I spent the morning at Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago yesterday. Many folks think kid's hospitals are sad, sad places. I don't. To me, they feel like home. I feel comfortable in them, even ones I haven't been in before. Maybe its because I worked in health care for a lot of years. Maybe it's because doctors don't scare me and the smell of antiseptic cleaners doesn't nauseate me. Maybe it's because they remind me of Donna.
I went as a volunteer for a charity that does monthly parties for kids being treated for cancer. Within minutes of being on the outpatient unit, I gave and received hugs from no less that six folks who helped care for Donna. And honestly, for me and Mary Tyler Dad, too. When Children's Memorial Hospital closed last June, the anticipation of that closure gutted me for a bit. It was another connection to Donna gone, gone, gone.
In my last visit to the old hospital, where another round of hugs were exchanged, I heard from almost every staff member I visited with, "We'll be taking Donna with us." I heard those words, but in the moment they felt unintentionally hollow. These folks meant well, but you know, they still made me sad. In my first few visits to the new hospital, aside from being awed from the sheer impressiveness of the structure, it was simply good to see their faces again. Those faces -- so many beautiful faces -- are, I now realize, another connection to Donna.
While Donna walked in hallways and cried and laughed in rooms that will never be accessible to me again, she also made an impression on an awful lot of folks that watched her grow up along with me and her Dad. And when I see those faces now, even more than three years later, when they look at me, they are thinking of Donna. And they say her name. And for a few moments, I get to feel close to my girl again.
What a gift. I wrote on Facebook, "Any day that I get to hug Donna's oncologist is a good day. So I guess today is a good day." And it was.
As I write this, sitting in my dining room, son tucked away in bed, husband out with friends, the tears are flowing freely. They fall for Donna, but they also fall for the kids and families I met today. Some had hair, some did not. Some had IV poles, some did not. Some had smiles, some did not. All, I know, have fear. Deep, troubling fear that sinks into the bones it is so potent. And that fear is justified.
There is kinship in knowing the sadness of another.
I think that is why being at Lurie Children's feels, in a way, like going home. It is all familiar to me, even though it is brand new. It doesn't matter that yesterday was the first day I had the courage to go up to the oncology units. Metaphorically, I've never left. My husband used to call me the Mayor of 4 West, the old oncology unit, cause every time I left Donna's room, I would stop and chat with folks in the halls or at the desk. It would take me 45 minutes to run and get a soda. Chat, chat, chat. Today was the same way.
So today I send love and gratitude to all my friends at Lurie Children's, another of my homes. It was so good to see and hug and chat with Stew and Sandy and Heidi and Purvie and Willow and Julie and Barb and Beth and Althea and Katherine and Lana. I am so glad that you are some of the good folks who know my sadness and my joy and my Donna.
It was good to be home.