She was able to drink 9 mL by bottle when I was there (30 mL makes an ounce, so that’s not much) and that was her record to date. The rest went in by tube through her nose.
“I hope she’ll stay,” the mother confided, daring to hope in spite of the doctors’ predictions. Keianna had a hole in her heart, kidney problems, and breathing issues, but no surgeries were scheduled for her. There was no medical hope for this precious one in this life, only an agonizing time of waiting for the end; so I told her mother how God’s own son had suffered and died for us so we could have a better, more lasting hope. I felt honored to be included in their sacred vigil.