Last weekend was lovely lady's choir trip. Seventeen middle-school-aged girls, six chaperones riding public transportation all over downtown Portland. It was a weekend jam-packed with activities, and the girls had a blast.
We got to ride the aerial tram to Doernbecher Children's Hospital to sing for the patients. Children with cancer and blood disorders, children who've been seriously injured, children with severe disabilities.
The woman who met us at the tram told the girls, "It's okay to feel sad, but it's hard for the patients to see you cry. If you start to feel sad, go find one of the adults and they'll help."
That was great advice for the first two floors. The girls sang on a busy floor with children going in and out and stopping to listen, many of them in wheelchairs with some sort of cast. The girls sang on a floor where the patients were all isolated so that they wouldn't give or get infections.
Then we went to the next floor. Many of the patients had doors decorated with their pictures, their ages, their hobbies. We moms had all heard the songs a bajillion times before, so we read the doors. "Hobbies: Diving, soccer, singing" and "Favorite ice cream: Chocolate peanut-butter" and "Pets: Cha-cha (cat) and Swimmy (fish)." Beautiful smiling pictures of the children in their best health, playing soccer, sitting on the grass, playing the guitar.
Then we individually got to these stats on the doors we were reading:
And we looked at our beautifully healthy girls singing in the hallway. Our daughters and their friends, girls the same ages as the patients in those rooms. We had to step around the corner so that the girls couldn't see us, and there weren't any grownups there to explain and to help us feel better. So we tried to think about something else, anything else.
Once you become a mother, you can't help but understand how precious are the lives of children. You grieve for the worry and love and fear that those mothers are feeling, even knowing that your own tears don't help them one little bit. You picture your own child lying there in that bed. You're brought face-to-face with a parent's worst nightmare, watching your child ill, suffering, dying.
Later one of the girls asked, curious, "Why are you so sad?"
"When you're a mother, you'll understand," replied one of the moms.
Hug your babies tight. And give them an extra kiss for me.