Journey: 8

On a more serious note…

This is the next installment in the series documenting my family’s journey in 2004 through trauma, hospitalization, rehabilitation and re-integration into normal life – 1000 words at a time. Translated from “Een Voet Voor Die Ander” by Erica Neser (Protea Books, 2008).


I feel another cry approaching. I have already filled so many buckets with tears, I could

drench an arid field of wheat with my tears. As long as you keep taking in fluids, you can make more tears. And so much lies ahead. I try not to think of the road ahead. I just want to get past the terrible reality that Aniek’s chance of survival is estimated at fifty-fifty. Half full or half empty? I am a transparent shadow, hollow on the inside. And yet…

And yet I remain standing. Am I tougher than I thought after all? Then I realise again: what are my options? Break down and be admitted to hospital too? Board an aeroplane, go and hide where no-one knows me,  hide away in a cave in Tibet? Jump off a cliff? Or just get on with it, do what needs to be done, and care for my family? This is what I do. One step at a time. I have enough courage for this hour. Just enough, sometimes not quite enough, never more. I don’t have enough courage for this evening. I definitely don’t have enough courage for tomorrow. People ask: “What will you do when your family goes back home, when you have to cope by yourself?” I just shake my head. I don’t know. I simply cannot worry about that now.

And I do receive strength, probably because so many people are praying for me. I don’t pray myself, I don’t have time or energy. For now, I rely on others to do it for me.

One of the mothers in ICU asks me: “Can my fifteen year old nephew come and pray for Aniek?” They are Muslims.

I reply: “Please.”

Someone gives me a Catholic rosary with which to pray.

I say: “Wonderful, thank you.”

I have had questions regarding prayer since I was a teenager. What can we ask for? Does God intervene when enough people beg Him to? Or if one person begs as much as a hundred people together? And if God does not intervene, is it that He could, but decided not to? Is everything part of a divine plan? If each person’s life, including the day of his death, is determined beforehand by a higher being, what difference will prayer make? When your predestined moment of death arrives, does it help to ask for a postponement? I have always struggled to pray. And now I again find it impossible. I cannot go down on my knees and beseech God to save my child. People like to pray for things. Pray for rain, pray for sunshine. Pray for daily bread. To me, this is not logical, because if I pray for rain, while my neighbour prays for sunshine, who is God going to listen to? No, it cannot work like that.

I, who should be on my knees every evening, am not. I don’t know how.

Still, I believe that we can ask for things like courage, strength, patience, love, tolerance, understanding, insight, wisdom, a positive attitude, acceptance… I believe we can pray for support in dark times. To ask that the darkness, the crisis, the danger, be removed, doesn’t make sense to me. But this is such a complex subject and there are no absolute answers. I know hundreds of people are praying for Aniek and Paul to survive, even for healing with no scars, and I am deeply thankful for this. Not that I necessarily believe that prayer will prevent them from dying, but it is a great comfort to know other people are sending positive thoughts into the universe. People are sending loving, strengthening energy specifically to me as well, hourly, daily, weekly – I feel it. I feel surrounded. I feel as if I am connected to a power source greater than my own. This feeling is stronger than logic.[1]

One is often surprised by the ability to just go on. Day after day, night after night. We take turns, work in shifts. We cry in shifts. Everyone can’t be hysterical at the same time. Generally speaking, our emotions are kept pretty well under control. Everyone does cry every day, now and then, but no-one falls apart completely. And if we want to cry really hard, we do it when we are alone, when no-one else can hear. We stay strong because of and for each other, Paul and the three children. I suspect that the others are thinking: “If Erica can stay calm, so can I.” I am the closest to Aniek. There is no love deeper than that of a parent for her child. There is no greater fear than that of a parent whose child’s life is in danger. We keep each other in the present. We take it one hour at a time. More than that we cannot do. This hour, Aniek is alive. This hour, Paul is alive. We’ll deal with the next hour when it arrives.

[1] Much later I discovered Harold Kushner’s book, When bad things happen to good people and found many pwerful insights into this issue. See references.

Erica Neser (c) 2011


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