Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hey Saint Jude

Today is not Saint Jude's official feast day, but he has been greatly discussed, researched, celebrated, and remembered at my house this weekend.
Willow's photo of her gold Saint Francis medal and question about a treasured piece of jewelry was an important reminder to me of a Saint Jude's medal which belongs to my younger son, Cuyler, now 27.

On this date, twenty years ago, he, his father, older brother, and I were sitting in numbing silence while we were waiting the results a CAT scan he had just undergone. He was 7 and in the first grade. The previous day, he had complained of a headache upon waking, "My head hurts so bad that I can't move." I took him to his pediatrician immediately. After a thorough examination, his doctor consulted with three other colleagues in the practice and ordered the scan. (The hospital had just received its first MRI and the technicians were still learning how to us it.) When Dr. Smalley stepped in the waiting room, he looked at my older son, age 19 at the time, "Cameron, you stay with your little brother while I talk to Mom and Dad." We looked at the films and everything seemed in a blurred time warp. I remember the doctor very methodically stating the details. A tumor in the center of his brain. Most likely malignant. Neurosurgeon. The best. But the most important thing he had to say, all worked out in detail before ever calling us back, "Here is the plan!" He had already talked with the specialist at Children's Hospital, three hours drive away. "Get Cuyler some lunch; go home and pack a suitcase, and be there by five this evening."

My husband ever the officer, relied on his background, and said we should go ahead, while he and Cameron took care of things and closed up the house. Later that evening, after we were all at the hospital, my husband pulled out a medal on a chain. He had just ten days before returned from Germany where he had found it in the drawer of an old barracks there. I had seen it on his desk along with some German coins, but I never turned it over or really examined it. Cuyler put it on.

After several days of examinations and tests, a surgery was scheduled for March 29th. We left the hospital on Good Friday, the 24th and spent Easter weekend with my sister who lived only fifteen miles from the hospital. The doctor had explained that the particular steroid Cuyler was taking to reduce the tumor's pressure was powerful and dangerous so we needed to stay close. It was good to be with family.

The next two weeks are burned into my memory. The only thing I can relate to those days are accounts we hear of soldiers in battle. As a couple, as a family, I must borrow from Churchill , and say for us, they were our "finest hour" regarding holding on to one another and keeping the faith and praying and feeling the warmth and love from caring friends. After surgery, three days in PICU, three nights in McDonald House, and many goodbyes to nurses and doctors we ended our stay at Children's.

When we returned home, to a living room filled with gifts, cards, baskets, virtually from the whole town, it was truly overwhelming. I remember just sitting in a wing chair holding my little boy and reading card after card from Sunday school classes representing churches all over town. It was during one of those readings that I took the medal in my fingertips and turned it over, and read on the back: St. Jude's Shrine, Our Lady's Chapel, 600 Pleasant Street, New Bedford, Massachusetts. My husband and I both agreed we had mistook it for a St. Christopher. Even then, having come to the Episcopal church as a young adult not raised with the saints, I thought, "Ah yes, patron saint of children." Not satisfied, I pulled my 1957 World Book off a shelf, only to read, "St. Jude, patron saint of desperate cases, or as in modern times, cancer patients." I was stunned. Awestruck. Though I had been filled with great apprehension alternating with night terrors and crying spells (if I had to go anywhere in car away from Cuyler I would break down in sobs) about the impending radiation treatment, months of MRI's, and annual checkups, it all ended with reading those words in the World Book and on the medal. I read it aloud several times. I know now that a peace came to me, a comfort, that made me know that divine Grace had intervened for this child .

While there are many other details related to this episode of our lives as a family, some I will add here later, none are more compelling than the story of the little medal, that travelled to Europe, was left behind in a drawer, found by a father who somehow knew his son would want to wear it, and replaced crippling despair and fear with hope and strength and faith. Peace be with you.

I will post a link to the biography of Saint Jude later this week.
His feast day is October 28, three days before Cuyler's birthday.


Derrick said...

Hello FireLight,

This is such a touching story and represents those things in life that we are never likely to understand but must just accept with a great deal of gratitude.

Rowan said...

This is a lovely story. I can understand your feelings at thattime too as our little grandson was desperately ill earlier this year and we nearly lost him. The support of friends, neighbours and absolute strangers was immensely comforting to all of the family.

Maggie May said...

I am overwhelmed with your honesty and rendering of this experience. As a mother...I can only feel sick thinking of what you went through.

What a beautiful testament.

Delwyn said...

Hello Firelight, my heart was in my throat as I read your story even tho' you had given your son's age at the top...

I have a lot to be thankful for...and I am...

Michael said...

Thank you for this blog Firelight, something beyond understanding but real nevertheless.

Virginia said...

Thank you for sharing this with us. How fortunate I am to have found you for a friend. God bless you and your precious family.
PS Our third grade classes collected 40+ pounds of pop tops for the Ronald McDonald House last year as a service project. It paid for a family to stay there for several days as I recall.

FireLight said...

Virginia, I have to say when all the world gangs up on McDonalds...I just go get a milkshake....BECAUSE...someone was really thinking and Ray Krok paid attention when it was time to give back. The concept of Ronald McDonlad Houses is far beyond a place to stay: The other familes one meets there...the ones who sit up in the kitchen with you when you cannot sleep, the young teen age couple whose newborn baby is struggling for life who comfort and take comfort from nearly a fortysomethings who are suddenly in the same boat: each has a precious child who is waiting for the power of medicine and the grace of God.
Oh yes, the young patients of my son's surgeon each received a McDonald's Credit Card to be honored once a week for a free that was 20 years ago. The best part, most days when we went to the one across the street from the hospital during the folow up visits and radiation therapy.....who was in line? His surgeon. She would be there in scrubs! I told her she could make money by allowing them to put her picture on the Big Mac Boxes! Mcdonald's - the Brainfood of Brain Surgeons!!

Virginia said...

We often forget the good so many organizations provide. I'm a firm believer in Mother Teresa's quote, " We cannot do great things in this world, but we can all do small things with great love." I had that posted in my classroom and it drove my classroom instruction and our character ed program. We collected almost 75 pairs of shoes for an orphanage in Ukraine last year as well.

I am so glad your son has done well. I would love to meet him one day!

Country Girl said...

What a beautiful story and one I can relate to just a little, although it was never a child I was praying for. I believe in the power of God and all the angels and saints, too. I knew St. Jude was the patron saint of desperate causes but didn't know about the cancer link. Thank you for that.

Cait O'Connor said...

I also believe in the powers from 'otherworlds' and the power of thought in this world. Your post is so moving.

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Recreational scholar, former high school and junior college English teacher. Animal lover (especially horses, dogs, and people), live in the South, sometimes poet and essayist... "Ireland, Scotland, Britain, and Wales...I can hear those ancient voices calling..." Van Morrison from Celtic Heartbeat