Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The trove of other mothers

Sandra Stein’s life was upended when her healthy toddler fell ill with an autoimmune encephalitis, a condition in which the immune system attacks the brain, and was hospitalized for 15 months. In this poem, Sandra invokes and honours the many other mothers she has met in hospitals and in cyberspace who every day are caring for children with complex medical needs.

The trove of other mothers
By Sandra Joy Stein

Cradling her son
As his body thrashed
Legs like iron rods.

Try to bend them, honey,
Tell your legs what to do,
They’re your legs.

It will pass,
she said, again.
It always passes.

After minutes or hours—she was never sure,
He calmed. Curled. Gazed into the void.

She gazed too.

A giant tear startled her, when it fell on her arm.

Was that his tear or hers?
She preferred not to cry while holding him.

Then another tear, this time most definitely hers
And another.
And another.

He was limp, motionless, breathing, heavy in her arms.

She surrendered.

More tears. Her arm now wet.

He fell asleep. So peaceful. So beautiful. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t know, she thought. She loved to stare at him while sleeping.

Rest, she said, her palm to his cheek. You rest.

She called out—no, not to some doctor or deity—she called out to the trove of other mothers who at this very moment were, like her, cradling sick babies, and grown babies, and limp and lifeless but very much alive babies.

From behind shadows and tucked away spaces and homes-made-hospitals and hospitals-made-homes
Their forms emerged
Weathered hands, kinked necks, crooked backs, heavy eyes, furrowed brows.
They looked right at her in a way that no one had since…

We see you.
We feel you.
We know you.
We are you.

Like a somber gospel choir they swayed and sang,

No, sister, you have not failed
No, sister, this is not fair
No, sister, you are not alone
Never alone. Never alone.

She blinked back to her sleeping son.
Her arm, now dry, she dug
deeper, yet again.


Beautiful photo and even more beautiful words -- a sort of incantation for all of us. Thank you for sharing both, Sandra and Louise.

Blinking back my own tears now. That was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing.

a beautiful prayer to our beloved children. thank you.

This is so touching, truly from the heart!

I think about you and your son ALL THE TIME ever since I read your article in the Times. He is so lucky to have you. xx.

This is so touching and absolutely beautiful. I can feel your son's softness and peacefulness as I see him sleeping in the comfort of your arms. You are blessed to have each other. You are a very talented poet. I think of you both often, as the other commentor states. We must remember we are all out there so we do not feel alone in our times of sadness. Thank you for sharing this vividly emotional piece with us.

What is the process for re-print permission? I have a monthly newsletter that goes out to people I work with and I would like to share this beautiful poem with them.

Hi Anonymous -- send me an email at lkinross@hollandbloorview.ca and I will connect you with Sandra to see if she is interested. Thanks!

My daughter, who is now 17, also suffered from encephalitis at 14.5 months. If she ever wants to talk.... I know her sense of loss.