Strength, courage and love at the end of the sidewalk

Strength, courage and love at the end of the sidewalk

Throughout my wife's pregnancy, I would read to our unborn baby before going to bed. Sometimes it would be a fairy tale. Sometimes it would be the Berenstain Bears. Sometimes it would be one of the thick baby books meant more for chewing than reading. But my favorite thing to read to our baby were Shel Silverstein poems.

There is a place where the sidewalk ends and before the street begins, and there the grass grows soft and white, and there the sun burns crimson bright, and there the moon-bird rests from his flight to cool in the peppermint wind.

Nathan Joseph Grace was born Aug. 24, 2014, during what was supposed to be a quiet night before my wife's scheduled induction on Aug. 25. Instead, my wife was rushed for an emergency C-section and Nathan was born unable to breathe on his own. He would never be able to breathe on his own in his short life. He had developed a monstrous arteriovenous malformation during his development that had bled out on both sides of his brain. He was born with an enlarged heart and liver, and many of his organs were nonfunctioning. He died Aug. 26, 2014, in the early morning hours.

noteI am not writing these words, however, to bemoan Nate's fate or to curse the world for being unfair. I am writing these words to share the great strength that Nathan Joseph Grace, better known as Nate the Great, shared with me and my wife during his short life.

On Aug. 25, I spent most of the day with Nathan at Comer's Children in Chicago, the hospital he was rushed to after being born at Edward Hospital in Naperville in hopes that the team in Chicago could do something for him. As we waited for test results, I stayed by Nate's side. I held his hands, played with his toes, talked to him, sang to him, and -- of course -- read to him. I found some Shel Silverstein poems online to read to him, including one of my favorites, "Where the Sidewalk Ends."

I am so grateful for the time I had with Nathan at Comer's, for those precious hours I was allowed to actively be his daddy. I smiled at him. I complimented him on how he was rockin' his little blue hat. I even got to hold him in my arms and rock my sweet baby boy for a bit.

Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black and the dark street winds and bends. Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow we shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow and watch where the chalk-white arrows go to the place where the sidewalk ends.

Eventually, the Comer doctors would let me know there was nothing they could do for little Nate the Great. And his time left was short. But they were able to do something for me and my wife. The wonderful team there, including Nathan's nurse Jennifer - who I can never thank enough - arranged to have him taken back to Edward so he could spend time with his mommy who was still recovering from her C-section at Edward. The transport would have its risks, certainly, but Nathan -- our brave little fighter -- was determined to make it back to be held by his mom and did so.

For the rest of Aug. 25, me and my wife doted on Nathan as parents should. We talked to him, sang to him, held him, bathed him and did all of these things with a smile on our faces. This was our time with our little boy. We treasured it as much as we could.

Eventually, though, it was time to say goodbye. And while his body could go on no longer, his brave, strong spirit stayed in our hearts, where it will remain forever.

The days after have been hard, and more hard days certainly are in our future. But we both feel so  blessed to be parents and to know that we were the best possible mommy and daddy we could be to our baby boy. Nathan Joseph Grace will always be with us, giving us strength and courage during the dark times and laughing with us on the bright days that also are ahead.

Yes we'll walk with a walk that is measured and slow, and we'll go where the chalk-white arrows go, for the children, they mark, and the children, they know, the place where the sidewalk ends. 

• Joe Grace is a longtime journalist and writer who lives in the Chicago suburbs. If you'd like to race for the kids to support Comer's Children on Oct. 5, you can register here. If you'd like to support Team Nate the Great, you can do so on our team page.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO READ CHRISTINE LAFAVE GRACE'S COLUMN ON NATHAN: Not how the picture is supposed to develop

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