My 2000 Voices Magazine Article: Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

This month, it was revealed that President Joe Biden “wants Congress to pass a law making abortions legal up to birth” after the US Supreme Court refused to temporarily block the Texas Heartbeat Law.

While talking to a friend about this, I remembered a 2000 Voices magazine article I wrote about why every unborn child deserves protection and she asked that I send it to her. Sadly, this magazine is no longer publishing.

This is the article I wrote that appears on my other blogsite that contains articles, op-eds, etc. that I wrote up to 2014, when I started this blog. The reflection at the end of this article was published by the National Down Syndrome Association and was-to my surprise-eventually reprinted in several other countries.

Voices Online Edition
Summer 2000
Volume XV, No. 2 – Jubilee Year

Who Wants a “Defective” Baby?

by Nancy Valko, R.N.

“Of course, no one wants to adopt a defective baby. ” This was said with much emotion (and not much charm) by an older gentleman in a class at a local university where I was speaking this past April. I had been invited to discuss the legalities and effects of Roe v. Wade from a pro-life point of view to a class of senior citizens studying the Constitution and the Supreme Court.

While several of these senior citizen students defended abortion as a matter of complete privacy for the mother, their arguments centered around the “need” for legalized abortion as a solution for social problems.

Since I had told the story of my daughter Karen, born in 1982 with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect, the pro-abortion students were extremely vocal about the personal and societal justifications for aborting a baby like Karen. Hence the statement about no one wanting to adopt a “defective” baby.

“Happily, sir,” I told the senior student, “You are wrong. Even back when I had Karen, I found out from the National Down Syndrome Association that there was a list of people waiting to adopt a baby with Down Syndrome. Just the night before, I added, I had found a new website for matching prospective parents with children who had chromosomal and physical defects.”

The student refused to believe that this could be true.

The effects of Roe v. Wade
Life of the mother, incest, rape and fetal defect are the four hard cases usually cited to justify what has now become abortion on demand. All of these are uncommon reasons given in the estimated 1.3 million abortions every year; but the possibility of having a child with a birth defect is a common fear nearly all expectant mothers experience and, not surprisingly, polls show that the majority of the public support abortion in this circumstance.

Although I have always been pro-life, I could understand the fear underlying these poll results — until my own daughter was born.

Just two weeks before the birth of my daughter Karen, I saw a mother trying to pry her young son with Down Syndrome away from a display case at the supermarket. She looked exhausted.

“Please, Lord,” I silently prayed, “Let this baby be ok. I can handle anything but Downs.”

When Karen was born with Down Syndrome, I was stunned. But I was quickly put in touch with mothers from the Down Syndrome Association who replaced my fears with information and realistic hope.

Then a doctor told me the truly bad news. Karen had a heart defect, one so severe that it seemed inoperable and she was not expected to live more than 2 months. That certainly put things in the proper perspective.

What “pro-choice” really means
It turned out later that Karen’s heart defect was not quite as bad as originally thought and could be corrected with one open-heart surgery, but I was shocked when the cardiologist told me he would support me 100% if I decided not to agree to the surgery and allow her to die. This was especially hard to hear because, as a nurse, I knew that the doctor would have been otherwise enthusiastic about an operation offering a 90% chance of success — if my child didn’t also have Down Syndrome. Apparently, even though Karen was now a legal person according to Roe v. Wade by the fact of her birth, this non-treatment option could act as a kind of 4th trimester abortion.

It was then that I realized what pro-choice really meant: Choice says it doesn’t really matter if a particular child lives or dies. Choice says the only thing that really matters is how I feel about this child and my circumstances. I may be “Woman Hear Me Roar” in other areas according to the militant feminists, but I was not necessarily strong enough for a child like this.

I also finally figured out that Roe v. Wade’s effects went far beyond the proverbial desperate woman determined to end her pregnancy either legally or illegally. The abortion mentality had so corrupted society that it even endangered children like my Karen after birth. Too many people, like the student in Supreme Court class, unfortunately viewed Karen as a tragedy to be prevented.

Medical progress or search and destroy?
In the late 1950s, a picture of the unborn baby using sound waves became the first technique developed to provide a window to the womb. Ultrasound in recent years has been used to save countless lives by showing women that they were carrying a living human being rather than the clump of cells often referred to in abortion clinics.

But while expectant parents now routinely and proudly show ultrasound pictures of their developing baby, there is a darker side to prenatal testing. Besides ultrasound, which can show some birth defects, blood tests like AFP testing and the Triple Screen to test for neural tube defects or Down Syndrome are now becoming a routine part of prenatal care. Amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling are also widely available tests to detect problems in the developing baby. It seems that every year, new testing techniques are tried and older ones refined in the quest to find birth defects prenatally.

97% of the time, women receive the good news that their baby seems fine; but the tests are not foolproof, and they can only test for hundreds of the thousands of known birth defects. Relatively few such birth defects can be treated in the womb at the present time. Some women want testing so that they can prepare for a child who has a birth defect, but when the tests do show a possible problem like Down Syndrome, up to 90% of women will abort.

While some hail prenatal testing as a way to prevent birth defects, the effects of such testing has led to what author Barbara Katz Rothman calls the “tentative pregnancy” in her 1993 book of the same name. Although Rothman calls herself pro-choice, her studies of women considering amniocentesis led to her conclude that such testing has changed the normal maternal-child bonding in pregnancy and the experience of motherhood, usually for the worse.

“I might not be pregnant”
I observed this firsthand several years ago when I ran into an acquaintance and congratulated her on her obvious pregnancy. I was stunned when she replied, “Don’t congratulate me yet. I might not be pregnant.”

Diane, the mother of a 5-year-old boy, went on to explain that she was awaiting the results of an amniocentesis and said, “I know what you went through with your daughter but I can’t give up my life like that. If this (the baby) is Downs, it’s gone.”

I reassured her that the test would almost surely show that her baby was ok, but I added that if the results were not what she expected I would like her to call me. I promised that I would give her any help she needed throughout the pregnancy and that my husband and I or even another couple would be willing to adopt her baby. She was surprised, as I later found out, both by my reaction and the information about adoption.

Diane gave birth to a healthy baby girl a few months later and apologized for her comments, saying that she probably would not have had an abortion anyway. But I understood her terrible anxiety. Society itself seems to have a rather schizophrenic attitude towards children with disabilities.

On one hand, people are inspired by the stories of people who have disabilities and support organizations like the Special Olympics; but, on the other hand, many people consider it almost irresponsible to bring a child with disabilities into the world to suffer when prenatal testing and abortion are so available.

But as the vast majority of parents who are either natural or adoptive parents of children with disabilities will attest, all children are born with both special gifts and special limitations. No child should be denied birth because of a disability or even a limited life expectancy.

Women who do abort after a diagnosis of a birth defect are also hurt. Besides depriving themselves of the special joys — which occur along with the difficulties — of loving and caring for such a child, these women often experience unresolved grief, guilt and second-guessing instead of the relief and peace they expect.

A few years ago, a local hospital which performs late-term abortions for birth defects asked a miscarriage and stillbirth counseling group to help with their distressed patients. The group declined, citing the fact that the most reassuring message they give grieving mothers is that there is nothing they did or didn’t do that caused the death of their babies. Obviously, that was not a statement they could make to mothers who abort. There is a very real difference between losing and terminating a child.

How many of these mothers knew before their abortions that, in practical terms, there has never been a better array of services and support for children with disabilities and their parents? Or that their children were dearly wanted by prospective adoptive parents? Such information might have been just the support they needed to choose life for their children.

Final thoughts
Despite the best medical care, my Karen died at the age of 5 and 1/2 months, but the impact of her life has lived on. At her funeral Mass, the priest talked about how this child who never walked or talked had transformed the lives of those who met her.

Especially mine.

After Karen died, I sat down and tried to put into words what Karen and all children with disabilities have to teach the rest of us. The following reflection was published in the National Down Syndrome Association newsletter in May, 1984.

THINGS NO TEACHER EVER TAUGHT
In 1982 my daughter, Karen, was born with Down Syndrome and a severe heart defect. Less than six months later she died of complications of pneumonia. Karen may have been retarded but she taught me things no teacher ever did.

Karen taught me:

That life isn’t fair — to anyone. That self-pity can be an incapacitating disease. That God is better at directing my life than I am. That there are more caring people in the world than I knew. That Down Syndrome is an inadequate description of a person. That I am not “perfect” either, just human. That asking for help and support is not a sign of weakness. That every child is truly a gift from God. That joy and pain can be equally deep. That you can never lose when you love. That every crisis contains opportunity for growth. That sometimes the victory is in trying rather than succeeding. That every person has a special purpose in life.

That I needed to worry less and celebrate more.


Sources:

1. “Prenatal Testing”, by Nancy Valko, R.N. and T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., pamphlet, Easton Publishing Co.

2. “Doctors have prenatal test for 450 genetic diseases” by Kim Painter. USA Today, 8/15/97

3. Rothman, Barbara Katz. The Tentative Pregnancy. Revised, 1993. WW Norton and Co.

4. “Advances, and Angst, in a New Era of Ultrasound”, by Randi Hutter Epstein. New York Times. May 9, 2000.

Nancy Valko, R.N., a contributing editor for Voices, is a former president of Missouri Nurses for Life who has practiced in St. Louis for more than thirty years. An expert on life issues, Mrs. Valko writes a regular column on the subject for Voices.


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Coping in the Time of the Covid 19 (Coronavirus) Pandemic

Although we are in a time of national crisis that is causing disruption in all of our lives, we need to avoid panic and foster realistic optimism and resolve in ourselves and others. We are all in this together.

As a semi-retired nurse, I have been following the Covid 19 situation closely. We and our extended family and friends keep up with and strictly follow the sanitary and social isolation recommendations. If we all follow these precautions, this crisis may begin to abate in hopefully weeks or months.

There is cause for cautious optimism. Although the numbers of people infected will increase with more testing now available, most people will not die from Covid 19 and many will have no or mild symptoms. And a promising experimental vaccine against the Covid 19 virus has been developed in record time and is now being tested on humans. However it may take a year or more to prove its effectiveness. We must be patient.

Even better, a FDA drug long used to treat malaria has shown promise in treating Covid 19 patients in other countries and a clinical trial of the drug will start here.

However, the Covid 19 virus has and will continue to have an enormous impact on our lives for the foreseeable future not only in our homes but also in our work lives, education, the economy and the health care system.

But, as frightening as this crisis is now, in the end it may help us reorder our priorities from materialism and political/social divisions to a new appreciation for our families, our country and our ability to work together for the greater good.

One of the advantages of being older is that I am old enough to remember the polio virus epidemic in the 1950s that struck so many children and caused panic in my own parents until Dr. Jonas Salk developed a vaccine. As a nurse, I also remember the terrible AIDS virus epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s that killed so many people and even became the “poster child” for legalizing physician-assisted suicide until an effective treatment was developed in 1997. And I remember the relief and joy when the polio vaccines and AIDS treatments were found.

Like AIDS, polio and other deadly infections in the past, the Covid 19 crisis will also eventually pass. I recently asked my wonderful 97-year-old friend “Melissa” who lived through World War II about how people got through those terrible years of turmoil and sacrifice. She seemed surprised by the question and said, “We just did what we had to do”. No wonder she is one of those people now celebrated as the “Greatest Generation”  with the values of  “personal responsibility, duty, honor and faith.”

Those values are just as important today.

FIGHTING WORRY AND FEAR WITH GRATITUDE

In our current crisis, one way we can help ourselves cope is by being grateful for the often unrecognized blessings we do have. Gratitude is a potent antidote to the panic, worry and fear that can infect us, our loved ones and others.

So I am grateful that we live in a time when computers, smartphones (especially with text and FaceTime) and other devices that are available to most people now. How much worse would social isolation and access to critical information be in the past without these devices?

Personally, I am grateful that our grandchildren have access to online learning after their schools closed and that some of our adult children are now able to work by computer from home.

I am also grateful for my religious faith that encourages trust in God, prayer, hope and helping the less fortunate in times of crisis. And I am grateful that even though churches and other places of worship are closing, religious services and inspiration are easily available online or on television. And I am inspired by the efforts of religious groups like the St. Vincent DePaul Society that never stop caring for the less fortunate no matter what the crisis.

I am also grateful that I am healthy enough to help my more elderly or infirm neighbors by picking up items from the store or even just calling them on the phone to chat. We can all look for ways to help our community without endangering ourselves or others such as ordering take-out food from small businesses that had to close their dining rooms and lay off workers. I have always found that helping others promotes happiness and optimism in both the person receiving help and the person giving the help.

I am grateful for my husband and family, especially now that we are grandparents who can help care for our grandchildren-particularly those who are out of school and have (thankfully) working parents. In times of crisis, we have a great opportunity to get closer to all our loved ones and the entertainment value of family alone is worth it.

All of us should remember that it’s the tough times that strengthen us most. We have a duty to set a good example for our families and our nation so that when the crisis is behind us, we all will be kinder, wiser and better people in the future.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Memories

Back in the 1990s when I was a home health/hospice nurse, one of my most memorable patients was a woman I will call “Georgia”.

When I was assigned to Georgia, I was told that she had terminal lung cancer but did not feel well enough to get to her doctor visits and the doctor wanted us to find out what she needed since she did not want to be hospitalized.

I was surprised to find Georgia, her husband and 2 dogs were living in a small camper attached to a pickup truck on the gravel banks of a small river about 50 miles from St. Louis.

Georgia was a dignified and very thin older woman with a look of profound sadness in her eyes. She was getting oxygen for her shortness of breath and effective pain medication but her main complaint was unremitting nausea. Her husband was friendly and anxious to know what he could do to help his wife. Both knew her diagnosis was terminal.

Because of years working with cancer patients, I suggested a new anti-nausea regimen that Georgia’s doctor had never heard about. He checked with a pharmacist and we started the regimen. It worked well.

With her symptoms now under control, Georgia finally spoke about her fears for herself and her husband. I was able to reassure her about measures to make her comfortable and other end of life concerns but she still seemed sad.

I also found out that they moved to the little camper on the river after their home was burned to the ground. That loss was devastating for both of them but they were grateful to be able to rescue many family photos.

Then I asked if she would like to show me some of the rescued pictures and she was delighted.

Each picture had a story and Georgia was happily animated as we went through several of them at each visit. Slowly, a picture emerged of a life well-lived with family and a generous spirit at the heart of everything.

As the weeks went by, I didn’t know if we would get to the end of the pictures as she became weaker and weaker but I saw her spirits steadily improve while the sadness receded.

Georgia died late one night and her husband called to tell me that her death was peaceful for both of them. He thanked me for my help but I felt I should be thanking him and Georgia for the lesson they taught me about the beauty and importance of memories accumulated over a lifetime and remembered with love.

Today,  life review and reminiscence therapy  can be found in many hospices and nursing homes.

“REMINISCENCE THERAPY” FOR PEOPLE WITH DEMENTIA

Last week the Wall Street Journal had an article titled “To Help Alzheimer’s Patients, a Care Center Re-creates the 1950s” about a California adult day care center for people with dementia.

This first of its kind center recreates a town square representing the time period from 1953 to 1961 when most of the patients were in the prime of their life.

The rationale is that dementia makes it hard for people to remember the recent past whereas older memories are preserved better for a longer time, “especially memories from childhood and early adulthood”, according to Professor Dorthe Bertsen who heads the Center on Autobiographical Memory Research in Denmark.

According to one small study done in Europe, most participants showed no improvement on cognitive tests but there seemed to be improvement in their mood and quality of life.

In one section of the article about trying reminiscence therapy at home, Mindy Baker, director of education at George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers, suggests going through old photos, doing a favorite activity, and telling stories to trigger memories with the family member.

The goal is to facilitate memories rather than challenging inaccuracies  because a person with dementia might get upset if their memories don’t align with the facts.

CONCLUSION

But we don’t necessarily need a fancy facility like the 1950s-inspired day care center to help people with dementia.

Over the years, I have helped care for many patients, friends and family with dementia in their homes, in hospitals or nursing homes. I saw people who hadn’t spoken for a long time light up and join me in singing songs like “You are My Sunshine”.

For my friend Dr. Anne who had dementia, I would tell stories about her achievements and show her articles that she had written and she would grin the rest of our visit.

I learned these techniques when I cared for my mother when she developed terminal cancer and Alzheimer’s in the 1980s and I saw her memory slowly fading away.

Mom finally could not remember my name or my 2 year old daughter’s but she knew we were people she liked. We would all sit together and watch Sesame Street episodes or old movies holding hands and I saw how happy that made my mother even though she could no longer speak.

Most moving to me was that almost to the very end of her life, she was still trying to load the dishwasher and making the sign of the cross. Faith and family were the two things most important to her and this was her way of showing and remembering  this.

Memories are so important to all of us and especially at the end of our lives when they may be all we have left.

Personally, I’m saving up some good ones myself.

 

When Children Die, Where is God?

This week, I was called to see a beautiful 2 month old baby boy I will call “Joseph” who was brought by his grandmother, mother and father to one of my city’s children’s hospitals from a small town hours away.

Joseph was born with a rare genetic condition called Trisomy 13 and needed medical care for a problem. As a nurse who has been active in medical issues involving people with disabilities since having my daughter Karen who had Down Syndrome, I was asked to help the parents oversee Joseph’s care.

Baby Joseph was doing well until an unexpected problem developed and despite heroic efforts to save him, he died early Friday morning. It was so heartbreaking for his family and the rest of us but their love for Joseph was inspiring and they said they were blessed to have had him.

So instead of my usual blog, I would like to reprint an article I was asked to write for Voices magazine in 2012 in honor of baby Joseph and his wonderful family.

When Children Die, Where is God?

On October 18, 2012, we lost our 6-year-old grandson Noah after a long and often brutal battle with a rare autoimmune disease called familial HLH (Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis). Less than two months later, on December 14, 2012, twenty children around our Noah’s age — along with other victims — were viciously gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School by a disturbed young gunman. While the Sandy Hook tragedy affected the whole country and Noah’s death affected a smaller group of family and friends, I kept hearing the same question: Where is God or does He even exist?

The answer is that God is where He always has been when we grieve and suffer: with us and even carrying us through the roughest times, as the famous “Footprints in the Sand” poem depicts.  But what does that really mean?

Almost forty four years ago, I witnessed my first death of a child as a student nurse. Thirty years ago, my baby daughter Karen who had Down Syndrome died from complications of pneumonia. Three years ago, my oldest daughter Marie died by suicide. And now, there are Noah and the Sandy Hook victims. Personally and professionally as a nurse, I have also been with countless parents and others who have lost loved ones. I would like to share what I discovered as my personal “survival guide” for coping with grief as a Catholic woman. It consists of three decisions I made years ago.

I Choose to Live

All death is hard because it involves loss, but the death of a child seems especially cruel no matter whether the death resulted from violence, accident, or illness. No parent expects to outlive their child. When the supposed “natural order” of life and death is breached, it shakes all of us to the core even when the child is not our own. Especially in today’s secular world, even people of faith can feel lost and helpless.

When a child dies, shock, denial, and even alcohol and drugs can cushion the crushing grief for a while but eventually reality sets in. It is hard to even consider facing years and years of living without that precious person. Life is totally disrupted and even the routine of being at a hospital or bedside feels like a loss. In my case when I lost my daughters, I had to remind myself that my husband, children, and others needed me, but at times even that thought seemed totally overwhelming rather than motivating.

Recently Cesar Millan, the famous “dog whisperer” talked about his suicide attempt after a number of losses and how he learned to cope with bereavement from his experience with dogs. When dogs grieve, he recommends three things: exercise, discipline, and affection. He said he found this also helped him.

Looking back, I found that these three techniques had helped me. Exercise decreased my anxiety and pain. Discipline meant appreciating even the most mundane routines of life or work and embracing the distraction. Hugging my loved ones and friends gave me a renewed sense of connection with the world and even with God.

However, I know that life will still contain many challenges. For example, while Noah’s 2 1/2-year-old brother Eli is free of HLH, we recently discovered that Noah’s unborn baby brother Liam, who is due in April, does have the disease and will also need a bone marrow transplant. We pray that he will achieve the cure that eluded Noah but we face the future with our confidence in God intact. I will never be a cockeyed optimist but I do know that storms can be weathered and that we can be better rather than bitter as a result. (2017: Liam is now a happy, healthy 4 year old,)

I Choose to Be Happy

This is perhaps the hardest decision that I or any other bereaved parent has made but it is crucial. Years ago I was with a young mother who tragically lost her 2-year-old son. We spoke almost daily for a long time. Finally, she told me that she couldn’t see ever getting past her grief. I asked her if she had laughed yet. Embarrassed, she said she was watching a TV comedy show the night before and realized that she thought she heard a sound resembling a laugh come out of her. I told her that any laughter was the beginning of healing. I reassured her that she would laugh again and have moments of pleasure more and more in the future and that she should celebrate those moments rather than feel guilty. Life may never be “normal” in the old sense but life still had the potential to be good, perhaps even great.

From other bereaved parents who helped me, I learned that you don’t have to hold onto the grief to hold onto the love you feel for your child. That beloved child would not want your life to be blighted by his or her death any more than you would want your children to be forever sad after your death. And, in our rich Catholic tradition, we honor Jesus’ mother Mary as Our Mother of Perpetual Help, not Our Mother of Perpetual Mourning.

I now look at working toward happiness and fostering a generally cheerful outlook as a tribute to my daughters and grandson. This doesn’t mean that I am immune from being blindsided by grief and longing when I accidentally hear certain songs, see another person their age, witness another death, etc. Like probably everyone else I still have what my husband kindly refers to as my “moments” when life seems like a long, hard slog. But I continuously strive to foster an attitude of gratitude for what — and especially who — I have left. I don’t want the children’s legacy to be one where their deaths destroyed a family.

There is no set timeline for grief and bereaved parents and other relatives need to be patient with themselves and those around them. I remember the old days in medicine when grieving relatives were immediately offered a tranquilizer. I knew even then that this often just delayed the process instead of helped. There is no “good” or “bad” way of grieving. Everyone has their unique journey although it is not a sign of weakness to ask for or offer professional help when necessary.

I was surprised by the depth of grief I felt for the Sandy Hook victims and their relatives. I found it excruciating to watch the relentless TV coverage of the tragedy but I also found it hard to turn away. However, in watching the story unfold, I was struck by the fact that although I have spoken with many other bereaved parents over the last three decades, I never met a parent who said they wished their beloved child had never been born rather than to have faced the grief the parent endured. Obviously, you can never lose when you truly love and I was so glad that the Sandy Hook parents were surrounded by loving, supportive people in their community and countless other caring people throughout the country who wanted to help.

Pain is an inescapable part of the grief journey, but we may hope that we all can eventually get to the point where it is the life, not the death, of our beloved child that is the most important to us.

I Choose Not to Reject God

I’ll never forget reading about a famous and outwardly successful man who said he gave up on the idea of God when his little sister died. This gentleman wound up with a series of failed marriages and despite his millions of dollars, is bitter and unhappy.

There is no question that faith is often challenged when tragedies like the death of a child happen. But rejecting God means rejecting the greatest source of love and healing that we so desperately need at our worst times.

I eventually realized that I never did and never will have total control over my or anyone else’s life and that this is tolerable because God has a Divine Plan. I’ll never forget the wonderful Visitation nuns who taught us that life is like a tapestry that is large, beautiful, and intricate. However, on this earth we see the tapestry only from the back. We see dark colors, chaos, and loose threads that seem to go nowhere. Nothing in the tapestry appears to make sense, much less beauty. It is only when we die that God turns the tapestry around and we can finally see the amazing result. God doesn’t cause tragedies but rather brings good out of the evil we see.

It was when my Karen was born that I discovered that God is communicating with us all the time. It was then that I started noticing what I call the “miracles of grace” that God seems to send at some of our most heart-searing times. Over the years there have been some great ones: The depressed friend intent on suicide who was saved at the last moment by a smile from Karen. The young person who came back to the Church when Marie died. The many people who have volunteered to become bone marrow donors in honor of Noah and to help others like his little brother Liam.

The big miracles of grace also taught me to look for and appreciate the smaller mercies that comforted me and let me know that God is there: The woman who told me that baby Karen had done more good in her short life than most 80 year-olds. Visits from Marie’s friends who told me wonderful stories about her that I never knew before. Great friends who seemed to call at exactly the right moment when Noah was so sick.

When I was a little girl, I was often irritated by my mother’s admonitions to “offer it up for the poor souls in Purgatory” when I was hurting either physically or emotionally. It took years for me to understand that offering up my pain for such souls or any other good intention for others often acted as a kind of pain reliever and, at the same time, made my pain meaningful in a good way. I also learned that even little acts of kindness performed in memory of a loved one were a great form of honor and gratitude for those lives that are still joined to us in God’s community of love.

Today, I would ask those of you who read this to consider offering up a frustrating situation or performing some small act of kindness in honor of Noah, Karen, Marie, and the Sandy Hook victims.

Those children are now in God’s Hands. The world is still in ours and we can make it better.

“13 Reasons Why”and Why Not

Today, it is hard to keep up with the constant stream of information coming not only from TV and movies but also from the social network. But to understand and hopefully to protect and help our children and others in today’s culture, it is important to keep up with current media and trends as much as possible.

This is why, after reading articles like “13 Reminders About Netflix’s ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’” about a popular Netflix series featuring a high school girl named Hannah who gruesomely kills herself and leaves 13 tapes for the people she blames for her suicide, I decided to watch this often acclaimed  and controversial TV series myself.

After watching several episodes, I recognized some of the factors that made “Pretty in Pink” and “The Breakfast Club” so popular when my children were teenagers. The characters are attractive and bright high school students who wrestle with problems of self-esteem, setbacks, hormones and popularity.  In the end, most of the characters in those older movies were happier and/or wiser.

But the story arc and characters in “13 Reasons Why” are much darker. So far in the episodes I have watched, these teenagers are apathetic about school, seem to have no sense of humor and they dislike or barely tolerate their parents. Their overwhelming self-absorption with real or perceived offenses often leads them to be thoughtlessly cruel even to their friends. The adults in the series fare little better as they struggle with their own anger, sadness and guilt in trying to understand the tragedy.

The main character Hannah sounds almost triumphant in the tapes while chronicling the deficiencies in the people she holds responsible for her suicide. The people hearing the tapes are understandably devastated but revenge seems to be Hannah’s goal.

Even worse, the series’ depiction of Hannah’s descent to suicide, making the tapes and the reactions of her classmates tends to sensationalize suicide with little to no insight about prevention and treatment. The big lesson seems to be that bullying and sexual assault can be life-threatening to vulnerable teens.

Because this deliberately shocking series is so accessible to young people and teen suicides are rising,  many schools are now concerned about this series as are mental health experts  who recognize the phenomenon of suicide contagion.

In response to complaints and concerns from as far away as Canada and New Zealand, Netflix has now issued the following statement:

 There has been a tremendous amount of discussion about our series 13 Reasons Why. While many of our members find the show to be a valuable driver for starting important conversation with their families, we have also heard concern from those who feel the series should carry additional advisories. Currently the episodes that carry graphic content are identified as such and the series overall carries a TV-MA rating. Moving forward, we will add an additional viewer warning card before the first episode as an extra precaution for those about to start the series and have also strengthened the messaging and resource language in the existing cards for episodes that contain graphic subject matter, including the URL 13ReasonsWhy.info  — a global resource center that provides information about professional organizations that support help around the serious matters addressed in the show.

As a nurse who has worked professionally and personally with suicidal people as well as the mother of a daughter who died by suicide, I am glad Netflix is acknowledging at least some of the problems with the series. However, this series and the plight of our young people growing up in an increasingly secularized, materialistic and divided world that rejects God demands more.

We need to give our young people hope and support as they navigate the often rocky road to adulthood. And we also need to show them that the real heroes are those people whose dedication, moral virtues, hard work, selflessness and idealism inspire all of us to make a better world where no one will want to watch the so-called “entertainment” of a “13 Reasons Why”.

 

Just in Time for Christmas-Room at the Inn

In a wonderful, uplifting opinion article titled “Room at the Inn”  in the Wall Street Journal on December 19, William McGurn wrote about  the Good Counsel home in the Bronx , now part of a network of six such homes that offer help to homeless pregnant women.

It all started when Chris Bell, a husband and father himself, went to his parish priest in 1985 complaining that no one was doing anything for homeless pregnant women. The priest replied in effect “Hey, pal, what about you?

With the help of that priest, the first Good Counsel home started shortly thereafter. The home not only provides a safe, warm environment for the mother and baby (and even siblings) until birth but also “lets them stay a year afterward—to finish school, train for a job and learn how to care and provide for their babies.” Mr. Bell takes no government money.

The first Good Counsel home was started in a former convent in Hoboken, New Jersey that was part of the parish where singer Frank Sinatra was baptized. When a news article about the home and its financial struggles was published, Good Counsel home received a surprise check for $10,000 from Mr Sinatra himself.

William McGurn notes that this Christmas, Good Counsel’s women known that there will not be many presents under the tree:

But there will be joy. Because Good Counsel is about life, and hope, and respect. As well as the promise that, with love and hard work, happy endings are still within reach even for those who have made some bad decisions.

And especially at Christmastime, Good Counsel wants that troubled young pregnant woman who thinks she’s all alone to know: There’s always room at this inn

It is often said that the pro-life movement is just an anti-woman political movement to deny  women the “choice” of abortion. Personally, I have found the pro-life movement to be one of the greatest volunteer movements ever, committed to people and principles.

CONCLUSION

Here in St. Louis, we have Our Lady’s  Inn that has long offered the same kind of help as Good Counsel.

Is there a similar kind of place in your area? If so, consider supporting it or volunteering. If you don’t know, check with your church, local Birthright  or Heartbeat International’s Worldwide Directory of Pregnancy Help.

Even a small donation would be a wonderful way to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas!

Caring for Difficult People

As nurses, we have the privilege to get to know and help all kinds of people we might never have had a chance to meet otherwise on a very personal basis. Sometimes we care for them during some of the most stressful times in their lives.

Doctors and nurses are supposed to treat everyone according to the highest medical and ethical standards without regard to race, gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, etc. but, like everyone else, we can find some individuals particularly difficult.

One incident that changed my perspective on caring for difficult people happened many years ago when I was a young nurse.

I used to pride myself on keeping my cool in any tense situation until the day I almost lost it with a difficult patient.

A young man with drug addiction was admitted to our floor and he incessantly and loudly demanded more pain medication from all his doctors and nurses. No one could reason with him.

Then one day, he came up to me and screamed in my face. I couldn’t calm him and, despite my best intentions, I could feel my anger rise and my face turn red.

Suddenly, an unexpected thought flashed through my mind: “This is the face of Jesus!” At that moment, I was looking directly into this young man’s eyes and I felt a wave of empathy.

Although I did not say a word, the young man’s face suddenly changed and he stepped back almost as if he had been struck. He stopped yelling and started talking. In the end, he actually apologized for his behavior and admitted that he needed help. He was never verbally abusive to any of us after that.

I was stunned by this remarkable change and it changed my perspective. As I tell younger nurses now, it is usually easy to care for pleasant people but it is the difficult ones that need us the most and who often can teach us how to really respect every life.

Perhaps there is a lesson here not just for nurses but for everyone in this current climate of anger and division in our society: When we respect and recognize the intrinsic value in every human being, we really do have a chance to achieve a more just and peaceful society.

A Surprise Wedding Present

As most of you know, my daughter Marie died by suicide in 2009. I believe in an all merciful God who loves my daughter even more than I ever could. I trust in Him and I know that my Marie is with Him.

However, I knew that our whole family and especially Marie’s little sister Joy would especially miss her when Joy was planning her wedding this year.

I don’t usually pray for something personal except for help with more wisdom, patience, etc. but  Joy and Marie were especially close and Joy had been Marie’s maid of honor in 2005. The two of them even lived together for the last few months of Marie’s life.

When Joy was younger, the three of us would often talk about Joy’s possible future wedding  and Marie would tease Joy about probably becoming a” bridezilla”. Marie promised that she would personally keep her little sister in line if that happened.

So I knew that there could be a shadow over Joy’s happiness at her wedding and I prayed for a sign that Marie was at peace.

However, I was totally stunned when, the week before Joy’s wedding, a package came from Kentucky with a carefully wrapped, thirty year old letter inside. The package was from  Marie’s older but then close friend Stephanie who had moved away in 1983.

Stephanie wrote that she just happened to find a letter Marie had written to her at age 7 and had to send it to me. The letter was even typewritten! Who knew that Marie could figure out a typewriter?

The letter contained a lot of spelling mistakes but it was hilarious to read Marie’s description of her life at age 7. Marie even wrote down each family member’s age which told us how old she was at the time. (See photo: Marie’s letter at age 7 to Stephanie)

Marie wrote about how her older brother was nice and mean sometimes. Marie also wrote about her little sister Joy and how she ate a “dede” bug. All I could do was smile.

What a wonderful wedding present for Joy and all of us!  At the wedding, we all felt that Marie was there and celebrating with us.

As my late mother often used to say, “God is good!”

Here is the proof:

Joy and Chris wedding pic favorite

Joy and Chris May 21, 2016

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today I give thanks  to God for all my family, friends and blessings.

We have had so many blessings this year, most especially the health of our grandson Liam who had a bone marrow transplant in 2013, almost a year after we lost his 6 year old brother Noah who also had the rare autoimmune disease called HLH. Liam’s regular checkups have just decreased to every 2 months and he is now predicted to have a normal lifespan!

I also give thanks for my wonderful husband Kevin and our wonderful now-grown children, one of whom is hosting Thanksgiving for the first time instead of me. Yea!

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving too!

 

Terror in Paris

My first inkling that Paris had been hit by terrorists in Paris was an alarm on my smartphone that signaled the breaking news. All throughout this weekend, my husband and I monitored the news on TV with growing horror.

The pictures of the carnage were devastating. Years ago, I worked in an ICU with trauma victims. That made me extremely sensitive to the bloody reality of violence and its’ effect on victims, families and society. I could never accept the idea of extreme violence as mere entertainment in movies, video games, etc.

My family’s thoughts and prayers today are especially with the people of France. We also pray that our leaders and society will totally commit to stopping terrorism everywhere.