Little Light of Mine
by Kerri McCourt
I am visiting my brother at his house. Tired, hurting, Jon rests in bed. Rain splatters against the bedroom window like messy tears. Mom’s here too. She sits on the edge of his bed. Absentmindedly, she picks at a cold crust of tuna melt left over on Jon’s plate, and pops a piece of cheese covered bread into her mouth.
“Look at me. I shouldn’t be eating this. I’m not hungry. Nibbling isn’t going to help me lose weight.” Light conversation is a facade, a cling to normalcy.
“You’re about to lose a hundred and sixty five pounds,” Jon says.
Snapshots of a shared childhood come into focus. Trips to the lake, games of hide and seek. Now, a brutal nightmare finds us. There’s nowhere to hide.
I am dedicated to Jon’s health; to loving, supporting, and spending precious time with him. Devotion is a burning torch. Simultaneously, it ignites an additional, deeply personal commitment. A long held desire flickers, illuminating more brightly than ever before. A leap of faith, an invitation to believe. To believe in the power of dreams, miracles, and hope. To believe in a future that holds all that and more.
Tomorrow is a smug assumption; there are people to embrace, dreams to fulfill. Here. Now. Priorities shift, instantly. The essential and important is seen anew, with sudden clarity.
A seed dropped into soil, takes root.
My quest to adopt a baby girl from an orphanage in China begins alongside my brother’s brave fight for his life after a shocking diagnosis of terminal cancer.
Cancer ambushes Jon, leaving him no reasonable chance. To ponder even a portion of Jon’s physical, emotional and psychological suffering is an undertow. It grabs and pulls all who love him into depths of despair.
Beginning the process of adoption is, for me, a tiny light in the dark. In the midst of the unfathomable, it is a distant horizon to paddle toward.
With stoic composure my brother grasps to hope. He has much to live for, dreams of his own to claim. Newly married, he is Daddy to a young daughter and another on the way. With astounding courage, Jon sets out to achieve one goal, his most fervent desire: to witness his baby’s arrival; even as he prepares for his own departure.
The possibility of losing him is simply unbearable. Love that threatens to shatter me to pieces merges into the only thing that holds me together. Lifting food to Jon’s lips when he becomes too weak, in truth, he is feeding me. Caring for him, his presence nourishes me. Love fills up every space in the room, a divine, palpable presence. Love becomes a fortress.
On one of Jon’s final days, I walk into his hospital room. He is on the bed, his wife and new daughter at his side. Our eyes meet and I hold his gaze; neither of us look away. Pure love and spirit emanate from his hazel eyes, leaving me spellbound.
Bald, his eyes seem deeper, rounder, huge in his face. In them I see the young boy he is, still. His eyes have the innocent wide eyed look of a child. Deer-in-the-headlights. Big eyes staring into darkness; too aware of the blinding light and thunderous roar of a Mack truck quickly approaching, barreling toward him.
I walk closer. Shakily, he raises his hand. With effort, he reaches, lifting his arm up until his hand comes to rest for a moment on my cheek. Greeting made purely of touch, more powerful than words. Then, like a blind man wanting, in his own way, to see, memorize a face, his hand moves gently over my cheeks, nose, lips, across my face.
His newborn sleeps peacefully at his side, cradled between him and his wife. New parents cuddling baby. It should be a lovely, celebratory scene.
The sting of reality attacks the heart like the sharpest stabbing blades. A little girl is just beginning her life at the same time her father, unthinkably, is at the end of his. The contrast makes it hard to breathe. I look at father and child, in that moment, the two of them utterly vulnerable, fragile, loved.
I am with Jon moments before his death. It’s a cold November day. I lean close, comforting and holding him. I speak soothingly. I tell him what he means to me. Repeatedly, I tell him I love him.
“I will see you later.” The exact words feel chosen for me. I do not say, as usual, ‘see you tomorrow.’ I am not at all certain he’ll have tomorrow. Later is another concept in the realm of time. It is my vehement hope I will see him again.
My husband stands, waiting for me, by the door of Jon’s room. We walk down the corridor, unaware that as we exit the building, Jon is taking his final breath. My husband puts a strong arm around me, gently asks, “What was the song you were singing to him?”
“Song?” I question, shaking my head. “I didn’t sing.”
“You were leaning in close to him, you kept singing something to him.”
“I told him I loved him. I kept telling him that, again and again.”
My husband nods. “It sounded like a melody.”
In a way, I guess it was. That was our song. It was the music of my heart.
Grief lurks close to the surface. Celebrating each New Year’s Eve, we cheer; yet as midnight hits, so does an unstoppable wave of grief. As prompt as the clink of the champagne glass, comes the crash. Crushing acknowledgement, once again, of death’s absolute finality. Another year beginning, without my brother in it.
When I travel to China years later to bring my daughter home, I realize the resilience of the heart, a tender discovery. It keeps beating, albeit achingly, longingly. Even around a permanent gaping hole, the heart expands and makes room again for joy. Rapids rage next to serene, calm pools. Joy and sorrow ripple together, like the currents of a river.
The baby now in my arms had also, in her short life, endured tremendous loss. Abandoned in China simply for being female, she had no concept of family the first year of her life.
Immediate is our bond. Instant and immense is my love for this baby with a fluffy hairdo, long eyelashes and a pretty, plump mouth. When she is placed in my arms, the first movement she makes is to snuggle in close to me and rest her head against my shoulder as if she knows exactly where she belongs.
Then my little girl reaches up with her delicate hand to touch me, to familiarize herself with this stranger, her Mama. Looking at me inquisitively, she trails her hand tenderly over my face, exploring. Her hand moves softly over my eyelids, my nose, my mouth. Unspeakable grief and unbridled joy meld together in a single moment in time. Jon did this very thing, an expression of the most excruciating of goodbyes. And now, as she curiously traces my face, my daughter and I enjoy the sweetest of hellos.
Having weathered one of the most sorrowful of endings, I stand firmly planted, in a moment that offers a beautiful, hopeful beginning.