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.