The winter holidays are a bittersweet time for everyone. If you are fortunate, retail bills, icy weather, and an anti-climactic gift exchange are your biggest disappointments. Like a Christmas special, everything tends to turn out all right in the end. Though you fought with your mother and burned the roast, you went to bed feeling content. Maybe even happy.
Tragedy and Death don’t recognize holidays. Traffic accidents happen on the way to brunch. Electrical failures destroy homes. Ex-lovers show up on front steps with shotguns.
These are sudden, violent examples, but Tragedy and Death can also be quiet. They are patient and persistent in their work.
Jesse Amandus was born on December 13, 2015. He wasn’t supposed to arrive for several more weeks, so he went immediately into an incubator in the NICU. As small as he was, he squalled irritably, pulling at the many apparatuses attached to his little pink body.
For the fist week, doctors were worried about a brain bleed. His mothers spent all of their free time in the hospital. They made friends with the nurses, who watched Jesse’s progress with increasing hope and joy.
Both of Jesse’s mothers are in medicine – one a doctor, the other a pediatric nurse. They’re scientists, but they put their trust in their faith and in God. They prayed for their boy, and hoped that he’d be home with them soon.
On the tenth day of his life, Jesse suffered a spontaneous perforation of the bowel. There was no known direct cause; perhaps his colon wasn’t fully developed.
It didn’t take long for Jesse to get very, very sick. With fluids leaking out of his gastrointestinal tract into his body, he gained three pounds. He bloated and turned yellow. His mothers stopped praying that he would live and began to pray that they would have the strength to let him go. Through it all, though, Jesse continued to kick at the tubes and wires in his incubator. He turned his head, trying to nurse. He waved his little arms at his mothers and looked intently into their faces (as infants tend to do).
This was a child who wanted to live. Everything about him bellowed determination and strength of spirit. He fought as hard as he could, but he died on December 26 at 13 days old.
Once upon a time, Jesse wanted to live, and he just didn’t.
His mothers will never recover. Almost immediately after his death, they left the country for several weeks. They couldn’t stand the sight of their home, and spent as little time as possible there between Jesse’s death and their escape trip. It’s understandable; it was the home they’d expected to share with their baby.
This year, instead of chasing a one-year-old through their house, they tried to decide if they would even decorate the house. They bought the gifts they would have bought for Jesse, and then gave them to charity. They wrote a little on social media every day, musing over the past year and how their son changed their lives. To paraphrase one entry: “My son Jesse, born tiny and mighty, showed me true strength and faith.”
After everything, they still keep the faith. I have no idea how or why. Maybe that’s where Jesse got his incredible strength.