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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Gift of Life

Big, Big Grampa, Little Bitty Baby

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Couey

For the last seven months or so, we've been caught up in the anticipation attendant to the birth of a grandchild. Our oldest daughter announced the coming event, not with a phone call, but in true 21st century style, via Facebook.

Through the intervening months, she's kept us up to date with her progress. Her husband was medically discharged from the Army and they left North Carolina for California with their car and a U-Haul truck stuffed with their worldly belongings. The pittance the Army advanced them for the trip ran out in Albuquerque, New Mexico, prompting a frantic phone call and some hurried negotiations with Western Union. Despite the hiccup, they eventually reached the Golden State and into the welcoming arms of his family. She made contact with her new doctor, and things looked good.

She went into labor on a Saturday, 10 days early. About 8 hours later, she gave birth to a girl, 4 lbs 9 ozs tiny. Zoe, as she was named, had eating problems initially and spent her first two weeks in the Neonatal ICU. At one point, the doctors called in a geneticist. She ran tests and a week later, dropped a bomb on this young family.

Zoe is missing part of her 5th chromosone.

For those unaware, this means that her life will be a long succession of difficult challenges. For her family, it means the mountain they were already climbing, raised by her autistic brother, just got steeper.

When we arrived in California, Zoe was still in the NICU. Because of rule inspired by the threat of that dark cloud known as H1N1, only one of us could go in at a time. My wife, in the dual role of RN and Grandma, took first dibs. As I stood outside waiting my turn, I tried to understand her predicament.

Zoe's condition has a name: Cri du Chat. That's French for "Cry of a Cat" which describes one of the hallmarks, a thin, mewling cry that sounds like a newborn kitten. The list of possible outcomes of this condition is long and dark, details available to anyone with Internet access. For me, while I've been uniformly delighted by my phone's web capabilities, in this case it was too much information.

Eventually, my wife came out, her eyes reddened, her expression grim. Reading that face I know so well, I braced myself.

Newborns always seem small and fragile at first glance. But as I took my granddaughter into my arms for the first time, I was shocked by how tiny she was. Snuggled in her blanket, all I could see at first was her wee little face. She was quiet, sleeping peacefully, and even at this early age I could see her mother's eyes and her father's nose. I unwrapped her enough to inspect her long piano-player fingers and tiny toes. At such a moment, one usually dreams of a future where this tiny person has grown up to accomplish great things. But now, all I could do was feel sad at the one in 50,000 roll of the genetic dice had robbed her of her full potential. Presently her left eyelid opened a bit, inspecting this new person holding her. After a minute or so, the eye closed, apparently seeing nothing special. I gently stroked her soft, dark hair and made a promise. No matter the quality of her life, or the length thereof, she would be loved.

Later that day, sitting on a bench in one of Southern California's ubiquitous gallerias, I found myself taking notice of every pregnant woman passing by. I reflected on the cascade of emotions that accompany the birth of a child. Joy, awe, wonder, and above all, hope. It is simply an event unlike any other in the human experience. It reminds us what a precious thing life is; a gift wrapped by a ribbon connecting the past and future.

And whatever the circumstances or conditions, life is undeniably a gift from God.
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