The morning the world was watching Diana marry the Prince of Wales, I was met by a pack of photographers at one of the great Chicago teaching hospitals, where I was picking up my little foster son, "D." I'd worked with him in the critical care unit for weeks learning to care for his medical needs, and we were both ready to go home.
As they jockeyed for positions to take pictures for the local news, I said to one of them, "I guess now I know how Lady Di must feel."
He smiled and replied, "No honey, you don't. At least this hoopla ends for you in about an hour."
My little boy was a newsworthy subject. Born months prematurely, he'd spent almost every day of his nearly three years of life in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital. D had been able to escape clinical confinement only once, when around his second birthday nurses took him on a Wendella boat ride. It was one of his stable days, and they saw him come alive as D embraced the world. "There's no other way to describe it," a nurse told me. "His little arms were wide open the whole time and he never stopped smiling." They determined then that if he survived his frequent illnesses and intermittent medical scares, they'd work to find a family for him - not another institution.
His mother loved him but was ill herself, unable to help her son through the challenges ahead. According to one of his doctors, his estimated life expectancy considering his multiple conditions was about a year at best. My goal was to make the most of the time he had left, and keep his life support equipment functioning. And so I was trained to handle D's health care needs by the nurses who'd fallen in love with him through the years. They also gave me the secrets they possessed about the mysteries of the little guy, earned, not through clinical caregiving, but through love. On this Great Day of Departure, they'd dressed him in a tiny new safari suit. Unable to stand yet, he ambled toward me in a baby walker, laughing, holding out his arms. I'll hold that image in my mind until the end of my days.
D lived with me, my family, and my dog for the next seven years. After that, he went home.
Those years changed me as nothing else could have. When life gets complicated and I feel tension rising, I go back to those days to get back in touch with what's essential. I've learned not to listen to dire predictions, and to relax my grip on what I think is true so I can focus on what needs to be done.
We make decisions, set our path, face the odds, and sometimes we're led to places beyond our imagining. We encounter hidden gifts we never knew to ask for, and learn things about ourselves we never knew were there.
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