Monday, October 19, 2015

In Memory of Baby Payton

Celia and Mia have been BFFs since they were four years old. They met on the first day of preschool and have been thick as thieves since. Last winter, she came home from school, thrilled for her friend: Mia was going to be a big sister. I didn't tell her I already knew. I also didn't tell her that there were some concerns that the baby might have some problems.

Celia came home one day in May, fit to bust. Mia had a little sister. I think she was jealous, too - Mia now had two sisters and she only has brothers. I played dumb when she told me Payton had to stay in the hospital.

For the rest of May, the girls had something new to bond over. Celia gave Mia mini-trainings on how to quiet a beeping pump. For a while, Celia wasn't the just "the tube kid", she was the resident expert. 
When Payton's heart condition landed her back in the hospital, my jaded little Celia gave us updates. "Payton might be coming home...but you know hospitals. They never give you straight answers..." After 11 years in and out of the hospital, she knows most of their tricks, and that discharge isn't certain until you're actually buckled into the car and driving away.  Celia was stressing over one "maybe" discharge - Payton had to be discharged on a particular Thursday in September so she could come home. Otherwise, she was stuck there until Pope Francis left town and the roads re-opened after the weekend. If I didn't know better, I'd say Celia made that discharge happen "on time" by badgering God enough that he said, "Ok, ok!! Now go bug somebody else!"

Two weeks ago, Celia said, "Payton's back in the hospital, but she's definitely coming home tomorrow." I reminded her that there is no definite with hospitals, but she was adamant. Payton was going home on Thursday.

Payton did indeed go home that next day. But not to south Jersey. Payton went home to heaven. 

A child's funeral is probably one of the worst things in the world to experience. I knew I would attend, because I've been friends with Mia's parents for two-thirds of our girls' lives. I told Celia if she wanted to go, she could, but it was her choice. Her response was, "What kind of friend would I be if I didn't go? Mia's my heart-sister. I'm going." So last Monday, I called her out of school and we went. 

The funeral and graveside services were hard. All funerals are, but seeing such a tiny casket was breathtaking. As much as we place our trust in God and the certainty that we will see Payton again in heaven, and there she's no longer sick but has a strong and perfect heart, we still have holes in ours.  A few people spoke about Payton and the impact she had on their lives. I thought about how this tiny, four and a half month old infant affected our lives. 

When you grow up in and out of hospitals, having lots of medical equipment becomes your "normal". Another of the girls' friends has a little sister with a feeding tube, so Payton made three little sibs from their class that had them. Celia was totally blasé about Payton's lengthy post-birth stay, saying, "Yeah...babies have to stay a few days after they are born to get their feeding tubes organized..." Between the school friends and our nephew (who had a ng tube in the NICU), she hasn't really known any baby who didn't get one, and was utterly flabbergasted to find out they aren't standard issue. 

The girls bonded over the feeding pump. Not only were there lessons on how to shush it, but commiserations over "I'm so beeped all night." They sounded like little old biddies comparing notes on whose arthritis was worse. 

And even after she was gone from earth, Payton taught Celia that being a friend isn't about doing things together when you have time, but doing two nights' worth of homework on the one night that you already are running crazy, because letting your heart-sister think you didn't care enough to just be there is unacceptable.

I can't begin to fathom the grief that Payton's family is experiencing. She wasn't my daughter, but I am heartbroken that she's gone. I'm devastated for her family, but I'm just selfish enough to cry over Celia's return to being the "girl with the beeping backpack," too.  For the time Payton was with us,Celia wasn't the weird one. She was the expert on being a big sister with tube skills.  She made that status seem normal.  Scripture says "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord!" Blessed be the Lord, because it was Celia and I who He blessed with Payton in our lives.

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