The greatest lesson to learn

By Deacon Derick Cranston

As I walked into the hospital room, I caught a brief glimpse of her face before she turned and stared out the window. She wore a stone-cold, expressionless face like a veil to mask her suffering. Her eyes stared out into nothingness, as looking into a black void. I said hello; she barely ack­nowledged my presence with the slightest tilt of her chin. I sat with her in the hospital room in silence for a long time, not wanting to force a conversation with a mother who had just lost her baby in childbirth.

Despite the state she was in, she was very beautiful. She was a mess and looked exhausted, but she exhibited a firm strength and aristocratic dignity. She had the smoothest skin I had ever seen, with a caramel copper-tone complexion and high cheekbones. Her deeply penetrating eyes conveyed a keen intelligence. When she eventually spoke, it was with what I can only describe as a high-end British accent mingled with a French lilt and a Jamaican rhythm.

We sat for what seemed like a very long time before she broke the silence and said, “Jack.” Thinking she was addressing me, I said, “Oh, I am sorry; I forgot to introduce myself. My name is Derick, Deacon Derick. I am the volunteer overnight chaplain.” She said, “No, his name was Jack. I was going to name my baby, Jack.” An awkward pause followed before the silence was pierced by her screams.

She violently pounded the bed with her fists and shrieked “It’s not fair, it’s NOT fair! I am a good person. Why has God taken my baby from me! Why am I being punished?” She burst into a fit of tears, covered her face with her hands and slowly leaned into my shoulder.

I gently told her that I didn’t think God was punishing her and I didn’t know why such horrible things happen. “The only thing I know for sure,” I said, “is how much worse it would be if we were not called to a heavenly afterlife where we would one day be reunited with our loved ones.”

She seemed somewhat comforted by this and her crying faded away. She let out a deep sigh and wiped the tears from her cheeks. I asked her where she was from and if she had any fond memories growing up. She told me she was born and raised in the West Indies and she remembered when she was a little girl playing on the beach with her sister.

Her father used to swing her and her sister around by their outstretched arms and throw them high up in the air. He would catch them in his strong arms as they giggled with delight. She shared some other memories, too, and even laughed a little when I teased her about adapting to our harsh cold winters.

For a few precious moments, she was able to put behind her the tragedy of losing a baby as she relived her childhood memories. She became somber again and quietly said, “I have lost three babies in five years. I am never going to have a baby, am I?”

Not wanting to raise false hope, I responded, “No, probably not” as my eyes watered up. “But you can always adopt. There are lots of kids who need the love of a family, and you have a lot of love to give.” “Oh”, she said with a sudden spark of realization, “I never thought of that.” After a slight pause she said, “Will you pray with me?”

Whether we realize it or not we all have love inside of us, a love that is meant to be shared. It may take a sudden tragedy in our life to realize what this means: the greatest lesson we can learn, the greatest gift we can ever give to others and to ourselves, is to love — and be loved in return.

(Deacon Cranston is pastoral associate for St. Mary Parish in Riverside, Holy Trinity Parish in Richmond and St. Joseph Parish in Wellman. He can be reached at derickcranston@gmail.com.)

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