59: Feeling Better, Bag by Bag

59: Feeling Better, Bag by Bag

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Feeling Better, Bag by Bag

Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.

~James Matthew Barrie

It was early April, and after a long, dreary Minnesota winter, sunshine and spring had arrived. I was happily married and three months pregnant. Yet there I sat, crying in the mall parking lot when I should have been doing errands.

A year earlier, twenty weeks into my first pregnancy, I’d been confined to the hospital on bed rest for eighteen days. It was a dark time, full of loneliness, anxiety, and above all, a paralyzing fear that my baby wasn’t going to make it. Then, on Day 19, that fear was realized. Luke McKay was born. He lived only an hour.

Happiness returned over time — especially with the news that I was expecting twins. Still, as Luke’s birthday approached, I was depressed. I hated remembering those weeks in the hospital. Like a black hole, they had sucked my power, my peace, even my faith. And while I’d done a lot of emotional work around the loss of my son, such as journaling, support groups, and counseling, it didn’t seem that anything could heal the memories of that hospital stay.

So I sat in my car, sobbing. When I was done, I blew my nose and racked my brain. What could I do to feel better? That’s when I thought of the care package.

In the hospital, one bright spot in the gloom had been a box sent by a college friend. It was full of little gifts — some useful, some silly — accompanied by a list of funny descriptions. About a jeweled hair clip: “A fashion must for every hospital patient.” About a book of crossword puzzles: “For intellectual stimulation during TV commercials.” And for a package of my favorite cookies: “To remind you of the days when we ate only the ‘healthiest’ of foods!”

Remembering how the box had raised my spirits, I decided to make my own care package for an expectant mother on bed rest. On the back of a napkin, I listed items to include. There had to be a hair clip. Some silly slippers, too. A package of the softest toilet tissue. And sweet-smelling hand soap; I’d always hated the medicinal odor of hospital soap.

After shopping my blues away, I went home, attached labels to each item, and packed it all in a gift bag. I also wrote a letter to the unknown recipient, sharing part of my story and offering my prayers for a healthy baby.

On April 19, the anniversary of Luke’s birth, my husband Jory and I returned to the hospital. We walked through the lobby where I had checked in the year before. We visited the cafeteria where Jory had eaten supper the night Luke died. And we rode the elevator to the fourth floor, where I’d spent three of the hardest weeks of my life.

At the nurses’ station, I hesitantly set the bag on the counter. “I brought this for one of your patients on bed rest,” I said. “To cheer her up.” The nurse looked inside and exclaimed over the contents. “I have just the patient in mind for this,” she told me. “She’s been here for thirty-one days.” Thirty-one days! That’s when I knew for certain the care package had been a good idea.

Five months later, my beautiful baby girls were born, and the following April, I was too busy (and sleep deprived) to think of care packages or hospital visits. But as my daughters grew, they learned about their big brother Luke, and it seemed natural to pair a visit to his grave with a stop at the hospital. I started assembling a care package every spring. Over time, I increased the number I delivered each year to three, then six. When the girls got old enough, they helped me pack them.

It has now been twelve years since Luke died, and at least fifty mothers-to-be have received one of my bed rest bags. I’ve received grateful notes from a few of them, but that’s not why I do it. Packing those gift bags is a way of celebrating not being in the hospital. It’s a way of celebrating my two living children. Most of all, it’s a way of celebrating a reassuring truth, which I learned through the loss of my little boy: out of something bad can come something good. Doing something to encourage women who feel helpless — as I once did — has restored my sense of power and helped me to heal.

~Sara Matson

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