TRANSFORMING TRAGEDY

TRANSFORMING TRAGEDY

From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Transforming Tragedy

The point is not to pay back kindness, but to pass it on.

Julia Álvarez

A while back, I went through the best and worst year of my life. My husband got his first full-time job, I became pregnant with twins, and we bought our first home. We felt truly blessed. Unfortunately, our good fortune did not last long. I went into labor when I was only twenty-three weeks pregnant and had to undergo an emergency caesarean section. I gave birth to two sons: Alejandro and Nicolás. Both children were extremely premature and were kept alive by machines.

With each minute that passed, I felt more helpless. Fortunately, I had a great deal of support. At the hospital, I was surrounded by friends and family. My mother was constantly by my side. Being a good Mexican mother, she brought my husband food so that he could keep up his strength and not have to leave my room in order to get something to eat.

My friends were incredibly supportive. Since I had a caesarean section, I was unable to return to graduate school to finish the semester. While I was consumed with the survival of my children, mi comadre Marta said, “I’ll take care of everything at school.” At that moment, I couldn’t have cared less about school. Marta filed the necessary paperwork to grant me incompletes in the classes I couldn’t finish. Her support enabled me to return to school later and pick up where I had left off. Thanks to her, I was able to pass all of my courses, not jeopardize my funding and eventually graduate.

Other people tried to lift my spirits by sharing their miracle stories. Tía Rosa told me about the little girl at church who was born weighing less than two pounds and was now a healthy eight-year-old able to run all over the place. These stories gave me hope as my husband and I desperately waited for any signs of improvement from my near lifeless children, whose tiny hands we held every day. As each minute passed, I saw my miracle slowly slipping away.

Shortly after I was released from the hospital, the doctor called, saying, “You need to come to the hospital immediately. Nicolás is deteriorating quickly.”

We drove to the hospital as quickly as we could. As I rocked Nicolás in my arms, I felt my mother’s presence. She stood in the doorway, staring at my son, and her eyes quickly filled with tears. “ Qué haces aquí Mamá? I asked.

“Sentí que me necesitaban,” she replied. Nicolás died in my arms within an hour, having lived only four short days. Nine days later, we received another call urging us to get to the hospital quickly. As we drove frantically to the hospital, I saw a shooting star in the sky—a sign perhaps of a spirit returning back home. Alejandro died on the operating table shortly thereafter.

My biggest fear was that my sons would not recognize me in heaven since neither one of them ever opened their eyes to see what I looked like.

Despite the terrible loss we endured, I realize now that we were also greatly blessed. The kindness from friends, loved ones and strangers sustained me. During the short time that our children were in the hospital, they received constant blood transfusions. The hospital asked us to find people to donate blood in our sons’ names. We informed our supervisors of our situation, and they sent out campus-wide memos. A few days later, my husband and I went to the blood-donor center to donate blood. When I gave the nurse my name, she said, “Are you the babies’ mother? The Alvarez babies?”

“Yes, I am,” I replied. “How did you know?”

“So many people have called wanting to donate blood for your babies that we had to stop taking appointments.” My eyes filled with tears at the kindness of so many people, many of whom I did not even know.

Many other people personally reached out to us. Professors, colleagues, students and family members all shared stories with us about other children who had died. It made me realize that losing a child is more common than I thought; the problem is that no one talks about it openly. I felt as though I had joined a secret society where it was safe to speak the unspeakable. No one in that group shuddered at the mention of a dead child. It was very comforting to be able to talk to these people.

I also had strange experiences. One day, I was at the station waiting to take the train home. I saw a humble-looking woman holding a baby in her arms on the other side of the station. Everyone around her froze as she floated directly toward me and lifted up her baby as an offering. She said, “Here, you can have my baby. You can take better care of him than I can.” I stared at her in disbelief, unable to understand why she would give up her baby, but grateful that she had chosen me. I lifted my arms to accept the baby when suddenly everyone in the station started moving again; I realized that the woman I thought was giving me her baby was still standing on the other side of the station. I buried my face in my hands and cried. I had imagined all of it.

I have replayed the day I went into labor over and over again, trying to understand why it happened to me, but unable to find an answer. Nevertheless, this experience has changed the way I live my life. I have learned that the human spirit is very resilient; time has reduced, but not eliminated, my pain. I also realize the importance of nurturing relationships. My husband and I no longer work as hard in order to spend more time together: Life is too short to spend it working all of the time.

We have also tried to live a purpose-driven life. Since we do not have children of our own, we try to help others. We offer scholarships to Latino students; we have established college funds for our nieces and nephews; we provide assistance to relatives who are struggling; we comfort people who have lost loved ones. These small gestures have brought us many blessings. Even though my children are not with me physically, they are with me spiritually.

Their constant presence in my mind and heart inspire me to live life helping others.

Maya Álvarez-Galván

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