• February 28, 2017

El Salvador: Lucia’s smile

By Emily M, on mis­sion in El Salvador

Christmas day we vis­ited the chil­dren in Bloom (a chil­dren’s hos­pital where we visit kids with cancer every week), bringing with us small gifts and a guitar to sing Christmas carols. There was one girl in par­tic­ular who made an impres­sion on me, Lucia, who is two years old and her mother who is twenty-five years old.

Lucia, like many of the chil­dren we encounter there, is tiny and looks younger than her age. She and her mother spent a month and half in a dif­ferent sec­tion of the hos­pital get­ting treat­ment and had recently moved to the cancer floor. While it is dif­fi­cult to see the chil­dren suf­fering and trapped inside a hos­pital, I also always leave the visits with an ache for the par­ents. They leave their lives behind to stay in a hos­pital for weeks or months to care for their child who is hovering between life and death. Some have family mem­bers who are able to take turns with them in the hos­pital, but many do not. Therefore, they are pre­sent 24/7 and those par­ents who have other chil­dren are unable to see them. Frequently we encounter these par­ents tired, bored, and occa­sion­ally without hope. We spend a good part of the time vis­iting with them as well.

Lucia, in all her cute­ness, was very shy at first, hiding in the arms of her mother. A friend and I began talking with her mother while attempting to interact with Lucia who would have none of it. Sometimes it is a little awk­ward walking into a room and starting a con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger who is clearly suf­fering; it takes some patience and cre­ativity. However, with Lucia and her mom it was very nat­ural. The mom was open and relieved to have someone to talk to. Lucia is her only child and there is no father in the pic­ture. They live with her mother and brother, but they are unable to visit and take turns in the hos­pital. We chatted and laughed, but Lucia kept hiding. My friend and I decided to sing a couple of Christmas carols and at that she perked up and gave us a big smile. We then brought out some bub­bles which she loved and began laughing. I left feeling like I had made a real friend.

The fol­lowing week I was able to visit them again. I sat talking with the mother for a good bit, while Lucia stayed with her, hiding. Towards the end of the visit, Lucia allowed me to hold her, which sur­prised her mom because she rarely lets the nurses and doc­tors hold her. The next week I was able to visit Bloom, they had returned to their house.

Bloom is full of encoun­ters such as this, where you become close to one family and then they leave, or worse, and you start over again, a con­stant rota­tion. It is a temp­ta­tion to think ‘but why?’, ‘what are we doing here’? When vis­iting with Lucia the first time, there was another group who passed by to sing and give out toys; Lucia’s mom men­tioned that occa­sion­ally groups stop by in this manner, but they do not take the time to visit with them. This is why we are there, to listen, to give a smile or laugh that will not change their sit­u­a­tion, but simply helps them get through the day.

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