When I started this blog, I wrote in my first post that I would be rethinking old experiences, pondering some things that I question individually and some that I think of as universal questions. I also indicated that some would be light hearted and others more serious. I have heard from some of my readers that they think I write funny stories and have had amusing experiences. This post is not one of those.
In August of 2009, I volunteered to be a “Grandma” to a first grade child, Robert Sanchez, who was in the McCurdy Mission School in New Mexico. Our church has supported McCurdy financially and by sending mission teams there who did building and repair work. Berniece Coriz, the first grade teacher, instituted a program of asking for volunteer surrogate grandmas who would be pen pals to each of her students. Each child has two volunteers assigned to him or her. The purpose of this program is to help the children develop their reading and writing skills. We, as grandmas, could also send little gifts and especially books for the children to keep and to share with their fellows. In return, the grandmas got regular notes from our grandchildren telling us the things they like, how they spent holidays, their favorite foods, colors, toys. Robert told me about himself, and I told him that he shared a birthday with my sister so it would be easy to remember his. I wrote about my grandchildren, and he told me about his family. Early in the year, the children sent school pictures to their grandmas. What a beautiful child! He sits smiling sweetly, looking back over his shoulder at the camera. It is such an adorable picture that I framed it and sat it on the kitchen book shelf where my grandchildren’s pictures sit.
Of course, those grandchildren wanted to know who that other kid was. And I told them, reading to them his letters and sharing his little gifts. These were craft items like many first graders make. Turkeys with a hand print feather tails, angels with hand print yellow wings, hand made valentines. By the end of the year, I felt I knew him and determined that the next time I was traveling in his area, I would take the time to go meet him.
That will not happen. In November of 2010, I learned that Robert had been diagnosed with leukemia. I was hopeful, and wrote to him to let him know that I and others were praying for his recovery. A few weeks later, I found out that this was not Robert’s first diagnosis of leukemia. He had this disease when he was two, but had been in remission for years. The second occurrence meant that treatment choices were narrower. When the drug options ran out, a bone marrow transplant was all that was left to him. He was sent to Denver Children’s Hospital in February of this year where he remained until July 1, 2011, when my little friend died.
In the 90th Psalm we are told to “so number our days.” I look at Robert’s days and wonder why his were so few. Eight years, six months, twelve days. I cannot imagine what his parents and family are going through. I know that I hurt, and I am sad for the loss I feel. I know that what I feel must be infinitesimal compared to the loss they feel. I find myself wanting to shake my fist and ask why? I know that would be fruitless and does not honor the smiling child in the picture that still sits in my kitchen. I will keep that photo there because it is a constant reminder of how fragile and how precious life is. It says loudly what I spent my career saying. A child is a gift. Make every moment count.