When I met her, she was full of life and love and play! We had an immediate connection, a kind of familiarity you get when you know someone for a long time. She got used to seeing me in the playroom whenever she was admitted or I’d visit her in her room if she was too sick to get out of bed. We’d read and tell stories; I’d bring her paints and clay. We would create, create, create!
I am now a health psychologist, but when I was fresh out of college, one of my first charges as the Director of Pediatric Play Therapy was this 3 1/2-year-old girl named Debbie (not her real name), diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.
I knew I had to “put my eyes on things above and allow God to direct my path.” Besides my early childhood teaching training, I had a family background of reverence for the invisible workings of God’s power and love. I never knew how strong my faith was until it was put to the test of ministering to these small children in the hospital.
I became alert to the ways children were teaching me about faith, love, and their own understanding of God. Every day was new — each experience impressive — but the one that set my soul for things to come was that of Debbie.
As is true for so many kids who have cystic fibrosis, she would be discharged for a brief while, and in a few weeks or months, readmitted. This time, her condition was clearly deteriorating. It was not possible for her to stay on the general pediatric unit; she had to be transferred to intensive care (ICU). She requested I visit her.
At this point in my career, my experience tending to children in ICU was minimal; yet, my instinct to go to her without hesitation attested to the bond we had forged. I could see that her parents, who had not left her side for days, could use a short break. I offered to stay with Debbie until they returned from the cafeteria, as I had done many times before.
We sat in a large chair, while I held her in my arms. She spoke breathlessly through the oxygen mask, her eyes fixed on mine.
“Tell my mother (pause…breath),” Debbie said, “and father (pause…breath) I am going (pause…breath) to my mother and (pause…breath) father in heaven.”
These were her last words, her last breaths, in my arms. Buzzers went off, nurses came rushing in, her parents returned, and I was left with the task of relaying sweet Debbie’s message to her broken-hearted parents. It was as if she didn’t want to die in front of them. This was my first experience of being totally present, being the presence of Love. No one taught me what to do. I dug deep within my own soul to find the courage to reassure her parents that Debbie was safe in the arms of Love.
Amazingly, Debbie’s parents told me they had never spoken with her about a mother and father in heaven. Debbie’s message helped them accept their little girl’s passing.
The experience taught me that the power of God within brings my true self into expression. This illumination was the unexpected gift I received from Debbie. I felt awestruck. Through the words and faith of a child, I saw the doorway open to Divine Intelligence. Like a gatekeeper, I stood with Debbie in the threshold between Heaven and Earth.
Since then, I have helped usher many other terminally ill children to the other side. I realized I was born to do this with all my heart — to be the presence of Love for the children who trust me to guide them through the journey with my voice, imagery, music, rhythm, rhyme to discover the treasure within — their own true self.