Day 6 - The Gut Punch
It was day 6 and the middle of the night when my wife and I were abruptly awoken by a loud, obnoxious ringing from our hospital phone. We had been sleeping at the hospital for 6 nights, while our other 3 children were being cared for by various friends in our church community. The doctor’s voice on the other end of the phone was laced with concern at best and terror at worst.
Our fourth child, Canaan, was born June 25th, 2012 without a hiccup. The pregnancy was textbook and pretty routine in light of the first 3 children. Everything about the days leading up to brith seemed all too familiar and casual. Shortly after delivering baby Canaan, the medical team wanted to keep her for“2-3 days” for observation due to a common occurrence of inhaling meconium (fecal matter released while still in utero). The pulmonogist (lung doctor) told us, “give it a few days and then you’ll be heading home with your healthy, new baby girl.” How I wish that would have been the case.
My wife and I walked down the hall of the NICU, turned the corner into our baby girl’s room and were met with a tidal wave of activity and the shocking sight of seeing our daughter receiving a spinal tap. Honestly, she was hooked up to more tubes then we had ever seen in a human body. The doctor quickly explained that something more was going with Canaan but they didn’t know what. They were puzzled and concerned and told us they felt that she was beyond their ability to properly care for her at their hospital. They requested that she be transferred to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee where a team of doctors could properly observe and assess her.
Shock, terror and a broken heart ensued as I watched my wife turn pale, the nurses stumbling with their words and my eyes watch our 6-day old daughter be put in an ambulance without us for the transfer. The ride from the local hospital to Children’s seemed like it would never end. I had never felt adrenaline like that before in my life. My hands were shaking. Every atom in my being was vibrating at the highest frequency. My breathing erratic and my hands clammy, just like that slow and steady climb up the first huge drop on a roller coster. Any level of exhaustion dissipated immediately. While my mind and body frantically wanted to “do” something, all I could do was remain in a trance fueled by awe and shock.
“What is happening?” “Am I dreaming?” “How do I respond to my wife, my other kids and everyone who’s asking questions?” Thoughts flooded my mind while being bombarded by a whole new world of the medical community. New phrases, mindsets and hospital norms were being hurdled on my wife and I. We were having to stop every nurse and doctor mid-sentence to ask for definitions to things like “E.E.G., partial genesisof the corpus callosum and congenital neurological complications.” It was another language. One that I was determined to learn because instantly I knew I had just moved from being a proud father of 4 to an advocate and investigator for this new life.
A Miracle Begins
A bond quickly formed. A strong current of warm and powerful energy was impregnated in me as my wife and I would go daily to Milwaukee to spend the day with Canaan and her medical team. She was unstable for the first 75 days of her life; having to be resuscitated multiple times. During that stay we heard the most horrific possible diagnosis of what could be going on with her. We were told that she had multiple medical concerns, primarily neurological, but none of them fit a clinical picture for any known condition or syndrome.
We were left with no answers.
I quickly began to recognize that I had come to the end of my self. I couldn’t make sense of life. I couldn’t comfort my wife, nor could I function with my other kids. A terror gripped my soul that felt like suffocating hands around the neck of the center of being. The life I had before Canaan was over — it was dead. And that death wasn’t a choice but more like when you’re hit head-on by a drunk driver at 70mph.
I was left without logic, comfort and yet I had a surprising depth of love growing inside of me that I had not experienced up that point in my life. Not the pseudo-fuzzy kind of love you see in over-inflated media, but rather the “I am more concerned about your well-being then I am about mine” kind of love. The kind that goes to bed at 10PM and is completely “ok” waking an hour later to take an all-night trip to the ER. The kind that sleeps on the hardwood floor next to your crib for months on end just to make sure you keep breathing. The kind that has the audacity to believe that you are more than your body - that the real you is unseen but very much experienced.
That love gave me the courage to believe in Canaan. To believe that no matter what happened that force at work within my belly would cover her, care for her and do whatever necessary to ensure that she knew she belonged and was fully accepted.
Her first year of life was nothing but tragic, heart-breaking and nerve-wracking. She would turn blue multiple times a day from holding her breathe due to discomfort produced by hyper-sensitivities. Calling 9-1-1 became second nature and making the hour drive to Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee was a common occurrence. The mystery continued, test after test, specialist after specialist no one had answers.
Ironically, these dark and gut-wrenching times began to produce a stregntehing of hope. I remember distinctly saying to my wife, Nikki, as I would drive our baby girl to Milwaukee, “There’sa reason for all this. We are being prepared for something greater and God chose Canaan to teach us the lessons we need to live more fulfilled, more authentically and more alive.”
Those words became a meditation; a mantra that started to take root deep within my soul. As I continued to walk through this deep valley of despair and darkness something else was happening. I began to hear messages, whispers from the other side of eternityy. The more I abandoned my “self” and gave myself completely over to the well-being of Canaan, the more I forgot about my ambitions and personal desires, the more I would hear these lessons that had a profound effect on my behavior, my perspective of myself and my family.
Whispers Turn to a Megaphone
Once I caught on and realized that Canaan’s life was teaching me, I started to listen closer and deeper, especially in the moments where I wanted to give up or feel like the burden was too much carry. The more intense the situation, the greater depth the invitation was for me to know love more intimately.
It wasn’t long till this type of love I was giving to Canaan started to reflect back on to myself and all those who surrounded me. About a year into Canaan’s life I realized, “I’m in the middle of a spiritual awakening. I’m being given the opportunity to experience the greatest treasure life has to offer.” That recognition was the icing on the cake. Those closest to me knew that I was in the midst of a rebirth and that I had never been more content, happy and fulfilled in my life.
Life was tough. Honestly, it sucked more then ever. According to system of this world, my life was over and I would have every right to enter the deepest depression of my life and sing my woe’s but instead the complete opposite happened.
The more I heard the whispers, the more I “got” the lessons, their rate and frequency would increase till I literally felt like I was in utter bliss. I started to see Canaan for who she really was - not her broken body but the perfection that resided within her. I began to understand that the most important things in life are not what’s seen but that’s what beyond the density of the mortal realm.
I was prepared to take care of Canaan for the next 50 years of my life. I was ready to take this heavy burden one day at a time with nothing less than pure joy. I had let go of what I thought I wanted from life, my dreams of a career and the simplicity of just running to the store to grab a cup of coffee. I was 100% ok with my life being given over to cleaning up vomit, waking up multiple times in the night from alarms and running back and forth to Milwaukee.
I counted the cost of what the future would hold. I would think about Canaan going through puberty and me having to care for her not just as a cute 2 year old but as a teenager and then into womanhood. I would think about having to bath her, change her diaper and brush out her hair when she would be 25. All of this I was ok with.
Because she was worth it.
The value of her life (and all human life) was worthy of this type of love.
Just When I "Got It"
These issues were settled in me, completely affirmed and ready to serve till my death and then the script changed again. Right around Canaan’s 3rd birthday her health began to decline. Certain respiratory complications developed that caused damage to her lungs that was irreversible. As with all major organs in the body, when one thing goes wrong it can kick off a domino effect, causing a chain-reaction throughout the other bodily systems.
It hit me one day that what I thought about Canaan’s lifespan was gravely incorrect. I realized that her life was going to be much shorter than longer. I am deeply grateful to this day that this recognition hit me when it did because it gave more 2 months to prepare my heart for her passing.
And then I got the phone call.
It was the end of October and the leaves were gracefully falling from the trees all around me, a constant reminder of the process of dying. Canaan was admitted that morning and my family went on with our lives as normal. I was at work when my phone rang. It was Children’s Hospital, which was expected because I was waiting to hear how she was doing. The thing was different about this phone call then all the countless calls just like before this moment was that it wasn’t a nurse on the other line but the attending doctor.
The attending doctor never calls.
When I answered the phone and she announced her status, my body went numb, then felt like it was on fire and then felt like my hands weighted 100 pounds each.
I knew. I just knew.
She proceeded to let me know that she was very concerned about Canaan. Canaan’s body temp was close to 106 degrees and she wasn’t responding to any fever reducing medications, including higher doses of ibuprofen. She also let me know that they weren’t able to stop her vomiting, even with very high doses of a medication she had received multiple times before this admission.
She believed that the infection in Canaan’s lungs had spread to her blood.
The End of One Thing - The Start of the New
When I hung up the phone, I knew this was it. I knew Canaan’s race had been run and it was time to release her. I called my wife at work. I called my spiritual father. I called my parents as we all headed to see Canaan.
That was on a Wednesday and Canaan took her last breath that Friday evening. She died in peace with those who loved her, prayed for her and believed in her surrounding her. We cheered her on and she took death on with such innocent courage that still sends chills down my spine.
It’s been a year since she’s transitioned to the life beyond. Our hearts still ache to share energy with her again yet we have peace knowing she served her purpose in this life and now waits for us to join her.
Her life continues to teach me to this day. Although her body has died, the whispers continue to come in waves. My ear is now trained and attuned to hear the lessons she came to teach me. Canaan was my messenger. You have one too but we must listen closely because those whispers are with you that you too may find greater levels of truth, freedom and peace.