Two weeks short of eight years ago, two very special people entered our life. We shared that with readers in what seems a lifetime ago.
That column was titled Miracle on Main Street and was about the birth of our twins. A and B, as the doctors identified them when they made their premature entrance into the world, were introduced as Alexis and Brooke to our friends across Wellington County. As we have come to accept over many years, tragedy and triumph are commodities that have become our obligation to share so that others might know hope, have empathy for others, and, in some cases, have courage to carry on.
Pretty much everyone we know has different ways of coping with troubles. For us, writing is a bit of that process, and while not every column borne through uncontrollable sobs at life’s lowest points has been published, our fingers again type late into the night. While others sleep, we are safe and alone in our office, where we can express our innermost thoughts. But tonight, through the grace of God, our heart weighs heavily with gladness and relief. We witnessed another miracle today.
This past Father’s Day, we visited friends in old Waterloo, where a large family generally gathers at the old family farm. At least once a summer there is a pool party and, of course, the twins, loving water and their extended family friends, viewed that as an exciting, must-attend event. The kids there ranging in age from pre-school and up were all decked out in swim suits, trunks, and used an assortment of swimming aids. It was a pool day like many other times, as parents and kids alike enjoyed each other’s company and fellowship.
In a split second it seemed, the fun abruptly stopped – and kids were hurriedly sent inside. The surreal silence that descended without warning that Father’s Day afternoon was broken as quickly as it had cast a pall on the party, with a plea that no parent ever wants to hear – “call 9-1-1.”
Max – our best friends’ son, a younger brother, special grandson to four lovely people, nephew to many aunts and uncles, precious cousin and dearest buddy to our kids and scads of others – had stopped breathing. Somehow, and no one will ever know for sure why or how, he slipped undetected back into the pool and was spotted lying lifeless at the far end. His uncle dove in, and a dear family friend helped pull little Max poolside. Things at that point happened so quickly, but despite the chaos, our extended Mennonite family all seemed to take a role, remaining incredibly calm under the circumstances.
Max’s aunt and uncle, both teachers who knew advanced CPR, were able to get him breathing again. They saved his life, but he had not regained consciousness.
Short seconds later, the fire department, officers, and ambulance were on hand performing the next steps in getting Max ready for the journey to Grand River Hospital, where the emergency department would take the next critical steps.
By that time, the children had begun to wonder aloud about the commotion, believing until that point their little cousin and friend had only bumped his head. It was not until taking our kids home later, several hours after Max’s departure to the hospital, that real questions were asked of us. The quietness of the drive home was broken with a simple question from the back seat – “Why were his eyes closed, dad?”
Kids have a way of breaking hearts being so innocent sometimes, and it was all we could do to answer calmly that he was just sleeping. “Why was everyone crying?” was the next, to which we answered that adults feel sad when kids are hurting. They seemed to understand.
As the night wore on, reality hit home and the prospect of losing one of the most gregarious little guys anyone could ever meet settled in. Big families in a small town, caring for each other and their neighbours, had started a prayer chain within minutes of Max’s trouble. Friends dropped by or phoned. Concerns over his long term health started to enter everyone’s minds and the prayers continued. Swelling in his brain would need to be subdued quickly. Still, at this time, he had not regained consciousness, and there was little compassionate advice provided to the parents by the on-staff doctor.
It would not be until after midnight and Max being taken to London where specialized staff trained with a sense of kindness, gave our friends some comfort that all hope was not lost. Parents and grandparents stayed with him, and, finally, it looked like maybe a turn for the better.
As happens with most miracles, he came to life from near death when his eyes opened. Scared, perhaps from all the medical equipment and the strangeness of the room, he shed a tear or two at his mom. Dad was at hand too. Grandma, and grandpa, who himself had not fallen asleep all night, holding vigil at Max’s bed, had their undeniable faith confirmed by prayers answered. Their Max, and our Max, was back.
It will take days before life settles a bit more back to normal. Family and friends will need to talk and support each other. Everyone seems to have a particular obstacle or visual to overcome – whether it was peering at a blue-faced toddler who only moments before was as full of life as the next kid or perhaps the sight of a heroic uncle diving to save his nephew. The trauma of such a close call will last a lifetime for some.
For us, the memory will be the will of his mother – adamant if not utterly defiant – that her boy breathe and not give up. Each pleading second, every anxious moment as the aunt and uncle undertook to practice a craft they hoped never to need, his mom begged in desperation, “Breathe Max, breathe! Come on Max, breathe.”
We’ll never forget the power of her voice that Father’s Day, or the strength of her husband’s hug as he embraced her, to face perhaps the greatest challenge any couple must endure – the loss of a child.
But, God smiled on them that day in old Waterloo. A little time and good medical care fulfilled what all had prayed about. Truth be told, family, friends, and neighbours might very well have been blessed for a generation by Max’s brush with death. Their faith has been confirmed as well as the absolute necessity to enjoy and be thankful for each other, every day we’re together.