Yesterday morning my daughter, who was sitting in a wheelchair next to her IV pole, looked across the rumpled hospital bed at me and asked, with a nearly expressionless face, "Is this the kind of sickness that can make me... that can make people... die?"
I said: "When people have an appendix that gets as sick as yours did, if they don't get the surgery you had, then yes, they do sometimes die. You were very, very sick before your surgery. But we took you to the hospital, and the radiologist figured out what was wrong, and right away you went into surgery, so you are going to get better. Almost everyone gets better after they have the surgery you had. And this is a very good hospital."
She thought about that for a while.
I said: "Were you worried about that?"
"I'm glad you asked me about it so I could answer you."
She looked back at me with almost no expression on her face. There had been no hint of weeping or of anger or of anything else.
Then she said: "Why does God make some people get sick?"
My first thought was: Am I living in some kind of schlocky TV show where children get sick and ask "Why does God make people get sick?"
And then I thought, I just got handed a major Catholic-parent pop quiz. Better get this one right.
So I said something I keep in my pocket to buy myself time:
"That is a question that many very smart people have been talking about and discussing for a very long time. It is one of the most important questions that people have ever come up with. So I am glad you are thinking about it, because everyone has to ask it eventually."
And then I said:
"Some people think that it isn't God who makes people get sick. They have the idea that it was when original sin came into the world, that sickness and suffering came into the world with it."
She looked at me expressionlessly.
I continued: "And other people say that God lets some people get sick so that all of us can learn how to be compassionate and kind to each other. By helping the people who are suffering."
She nodded -- not in a "yes, I agree with you" way, nor in a "That makes sense, Mom" kind of way, but in a "That's enough out of you" way. She looked down into her lap.
I waited a moment and then I added, "That really is an important question. People have been talking and wondering about the answer to that since before Jesus was born, even. It's in the book of Job."
She asked to be put back in her bed. I helped get her in -- she is able to scoot herself around a little bit, and I am able to lift her a little bit, so together we can do it -- and soon she dropped off to sleep.
+ + +
I sat back down in the vinyl recliner in the dimmed room -- the sunlight filtered through the curtains we had drawn across the east-and fired up iBreviary for the first time since we got here. Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of my favorites. I clicked the "Lauds" button and decided on the common of martyrs.
The reading was second Corinthians 1:3-5:
Praised be the God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolation! He comforts us in all our afflictions and thus enables us to comfort those who are in trouble, with the same consolation we have received from him. As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation.
What do you think? Did I pass the quiz? I think maybe I got a fifty percent.
+ + +
This morning things are looking up. Catheter is out, although she has a job to do before she can be sure that she won't have to have it in again; also, she has been promised a chance to try mashed potatoes at lunchtime. Mark went to work for a couple of hours. I am about to comb her hair while she sits in a wheelchair and watches The Price is Right.
The surgical team is optimistic that she will not develop a secondary infection, since there has been no fever. We are basically waiting for the digestive system to start working again, including fluids in and out, before she can come off the IV and be discharged.
Thanks for all your prayers. If you feel moved to add more, let's all ask that she not need another catheter because that part wasn't any fun at all....