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.