Because at 3 this morning, I was awakened by a phone call. The intern said, "I have some sad news from nursery". In my bleary state I thought he said some sodium results, since the only unstable baby was a dehydrated one . . But then he went on to tell me that Shunetra had died.
Yes, Shunetra, the poster child of hope.
I was stunned, unbelieving, speechless, and grieving. By the time I walked over to the hospital the chaplain had also arrived, and I heard Shunetra's mom Esther weeping as soon as I opened the door to the maternity ward. I went straight to her bed and hugged her and started crying myself, while the calm and sober chaplain Sylivia sat on her bed and rubbed her legs. The first words from her mouth were, between sobs, "I thought I was a good mom, but why did God take my baby?"
Why did she lose her first child as a stillbirth at 8 months last year? Why then did she have severe complications and have to deliver this one at 7 months this year? Why did she spend over two months (almost three) in intensive care with this baby, hoping against the odds? Why did she come so close to victory, only to have all her dreams snatched away at the last moment? Shunetra was allowed out of the NICU to stay on the maternity ward with her mom on Monday. She was officially discharged on Wednesday. She had stayed two extra nights because she couldn't pay the balance of the bill not covered by her insurance (nearly 3 months of intensive care and surgery had come to over 3 thousand dollars, of which 2 thousand was covered . . which I'm sure one could spend in one day of NICU in the states, but here it's a lot of money, and we were contacting a charitable group in Germany who sometimes helps kids like this). She was full of plans and dreams, ready to take this precious baby home, ready for a new life as a mother. Now she has lost it all.
Esther is a high school teacher. She is articulate and competent. She was fully committed, unwavering. She bought her own thermometer to monitor Shunetra's temperature when she moved out of intensive care and had less nurse supervision. She knew what she was doing, after those months in the NICU day and night she had experience, and she saw no signs of illness. Shunetra breast fed avidly at 10 pm, had a normal temperature, a diaper change, and fell asleep, so Esther did too. It wasn't until she woke at 1 am and realized the baby had not cried as she always did at midnight, that she realized anything was wrong, and by then it was too late. When she ran hysterically with the baby into the nursery, the nurses report that Shunetra was cold and stiff and long dead.
If there is anything to be learned from Job, this is the time to apply it. Esther is a modern day Job, a righteous woman, who in spite of faith and hard work and encouraging others and prayer, lost all that was precious to her. I should have sat in silence for a week, but on the relative scale of my life, it was about an hour, of tears and listening. Then what could I say? We can't explain God. He allows suffering that we would not choose, that makes no sense to us. If there is anything we can see in Shunetra's death, it is the enormous horror of Evil. Evil with a capital E, Evil that stalks the innocent, that sucks life, that disrupts and steals, that then whispers doubt and blame. Satan, not God, attacked Job and now Esther, and there is no glossing over the putrid terrible reality of this wrong.
God did not block this particular move in the battle for the world. So we cry and ask why, as Job and David and many others have done.
After the why, then what? Job said "I know that my Redeemer lives, and in my flesh I shall see God." There is nothing to justify or soften the blow, but there is still truth. Truth that this is not the end of the story. Truth that Shunetra and Esther will be seated, in new incorruptible flesh, at the banquet of the Lamb, reunited and whole. Truth that the God who allowed this death also allowed the death of His own son, because Evil is that pervasive and terrible, that costly to conquer. Truth that God is God, and we are not. That His ways can not be boxed and categorized neatly according to our sense. That in this world we see the weak and innocent pay dearly, but that there is more than what we see.
Esther will go home empty-handed, bruised and beaten, devastated. Perhaps in a year or two she will risk breaking her heart for the third time, perhaps she won't be able to. It is actually the second night this week that I've gone in at 3 am for a non-revivable baby, the second time we've been unable to rescue one living child for a multiply-bereaved mother. We will push on day after day, fighting back, but I have to be honest in saying that that anchor of hope feels too light to hold anything in place today.