FIND THAT CHILD!

FIND THAT CHILD!

From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Find That Child!

Life is a flame that is always burning itself out, but it catches fire again every time a child is born.

George Bernard Shaw

On that day in May when my daughter was born, I held her in my arms and memorized every detail. Leigh Ann was beautiful, perfect in every way. Except one. She was stillborn. Her death came as a complete shock. I had a wonderful pregnancy, and everyone was eagerly awaiting her arrival. Especially our four-year-old son, John. But four days before my due date, I noticed something was wrong; the baby wasn’t moving.

When my supportive husband and I saw how perfect she was at birth, how much she looked like our son, we both felt as though our world had come to an end. As I held my baby, I looked up at the nurse and made a vow, Something good will come out of this. I don’t know how or when, but I will not let this be the final moment of her life.

With the help of family and friends, we planned a simple memorial service. On the Saturday before Mother’s Day, we stood beside her grave and said good-bye to our daughter.

When reality settled in, it was difficult to be in public. Every time I saw a baby or a little girl, my heart broke. I altered my lifestyle to avoid pain. I learned to shop at the all-night grocery store where there were no young mothers or babies at 11:00 P.M.

The following May, I knew I was pregnant again. Heidi was born a few days before Christmas. At last, we had our baby girl. She was strong, healthy and another mirror image of our son! We brought her home on Christmas Eve, the night of miracles.

The following spring, I learned our church needed volunteers for a special program called Respite. The name of the program came from its mission. Once a week, during the school year, volunteers went to the homes of young mothers and gave them a respite from childcare.

Volunteers took the children to our church, played with them, sang with them, gave them a snack and then returned the children to their homes three hours later. During their break, young mothers could rest, run errands in town, clean house or just enjoy a few “child-free moments.”

These children lived in extreme poverty. Sometimes they lived in homes where abuse had been reported or was suspected. Yet for a few hours each week, they could play in a safe, warm environment surrounded by loving volunteers.

Besides needing new volunteers, the Respite program also needed someone to serve as director. When I told the ladies I would be interested in serving, one of them immediately turned and ran up the stairs to tell the minister their prayers had been answered!

On my first morning, we rode into neighborhoods the average American cannot imagine. The children we picked up lived in homes without indoor plumbing or glass in their windows.

Most of my time was spent planning activities, coordinating volunteers and keeping our classroom bright and cheerful. Usually the only contact I had with the children was during our rides to and from the church. But these wonderful kids found a way into my heart. As the months went by, I found myself spending more and more time with them in the classroom.

One day, I noticed a three-year-old boy who was always hungry. So I decided to make some pancakes for the children. The other volunteers marveled as the little boy ate six huge pancakes. Another time, we baked chocolate chip cookies. A four-year-old girl spilled some flour, and I watched her body brace for the beating she was conditioned to expect from such a mistake. I took her in my arms, and with a smile on my face, quickly and quietly cleaned up the small mess. When the cookies came out of the oven, I gave one to each child. That same little girl held the cookie as if it were gold. She had never had a freshly baked cookie before!

When I agreed to serve as the Respite director, I thought I had something to give each of these children. But I did not realize how much I would get in return. I gave them love, and they helped my heart to heal. They helped my love for Leigh Ann to live on.

As grieving parents, we have a choice. We can always mourn the loss of our own child, always long for the time with them that death cheated us. But somewhere out there is a little child who can return our love. Find that child!

Tammie L. Failmezger

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on SHARE, an organization for bereaved families, contact St. Joseph Health Center, 300 First Capitol Dr., St. Charles, MO 63301; 800-821-6819; fax: 636-947-7486; Web site: www.nationalshareoffice.com.]

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