(October 2002--written five months after Sarah’s cancer diagnosis)
This past Thursday, the hospital staff put together a little Halloween celebration for its young patients. Sarah joined the other kids as they went to several nursing stations on the three pediatric floors collecting toys, stickers and crayons in a plastic pumpkin bucket.
In preparation for the big hospital tour, Sarah donned a huge smile along with the Sponge Bob outfit she had been given earlier in the week. She added this pink wig to her ensemble but after a few minutes decided she didn't like it after all, since it clashed with the Sponge Bob yellow.
She cheerily took off down the hall with her cancer cronies, swinging her orange bucket with great enthusiasm. There were only a few kids well enough to participate but they all seemed determined to have as much fun as a hospitalized child possibly can, while another autumn day of their childhood disappeared forever outside the window.
The children were accompanied by various poles, medical personnel, and hovering parents. As we all moved at a snail's pace toward the first nursing station, I decided to walk on ahead so I could snap a few pictures. Up until that point I had only seen the gathering from within, but when I turned around I had to wipe away unexpected tears as I caught a glimpse of the group as a whole.
I saw a bald 3-year old ballerina who in a few hours, would be violently throwing up as her fifth round of chemo began. I saw a small boy in a wagon, too weak to walk, but jauntily sporting an orange scarecrow wig. Beside him was a mother with a sad, weary face, holding tightly to the hand of a daughter she may never get to see grow into womanhood.
There were tiny kids hooked up to huge poles and little trick-or-treaters pulling oxygen carts. There were children who could barely walk and kids with enough suffering written on their faces to last a lifetime. There was also a compassionate, gifted nurse who willingly risks having her heart broken every day in order to minister to her special kids.
In short, what I saw was a hall full of heroes.
Although each hero's face told a different story, I still noticed many things they had in common. I glimpsed courage and humor despite childish grief over childhoods lost. I saw smiles behind suffering and excitement behind eyes that had seen too much.
And smack dab in the middle of it all, I saw a certain bald Sponge Bob, pale face covered with a yellow hospital mask, bright eyes eagerly peering over the top.
This was not just any Sponge Bob, mind you. This was the Sponge Bob of my heart, perfectly at rest in the halls of suffering, perfectly at home inside her own ailing skin, perfectly at peace with the simple joy of holding up an orange bucket and a smile to a nurse and receiving a treat in exchange.
When I got back to the group, I took Sponge Bob's hand as we walked, my heart so thankful for the simple joy of just being with her.
After about fifteen minutes of going from station to station, Sarah announced wearily from behind her mask, "Mommy, my steam just ran out!" I said, "That's okay, Sarah. I'll just pick you up and carry you."
And so we continued on with our stalwart companions on our journey through the hospital, on our journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
Some members from our little group will soon come out whole on the other side of this valley; others will travel on to a place where there are no tears, no cancer, no bald children, no death, and no sounds of small hearts breaking. The only sound heard in that place will be the music of children’s voices laughing and the glory of children’s voices singing.
And many years--or a few months--from now, Sarah "Sponge Bob" Smith will add her voice to the choir. She will look trustingly into the face of heaven and say, "God, my steam just ran out!"
And He'll say, "That's okay, Sarah. I'll just pick you up and carry you."
(Note: Occasionally I like to “cross pollinate” the family’s two blogs and bring pieces over here from Sarah's web site. This is one of those occasions.
A few more pictures from that day . .
(With her "Ped's Pal," Dr. Tracy Manuck.),
Sarah with Mr. Jeff, the pediatric oncology psychologist. Sarah thought it was an ever livin' hoot that she and Mr. Jeff had the same outfits.