My grandniece, Saoirse Craig Fitzgerald, the first of her generation, and the bravest little warrior I have ever known, died yesterday morning, December 13, 2011, only a little more than 18 months old, after battling nearly half her life against a horrible disease called malignant neuroblastoma.
I spend a lot of my life struggling, in pitiful small ways, against various forms of injustice. But sometimes the microcosm overwhelms the macrocosm. This senseless tragedy visited upon my small family will limit, over the next days and weeks, my ability to be focused on and available for the struggle against more global injustices. This is the nature of the human condition. My friends and comrades will keep up the fight. There is so much pain in the world that humans cannot do anything about, no matter how hard we try. We must continue to battle against the human-created pains that can with courage and struggle, be cured.
I am an adoptive parent. Before our adoptions, my then wife and I were trying very hard to conceive a child. At one point, we had a very early miscarriage - so early that many women might not even have fully realized they were pregnant. Our pain and loss, even at such an early loss, was enormous. My mother's first child was stillborn; I am first born only by default. I am also keenly aware of the pain my children’s biological parents must have been in, to have made such a difficult decision as to give up a child. So much pain in all of our lives, in so many ways. The thought sometimes comes, would it have been better if Saoirse and her parents had simply been spared theirs? If her short span of months had simply never been?
My answer is an emphatic, No! On a cosmic scale, the span of each of our lives is ludicrously short. What, in fact, are any of our lives but a few brief strings of moments, some bright, some dark? As Rahsaan Roland Kirk used to say, all we really have in life are those bright moments. Every one is precious. I would not have robbed Saoirse of a single one of hers. And, for all the pain I feel now, I would not be free of it if the cost was never to have known her.
There have never been any better parents than my niece, Kezia and her husband Mike. They devoted themselves, fully, completely, intelligently, proactively to that child, without holding anything back for themselves – even when Kezia was, herself, in treatment. (Yes, for a while, mother and daughter were simultaneously cancer patients.) And not only were Saoirse’s parents so devoted, but also my sister, Kristina, my brother-in-law Craig (Saoirse’s grandparents), my niece, Tabitha (Kezia’s sister), and Tabitha’s boyfriend, Scott.
The result of all that love and devotion was that every moment of Saoirse’s short life that could have been a bright moment, was one. The dark moments in her life were all the inescapable ones, caused by that horrible disease. Every moment that human love and care could possibly have rendered bright, was a bright moment.
That was the gift that my wonderful family gave to that child.