The Sign (by Billy Coffey)

I’m standing in front of a wall at the Kluge Center, an offshoot of the University of Virginia’s Children’s Hospital. My family and I travel here every three months so the friendly doctors and nurses can do some unfriendly things, namely poking and prodding my daughter, Molly, to make sure her diabetes is still under control.

I’ve never been a fan of hospitals. They tend to be drab and dark and they have a smell that can only be described as suffering. But it’s refreshingly different here. As this facility is exclusively for children, there are bright colors and fish tanks and a huge playroom complete with a Helen, the nice lady who doles out to the patients construction paper, crayons, and plenty of oohs and aahs.

I’ve come to learn that sometimes you have to be a good actor in order to be a good father. You have to embellish from time to time. You have to sometimes convince your kids that some things are fun when they most definitely are not. Things like school. And broccoli. And coming here to get poked and prodded.

But Molly’s a trooper. She’s tough (like her old man) and also soft-hearted (also like her old man). She must live twenty-four hours a day with a disease that has no cure and can at a moment’s notice strike, but she also wears a perpetual smile and thinks God gave her diabetes so she can write books for diabetic children. Still, it’s not fair that my daughter has to suffer through this. Not to me. Not fair that her tiny arms are bruised by four shots a day and her fingers pocked by the scars of glucose checks.

The sound of her laughter turns my head. She and Will are playing in the big plastic castle that is part of the playroom. She’s the princess in distress, and he’s the knight trying to save her from the dragons. My job usually–saving her from the dragons. But the ones I’m protecting her from are real.

I go back to studying the wall. Which, as it turns out, is really a window. But the view of the grounds and the railroad tracks across the street has been replaced by a better one. Taped to the window is artwork from the tiny patients who pass through here every day, many of whom are afflicted with things far worse than my daughter’s broken pancreas. Though Molly’s diabetes is incurable (and let’s all pray that will change), it is manageable. Medical science has come a long way, and I at least have the comfort of knowing she can lead a somewhat normal life. For some of the children who colored these pictures, that’s not the case. And that makes staring at them much harder.

What kind of a world do we live in where children are stricken with disease and die? Where the most innocent of people suffer? It seems so unfair. So…wrong. We all have a right to live. A right to grow and learn and love, a right to create a life for ourselves and find our God-given purpose. But that’s just not going to happen for some of these children. What’s worse is that many of them realize this.

But I’m puzzled. Confused by the knowledge that though many of them know the realities of their lives, they are still joyful. These crayon-scribbled pieces of paper do not convey a sense of despair, but of joy. These are not obituaries, but love letters to life. Rainbows of every color shoot across the pages of many. Sunshine beams down on brightly greened grass. Flowers sprout and grow in fields of golden hues. Stick figures smile and laugh and hug.

These are pictures of lives embedded in eternal Spring.

Pictures drawn and colored by children who may be dying, but who are more alive than I am.

True, their innocence may be protecting them. Many can’t process what’s happening to them and don’t feel the need to question or blame. What they don’t know can’t hurt them.

A blessing, I think, in this case. To be ignorant of life and death.

And then I spot in the middle of the display a small sheet of paper. Written in pencil are the words of a twelve-year-old girl named Sarah. Words that make me question just how ignorant these children really are, and shame me with both a smile and a tear:

“The world is a beautiful place and everyone should shut up and enjoy it once in a while.”


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13 Responses to “The Sign (by Billy Coffey)”

  1. Beth in NC May 18, 2009 at 7:28 am #

    >I didn’t know your daughter had diabetes Billy. I’m sorry to hear this. I know it must hurt a father’s heart when you can’t “fix” it for her.

    I can hardly compose myself at hospitals. I often take my Daddy for his treatments and I just want to wrap up people in my arms, lay hands on them and pray. My mercy and compassion makes it so painful.

    You’re right about children. We live in a fallen world, not what God had planned for us. God bless these precious ones who face life and death choices.

  2. Annie K May 18, 2009 at 8:06 am #

    >I think Sarah is smarter than most adults…(!)

    And I don’t know if we’re to understand it Billy. I think God just wants us to have faith that He has it under control. (I do pray for your little Molly!) (You know how bad I want to say by golly after her name? Because I imagine she IS a Molly, by golly!) 😉

  3. Helen May 18, 2009 at 9:43 am #

    >I am sorry Molly has diabetes. I too hope for a cure, and am glad that she can look forward to a somewhat normal life.
    As for the other children, well, there is a lot we can learn from the dying, whether they are children, elderly, or young adult.

  4. Wendy May 18, 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    >Shutting up.

  5. Marni May 18, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    >What Wendy said…

    I’m sorry your little one has to put up with all she does. I’m adding her to my prayer list. But God bless her for living her faith out loud by being joyful when others wouldn’t (that goes for you and your wife too). What a treasure she must be to have as a daughter.

  6. Billy Coffey May 18, 2009 at 2:12 pm #

    >Thanks, folks, for all your prayers. They are much appreciated.

  7. jasonS May 18, 2009 at 6:18 pm #

    >Very, very wise little girl. I need to shut up more.

  8. Anne L.B. May 18, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    >My deepest apologies to Katdish if I offended anyone here with my earlier comment. Being up with a sick kid after three hours sleep can disengage my brain sometimes.

    In Christ,

  9. brad moore May 18, 2009 at 6:46 pm #

    >Great advice from Sarah. Great writing from Billy!

  10. katdish May 18, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    >Anne L.B. –

    Since you have deleted your comment, I will not address the specifics of it. But I read it and was not offended by it. Any words that come from your heart are always welcome here – even if your heart is hurting. We all have such varied life experiences, and when we share those burdens it sometimes gives others permission to do the same. Thank you for your kind words. I pray that your daughter gets to feeling better and that you get some rest.

  11. Anne L.B. May 18, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    >Katdish, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your kind words. I didn’t speak from a hurting heart the first time. I’ve simply dealt with so much suffering and watched so many deaths that I’ve come to terms with all of it as part of life. “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.”

    I sometimes forget to be sensitive about my views though, like when I’m tired and the only praying time I’ve started the day with is a four-year-old (my son Daniel). My heart was hurting when I posted the second comment, because I can’t bear to think I might have caused anyone else suffering.

  12. Joanne Sher May 18, 2009 at 9:01 pm #

    >Sarah is a wise girl. I’m not fond of hospitals either, but am QUITE thankful for them. Praying for your sweet Molly.

  13. Tamela's Place May 18, 2009 at 10:20 pm #

    >WOW! through the heart and eyes of a child.. it’s truly amazing.. For such is the Kingdom of Heaven.. How precious.. we can learn so much from children..

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