Home Spirituality Life On Purpose Learning to appreciate the value of every life, however brief or fragile

Learning to appreciate the value of every life, however brief or fragile

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The sun was just rising on the horizon casting a warm orange hue over the drab beige and green of the hospital room. We were in one of my favorite corner rooms with a window and a beautiful view of the sky.

This one particular morning, many years ago, the Lord began to teach me a lesson on the value of human life.

Our roommate during that hospital visit was a quiet little boy who was loved by many, though the grave actions of his biological parents were largely to blame for the neurological devastation in his brain. He was shaken and beaten as an infant. They were in jail and this little one lay in the hospital bed fighting for life.

His foster mother was a doting mom who loved him as her own as she kept her ritual of visiting him and rocking him in between running back and forth to care for other children in her home.

My daughter and her little roommate slept quietly, seeming not to notice the background noises of the medical equipment that helped to sustain their lives. Both of them were stable medically- for now- but both were teetering on the emergent edge of failing shunts in their brains, which would require more surgery to keep them safe.

In the quiet of that early morning sunrise, I prayed for both of them, feeling a maternal care for this little boy we had come to know and love. I peeked through the curtain at him as he slept. I didn’t really know how old he was, but I knew he was older than the infant age he appeared. Because of the brain injury he suffered at the hands of his sick parents, he was incapable of typical communication. But those who cared for him and his intuitive foster mom knew this little guy so well that they could read his cues.

My heart broke for this little guy. As I prayed for him, I asked the Lord if it would be more merciful to just let him die? Why would you want this little one to suffer any more pain? In his short life, he has known more pain than many know in a lifetime. I petitioned God — “Why won’t you just take him home?”

The familiar voice in my heart and head — which I had grown to recognize as the Lord’s said to me, “And who are you to decide the value of his life and even of his suffering? He is a child of God and I have a plan for his life that you have yet to understand.”

I repented for my naïve judgment of the value of this young boy’s life and humbly acknowledged my lack of experience and wisdom in this new world of medically fragile kids.

I also recalled a time, when a doctor had flippantly decided the fragile life of my unborn baby couldn’t possibly mean that much to me. I sat half-naked on a gurney, my feet still cold from the metal stirrups and my heart still broken from a first-trimester miscarriage of our third baby.

“After all,” this arrogant medical resident surmised, “Why would you want another child since you already have a boy and a girl?”

His words cut deep into my soul as he continued, “You didn’t really want this baby anyway, did you?” He continued to chastise me for getting pregnant, using natural family planning and for rejecting the birth control he pushed into my face, treating me like a rebellious teenager as he slapped my knee and walked out the door.

Some choice. Apparently, my choices were only good choices when they agreed with his professional opinion.

After I (sort of) recovered from the grief of losing my baby and what I experienced as a violation at the hands of a doctor whose bedside manner could be best described as rude and insensitive and bordered on emotional abuse, I reported him to the attending doctor in the practice. I was told he was reprimanded and instructed on how to better respect women. He couldn’t let me have the last word though and called me personally later in the same month to let me know he was discharging me as his patient.

“No, you’re not,” I retorted, “I’ve already fired you.”

I doubt the control freak left the ob/gyn field and I shudder to think how many other women he pressured into making the “right choice” decided by his self-acclaimed jury of one.

I thought I understood the value of all human life as I grieved the loss of four babies in my womb who were unknown to the world outside, except for my husband and children who joyfully anticipated their birth. Sometimes when people ask me how many children I have, I think “eight” even as I respond “four.” For though their lives were brief, they touched mine deeply and the ache of loss was no less real.

Yet, here I stood, making myopic recommendations on the value of a human life, to the Author of Life. I shuddered at my own arrogance and I have repented over and over again. This little boy and many other kids, including my own daughter, have taught me the intrinsic value and dignity of each human person from conception to natural death.

One prayer I asked the Lord early on in my daughter’s diagnosis was that she would be able to speak to me. Words are my primary love language. I love a heartfelt conversation and I treasure the written word to convey the mysteries of life and faith and to impart joy.

Over the years, I’ve realized how limited my perceptions of human communication really were and expanded my ability to hone in on the heart and read between the lines. I’ve met medically fragile kids whose abilities never progressed beyond those of an infant but whose personalities were larger than life and who could communicate their needs and preferences with subtle cues, often only perceivable to those who take the time to really care.

I’ve wrapped my arms around my daughter’s seemingly lifeless and cold body when her breathing and life functions were sustained by the rhythmic rise and fall of a carefully calculated machine. The monitors in her brain and on her skull measured brain waves, indicating the hope for a return to some basic functions.

But what all those machines and diagnostic tests could not measure was the value of my daughter’s life and the lessons she taught us, even in her silent suffering. On her hospital bed, I hung this verse from Psalm 19:2-4:

“Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.”

Thankfully she woke from that coma and gradually recovered skills she had before the bleed deep in her brain.

This past week I am acutely reminded of these lessons on the value of human life and the role of the government in decisions affecting adults and children with disabilities as I watch the suffering of Alfie Evans and his parents in the UK.

The British government has decided that this little one’s life is not worth living and supporting through extraordinary and/or ordinary means. Now a citizen of Italy as well as England, Alfie is denied his basic human right to life and care, by the British government. As I write this, little Alfie is teaching the world who really holds the balance of life in His hands and drawing millions to prayer.

For me, it’s a reminder to continue to educate and advocate for the rights of the disabled and the support of those who care for them. Though he is silent, the message of little Alfie’s life travels the world loud and clear. Every human life has value and is owed our deepest respect.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen