Pigs, Tears and Friends

2:33:00 PM

I'd like to tell you about my friend Sarah. When I found out Thomas was probably going to die, she didn't run away, not knowing what to say. She stayed close to me: she listened, she gave me her time, she cared and she loved.  Sarah has always been a dear friend to me, a real blessing. 

I set out on an adventure across the vast blogosphere. I click on link after link as I hop from blog to blog. And then I stop. I forget I am on a journey and I settle down for a good read. Soon I am engrossed in a story. I laugh. I feel sad. I enjoy. I read another post. I am captivated. Soon I have devoured everything on the page.

Slowly I hop back to my own blog. I look around sadly. I am discouraged. Oh to be able to write like that blog author! All my words seem like straw. My finger hovers over the delete button. Perhaps I should set all my posts free. I could let them fly away out there into the blogosphere and beyond…

I think about the blog I have just left. I remember the warm and interesting characters sketched with a few clever words. And as I am thinking this, an idea is taking shape. Maybe all I need to make my writing more involving is the addition of an interesting character. My mind is racing with ideas. I forget all about the delete button. Already a story is forming in my mind. An interesting character! My friend Sarah! Will she mind if I share her with you? I hesitate for just a second. I think, “Sarah will never know.” She rarely turns on her computer. No, I am free to tell her story.

I have already mentioned Sarah several times before, in previous posts. But only in passing. This story is going to be all Sarah.

I have known Sarah for years. She lives on a farm not too far away from us. Often we visit on a Sunday.

We bump along the long driveway and draw up alongside Sarah’s prize roses. We all tumble out of the van, hot and sticky and there waiting for us, taped to the old battered screen door, is a note:

Elvises. We’ll be back from Mass soon. Go in and make yourselves at home.

We all troop through the door into the refreshing coolness of the house and head towards the kitchen to put on the kettle. And there on the kitchen bench is an enormous blood-stained knife, a huge chopping board and a pig’s head. We don’t bat an eye lid. “Oh it must be pork for lunch,” someone remarks. “The boys must have slaughtered a pig.” Our mouths water in anticipation. We are used to unexpected sights in Sarah’s house. We can cope with a dead-eyed pig without his body, lying on the kitchen bench. We’re Sarah’s friends.

Let me tell you more about the pigs. Sarah's husband, Shaun wasn’t at all sure he wanted pigs but Sarah had other ideas. One day she drove into town to meet a man at the park. Soon she was returning with the family van full of snuffling, snorting little piglets, all running about in panic as they headed off to their new home. Sarah’s pig adventure had begun. So had Shaun’s. He came home from work. It was too late. He was a pig farmer.

Nowadays there are no pigs. Perhaps we ate them all. But there is always something tasty on offer when we drop in for a meal.

One Sunday we were gathered around the table devouring a particularly delicious and tender casserole.

“What sort of meat is this, Sarah?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” was the reply. “Something I found in the freezer.”

After a few minutes thought Sarah suddenly exclaimed, “I know what it is! It must be the goat. She died last week!” We laughed and kept on eating. Goat is delectable. Sarah is delightful. And nothing surprises us about her anymore.

But I remember when I surprised Sarah. I guess it wasn’t a pleasant surprise at all. Many friends would have drawn back and not wanted to be involved. They would have run away from the surprise. But not Sarah. She embraces readily what comes her way. Especially when it is a friend in need.

One morning Sarah opened her front door to find a crying woman with five sad looking children huddled behind her. It was me. “Sarah, there is something wrong with our baby,” I howled. “He’s going to die.”

Now Sarah isn’t the type of woman to panic. I was ushered into the house, given a box of tissues together with a cup of tea. Sarah gave me her full attention and soon I was sharing my heart-breaking story.

Between the tears, I managed to tell Sarah how I’d been for an ultrasound the previous day. “The baby has a diaphragmatic hernia. All the baby’s internal organs have moved through the hole. There won’t be room for his lungs to grow.” No lungs, no ability to breathe independently. He would die. A huge sob arose from the depths of my being at the thought.

Soon I had a lap full of sodden tissues and soon the tissue box was empty. I followed Sarah into the kitchen to deposit the soggy lumps in the garbage bin and then I noticed it. I noticed the table carefully set with the best crockery and glassware and cutlery. Sarah was expecting guests for lunch.

“I’d better be going,” I said to Sarah. “You’re having visitors.”

But Sarah wouldn’t hear of me leaving. She couldn’t bear the thought of me being on my own while I came to terms with my sorrowful news. She invited us to stay and join her for lunch. Now Sarah didn’t rush out the door for more supplies. She didn’t start frantically searching the cupboards for more food. She didn’t panic as I would have done if I suddenly had six unexpected extra guests to feed. She remained calm.

Soon the doorbell rang. Sarah went to the door and greeted her parents.

We all sat around the table. Like the loaves and fishes, the food must have multiplied itself because there was plenty for everyone. Not that I had much appetite. I was doing more crying than eating. Sarah’s mum and dad were marvellous. They showed no surprise that their intimate family lunch had been hijacked by a red-eyed crying woman and her five children. They chatted away to me, ignoring the tears and the tissues and the gulps I made as I tried to keep the crying under control. They looked like they were used to dining with grief-stricken mothers. Years later, I wonder what they could have been thinking but their faces, at the time, betrayed nothing. They were very gracious.

Sarah was a lifeline through the next 5 months of pregnancy. We spent hours on the phone while she listened and I cried and I poured out my heart.

Thomas was born and yes, he didn’t have much lung tissue. He lived 28 hours on life support equipment before dying gently and quietly in our arms.

Sarah and Shaun and their family came to the funeral together with all our other friends and their children. I was overwhelmed to see the church packed as we farewelled our little son.

Later at the wake, as we were preparing to go home, I thought about Andy returning to work in a few days time. I thought about being at home alone with my sorrow and I said, “Sarah, can I come and visit you sometime?”

For months, I journeyed down to the farm, to the safe haven of my dear friend’s home where I knew I’d be enfolded with love and understanding and compassion.

On one of these early visits, I remember saying, “It’s been three weeks, Sarah. It’s not getting any better. In fact, it is getting worse!”

“But Sue, three weeks is such a short time.” And instead of feeling a nuisance for constantly wanting to visit and talk, I felt I could keep coming and I could keep talking for as long as I needed…even if that time stretched out into months and the months turned into years.

I remember when we went to the viewing at the funeral home to say goodbye to Thomas. Sarah wanted to come along too. She and Shaun and all their younger children arrived to meet our little son. She wanted to share Thomas, to see his beautiful little face, to cry with us as we had our last cuddle and gave him a last kiss.

I wrote the following in The Viewing which can be found in my book, Grief, Love and Hope:

One of the families, who came with us to see Thomas, had older children who weren’t present at the viewing. When the family returned home, these children asked their younger siblings, “What did Thomas look like?”

The answer: “Well… like a baby… of course!”

Yes, Sarah didn’t retreat from death. Our dead baby wasn’t frightening to her. She loved him too.

Sarah has been a good friend to me over the years. It is not only sorrow we have shared. So many Sundays have been spent sitting around her table, sipping red wine and mulling over the meaning of life. We have shared so many joyful celebrations as well as the grief filled days. Sarah was there with us last Sunday as Gemma-Rose, her Goddaughter received First Holy Communion.

But Sarah never forgets the sorrowful times we have shared. There is always a card in the post on Thomas’ birthday. She always takes the time to write something from the heart, something that brings tears to my eyes. This year Sarah wrote:

Dear Thomas,
Happy birthday! ... You are such a big boy now, almost a young man, yet already far beyond us in wisdom and love. Pray for us and watch over your family with a son’s love. Keep little G out of mischief! Love from…

My eyes sweep back up to the top of this page and I read what I have written so far. And I realise this story has turned into my story when it was supposed to have been Sarah’s. But somehow I know that can’t be helped. Our lives are so intimately entwined.

I imagine where Sarah is at the moment. What could she be doing while I am tapping away on my computer? I can see her sitting on a Lego covered floor building a castle and making frightening dragon noises as she plays with her young son. Or maybe she is at the sewing machine feeding fabric under its foot as she creates yet another gorgeous dress for one of her daughters. Or she could be outside pruning those beautiful prize roses. Whatever she is doing, she is far too busy living life to have time for internet adventures like me.

So Sarah will never read this. She’ll won’t know how much I love her and value her friendship.

Actually, I think she probably does know. But just to make sure, perhaps you could give her a message next time you see her. Tell her how much she livened up a dull post. Tell her you wish you had a friend like her to write about. Tell her I love her.

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  1. I was reflecting, this morning, during my Rosary, how God sends us the right people just when we need them most and this post says it all. I'm glad you had such a loving friend to support you. Isn't it awesome how God uses our sufferings to show His love for us? Though, I'm sure many of us would rather He loved us less, at times.

    This is a beautiful post, Sue - very warm but sad, at the same time:)

  2. Thank you, Vicky.

    Very warm but sad? We need the warmth of friendship to sustain us through our deeply sad times. I was fortunate to have that.

    God bless!

  3. Sue,
    What a precious gift from God to have such a caring friend like Sarah. This story is a beautiful one and your friend Sarah sounds like a very special woman.

  4. Sarah IS very special, Mary.

    I think that when two people share such a significant and painful experience they are bonded together forever. How can I remember Thomas without also remembering such friends as Sarah?

    God bless!



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