Child of Promise

    “Child of Promise,” Ensign, July 1989, 48

    Child of Promise

    First Place Winner 1989 Life-Style Article

    “Mommy! Mommy!” my little girl screamed hysterically. “There’s been an accident! Jacob’s hurt bad, and I think Jared’s dead!”

    I ran down the sidewalk that August afternoon in 1983 with my heart racing. I could see my little boys, Jacob and Jared, lying in the street where they had fallen from the back of the moving van my oldest son, Ray, had rented. Moments before, Ray had stopped by the house to give Jared a desk for his birthday.

    Unaware that they had climbed onto the narrow ledge at the back of the truck, he had driven away. Jared’s twin sister, Rachel, ran after the truck, but Ray had not heard her screaming for him to stop.

    The boys had been able to hang on for only a few blocks before being flung into the street. They rolled on the cement like rag dolls for about fifty feet. Ten-year-old Jacob was thrashing about, howling in pain. “Jared!” he kept screaming. “I can’t see Jared!” His eight-year-old brother, the blood oozing from his nose and ear, lay near the gutter, unconscious. Rachel was standing over her twin’s body, sobbing hysterically, when the ambulance, its sirens screaming, rolled to a stop.

    “The older boy has a hairline fracture of the skull and some neurological damage, as well as a broken leg,” the doctor in the emergency room said, “but it’s touch and go with the younger one. We’re doing all we can, but he may not make it. We’re preparing to transfer them both to Children’s Hospital, where a trauma team that specializes in head injuries is waiting.”

    My husband, Bill, and I caught a glimpse of intravenous bottles and grim faces as doctors wheeled our two boys out of the emergency door on gurneys. Ray stood next to us, his body shaking from grief and shock. This must be a bad dream, I thought. It can’t be happening.

    The bishop came to the hospital. “I would like to give you a special blessing,” he said. I could feel the pressure of his hands on my head and the feeling of comfort that flowed through my body. But I couldn’t concentrate on the words.

    The next few weeks passed in a blur. I felt dazed and disoriented. Friends and neighbors each offered what they could: sympathy, hot meals for my family, or offers to baby-sit my younger children. My husband and I spent most of our time at the hospital, sitting at the boys’ bedsides.

    Jacob’s injuries to his head had left him with minor motor control problems and a weak right side, but the doctor thought he would recover most of his former abilities. When Jacob was home, he hobbled around his room on crutches, touching Jared’s baseball and other treasures with aching loneliness.

    Jared remained in critical condition. An intracranial pressure monitor was screwed into his skull to continuously monitor his brain pressure from the swollen tissue and increased fluid and blood pressing against his skull. If the pressure became too great, it could cause death or serious brain damage.

    When I looked at Jared, my heart felt pierced with needles like the IVs stuck in his veins. The tubes entwined his neck, arms, and legs. His feet were swollen and had turned deep purple. A respirator hissed with his every breath, and above the bed, monitors flashed and beeped as they recorded his heartbeat and erratic blood pressure. Their sounds throbbed along the jagged edges of my nerves, beating into my temples … Jared’s dying! Jared’s dying!

    I was terrified to leave the hospital at night for fear I’d find his bed empty when I returned. Often, I’d walk down the empty hails and stop to stare out the window at the blackness of the night. There I would think numbly, How could Heavenly Father let this terrible thing happen to Jared—my Jared—my bright little boy so full of promise? I thought of Jared’s eyes, his incredibly expressive brown eyes that sparkled and danced with emotion, now closed in coma’s emptiness.

    “Mom!” he had yelled excitedly only a few weeks ago as he had raced toward me across the baseball field, the breeze ruffling his hair like the mane of a pony. “Did you see? I slugged two home runs! Coach says I’m a natural!”

    He brought home his trophy at the end of the season. First place in team competition. He was dancing up and down. “Can we put it on the mantel above the fireplace, Mom?” he begged. At my nod, he moved my flowered plants to one side and proudly set the trophy in the place of honor. I looked at the displaced plants I had nurtured from tiny shoots and then at the inexpensive trophy already tarnished where Jared’s sweaty hands had clasped it. My eyes caught his, glowing with excitement. The trophy suddenly shone.

    The lights in the hospital corridor pinned my reflection against the dull windowpane. I clenched my hands into fists, forcing myself not to pound against the glass.

    Summer ended, and the children prepared for the return to school. “I don’t want to go,” Rachel’s voice trembled. “Jared and I have always been in the same classroom before.”

    In a sudden rush, she threw her arms around me and buried her head against my breast, muffling her anguished cry. “Why did Jared have to have that accident and make me hurt so bad inside?” I didn’t know the answer. I only knew the heartrending pain that had left my entire family raw and torn.

    After two months of life-threatening complications, Jared was gradually weaned from the respirator that had breathed for him and was moved from intensive care to a special-care ward. He was still in a coma, and his prognosis for recovery was bleak. “There’s no way to tell if Jared will ever wake from his coma,” one doctor told me, “and even if he does, he will be severely brain-damaged.”

    “Don’t say that!” I protested. “I’ve prayed so hard. The Lord won’t let this happen to my child!”

    Three months passed, each day blurring into the next. Jared slowly began to come out of the coma, but his eyes were unfocused, his arms were stretched rigid at his sides, and his hands and feet were curled inward. He looked like a caricature of a boy. His bright and searching mind was entombed within a brain so badly damaged that he could neither move nor speak. My world shattered as burning tears scorched my soul. Life had taken my son and left a crippled, empty shell in his place. Why? Why?

    The hospital therapists worked with Jared. He had to be taught everything: how to roll over, how to sit up, how to hold a spoon, how to talk again. Jared opened his mouth wide and grimaced with effort, but the halting words were difficult to understand, and they often didn’t make sense. He had amnesia. He couldn’t remember anything about his life before the accident. He couldn’t remember me. Yet sometimes I glimpsed a spark of light gleaming within his brown eyes when I passed within his line of vision. He loves me, I thought—amazed at the idea—loves me without knowing why.

    Jared’s brothers and sisters came to the hospital to visit him. The youngest, just five, scrambled up onto his bed and tightly hugged him, tears glistening in her eyes. Gradually, Jared learned to recognize our faces, but he stumbled over our names. I walked into his room one morning, and he called out weakly, “Hi, Daddy!” I swallowed the lump in my throat and kissed his forehead.

    “No, honey,” I gently explained. “Daddy will be here after work. I’m Mother. Your mother.”

    Every day, Jared received hours of therapy.

    “This is a toothbrush; you hold it like this and brush your teeth.” The therapist placed the toothbrush in Jared’s left hand. He clasped it awkwardly. He had to learn to use his left hand because his right side was partially paralyzed. At mealtime he was propped up and tied into a wheelchair to keep him from falling forward. His head lolled on his shoulders.

    “How old are you, Jared?” the speech pathologist asked. “One thousand years,” Jared stammered.

    Time and events held no meaning for him. Words became mixed up. He said “carrot” for “rabbit” and “flat” when he meant “tire.”

    After five months in the hospital, Jared came home in a wheelchair. He didn’t recognize his house. When we showed him his room and his treasures, he looked about with a careless glance, idly touching one or two things. I tried to hand him his baseball trophy, but he turned away in disinterest. These things belonged to a different boy, not him.

    He was like a two-year-old again. In many ways he thought and acted like a toddler. The accident had temporarily left him without bowel or bladder control. He wore diapers, and I had to toilet train him. I didn’t mind. I felt a certain satisfaction in caring for him, bathing him, and helping him dress.

    As the months passed, Jared grew stronger. He learned to hold his head erect and sit by himself, but many skills he once excelled in were now lost. Jared continued to return to the hospital for outpatient therapy, and finally he learned to walk again—in his own way. His right side still partially paralyzed, he lunged forward with his left leg and dragged the right along.

    Two years after the accident, when Jared was ten, we took the children to Disneyland. We parked his wheelchair and walked over to the end of the long line of people waiting for a ride. As we joined the line, Jared spotted a boy across from us holding a stuffed Mickey Mouse toy. Jared’s eyes locked on the toy. He opened his mouth and grunted, straining to force words out, but in his eagerness, only a crackle of sound escaped. Silently he screwed up his face, reaching out for the toy with twisting arms. Wide-eyed, the boy stepped back and protectively tightened his hold on the toy. Frustrated, Jared threw back his head and let out a piercing howl. People stared. I studied my toes.

    Once he started crying, Jared couldn’t stop. Like a phonograph record with a needle stuck in a groove, he wailed on and on, no longer remembering why. Tears streamed down his face into his open mouth. His father tenderly wiped Jared’s face with a handkerchief and murmured soothing words, but our son was beyond consolation. He sat on the ground and began to rock back and forth, blocking the roped aisle. People in the line behind us muttered in exasperation.

    Rachel—my loving, gentle Rachel, with her tender eyes so like Jared’s—squatted next to him and took his hands in her own.

    “He’s my twin,” she explained to no one in particular. “And I love him.”

    Sometimes on Saturdays, I’d see a boy dressed in a Little League uniform walking by my house and I’d want to scream, “Get away from here. You’re normal!”

    I tried to push from my mind thoughts of what the future might have held had the accident not happened. I could go crazy remembering what Jared had been and knowing what he can never be again. Jared had been a bright light, his future filled with promise. Why? Why was it taken from Jared—from me? Sometimes my soul cried out in anguish, yearning for answers. But the heavens seemed closed above me. I took my son’s baseball trophy from the mantel and stuffed it in a drawer.

    Jared is currently enrolled in a special school for handicapped children. His progress is slow, because each day he forgets much of what he has learned the day before. But looking back, I can see how far he’s come.

    After school, in the afternoons, Jared follows me about the house like a lost puppy, hungry for companionship, eager to help, eager to please. “Let me make my bed, Mommy,” he’ll stammer. “I’ll feed the cat, too. I’m a big boy now.”

    His sweet, sometimes silly songs fill the house with music as he goes about his simple tasks.

    Often, I hold him in my lap and read stories to him. His eighty pounds squash my legs, but the loving nearness of him lifts my heart. Sometimes, when we’re together, I feel such a compelling spirit of love, I almost sense the presence of angels.

    Perhaps this glimpse of heaven left the door ajar for the answer to my prayers. It came one bright morning as Jared cleared the table for me after breakfast.

    “This is the best day in my life because I like to help,” he said as he awkwardly carried the cups and plates clinking together on their precarious journey from table to sink. “And I’m helping you, aren’t I?” He beamed up at me like a ray of sunshine coming through the kitchen window, shining across his upturned features. And suddenly, in one electric moment, the answer came!

    It had always been there, waiting for my heart to heal and open once again to love. A sweet spirit of peace flowed over me, and a still, small voice whispered to my soul, “[The Lord] hath made every thing beautiful in his time: … for every purpose and for every work.” (Eccl. 3:11, 17.) Suddenly I clearly understood that the skills and talents Jared once enjoyed are not lost, but wait in embryo to unfold in their own time and season. For now, there is another mission.

    God has not forsaken, He has nurtured! He has not taken, but has opened the windows of heaven and poured out upon my son the gift of charity—the greatest gift of all—even the pure love of Christ.

    Jared threw his arms around my neck, smothering me with kisses. I looked into his face, aglow with the joy of service, and in his eyes I saw eternal promise.

    Together we took his baseball trophy from the dresser drawer and replaced it on the mantel.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg