I got word on Sunday night that Emma died. I've never met Emma. I've never met Emma's parents. My family connection to Emma is so distant that it would sound like the beginning of a bad joke if I tried to explain it here, and there's just no room in my heart for such jokes right now. Suffice it to say that while Facebook is sometimes criticized for inflating the importance of casual acquaintances, it sometimes does allow people to be touched by others that they wouldn't have been otherwise. Emma is one of those cases. Her maternal grandfather is an old friend of my husband's, and even though we've never met personally, he and I are Facebook friends. Emma's aunt is married to my brother-in-law, and we have met, and are also Facebook friends. And through their status updates, I got to know Emma.
Emma was born on July 12, 2009 with a genetic defect that threatened her life the moment she left her mother's womb. The hospital was ready for this, having detected the defect in utero via ultrasound. Extraordinary measures were taken immediately to give this precious child a chance at life. I don't have all the details, and they aren't important anyway, but I believe she was on full life support for a time before undergoing multiple surgeries. I don't think her parents were able to take her home from the hospital for about six months, and to my knowledge she was always dependent on supplementary oxygen.
Through her aunt's and grandfather's status updates, frequently asking for prayers, I saw this little girl struggle to survive. I saw her come through every surgery, endure every hardship, and celebrate every victory. As she continued to grow and her family posted pictures, I could see her young personality just beginning to emerge. I saw her smile for the camera, the oxygen tube taped to her adorably pudgy cheeks.
But such a young body isn't built for the high levels of trauma she suffered, and the surgeries and the treatments necessary for saving her life caused complications of their own. She caught a respiratory ailment that probably wouldn't have been a big deal for most children, but for her it proved to be fatal. She died on Sunday, less than two weeks after her second birthday.
My kids were already in bed when I found out. All I wanted to do was hold them. My son had been sick earlier, and got a second look at his supper as it coated his pillow, his sheets, and his beloved stuffed Cat (who is still drying out--Giraffe is stepping in temporarily). I was glad that he still couldn't sleep and needed to be cuddled. I held him and rocked him and cried into his hair, grateful that an upset tummy can be easily soothed, and knowing there are far worse things to face than a vomit-covered bed.
A couple of hours later my daughter woke up crying. I usually let her cry, not wanting her to get in the habit of a midnight cuddle, but this night I jumped right out of bed and held her close, stroking her wispy curly hair so similar to Emma's. Naomi's just four months younger than Emma. I held her in my arms and cried, not even wanting to imagine the heartbreak Emma's parents must be feeling.
No parent should have to bury their child. I know it happens all the time, but it still shouldn't be. As Emma is laid to rest tomorrow, my heart goes out to her parents. My prayers have been with them unceasingly since Sunday, and as Emma returned home to her Lord, she was surrounded by the prayers of hundreds of people she'd never met, but who mourn her passing.
Rest in peace, Emma.
In Memory of Emma Seraphym Ballard
July 12, 2009 - July 24, 2011