The news came suddenly, without warning. In the space of seconds, the world contracted, shrinking to the size of a bed and a body.
A moment of carelessness behind the wheel and the life of one young man of twenty-one, and those of his mother and father would never be the same again.
The doctors repaired what they could. He could wake up, they said — in a day, a week, or a month — once the swelling in his brain was reduced. His parents hung onto that “could” as though it were gold.
After a few weeks in the hospital, the insurance money ran out. There was no place to go but home. So Braulio and Maria Jesús brought their son back to the bedroom of his childhood. They cleared the room to make space for the hospital bed, for the stacks of medical supplies they would need to look after the tracheotomy tube, the catheter, the stomach tube …
Braulio took the nightshift, remaining at Braulito’s bedside from seven at night until seven in the morning. María Jesús worked the daylight hours. To her fell the daily chores of changing and washing the bed linens, bathing her man-child, preparing all the liquefied food fed through the tube into her son’s stomach. Both learned the horrors of aspirating Braulito’s breathing tube. A nurse was always on duty, but in this country, nurses knew very little; less than Braulio and María Jesús would be forced to learn almost overnight.
Braulio never lost the hope that his son would wake up. He carried on endless conversations with Braulito, invented ways to exercise muscles even though, slowly but steadily, they lost tone and began to atrophy. Braulio rejoiced in every movement, sound, blink that he sensed in his son. He left the house only to buy groceries and medicine. Maria Jesus left only to sit in the stairwell of their apartment building and cry.
During those first weeks, Braulito’s friends came to visit. But eventually they moved on with their lives. The visits crawled to a stop leaving the couple truly alone.
She knew that her son was dying. However, her husband refused to hear such negative talk, obsessed by his determination that single-handedly if necessary, he would will his son to open his eyes. María Jesús was forced into the isolation of her own private world of grief. Her husband had other sons: Braulito was her only child.
I spent a lot of time in the hallway with María Jesus. I visited Braulito and listened as his father talked to him. I talked to him and prayed with him. Perhaps Braulio was right and the boy was only in a deep sleep, concentrating his energies on restoring what medicine couldn’t fix.
And I made soup: buckets and buckets of soup. My thirty-plus year old blender had never worked so hard. María Jesus froze single portions for Braulito’s meals, using them to augment the baby cereals, yoghurt, and fruit drinks they hoped would give his body and mind strength to rebuild and return to them.
The amazing happened and we had new hope for a miracle, for an awakening. The feeding tube came out and the hole in Braulito’s throat was sealed. We held our collective breath as the boy began to swallow on his own. But he never woke up. Infections came and went. The broken body continued to shrink in its bed.
Eventually my visits to Braulito became fewer. I spent most of my time with María Jesús. We talked about God and the meaning of life — and death. We prayed together and I showed her passages in the Scriptures to help her deal with her fears, pain, and confusion. It was a straw that she grasped, though only temporarily.
One Friday evening, my doorbell rang. It was María Jesus. Braulito was gone. Thirteen months after the tragic accident on the freeway, he slipped into eternity. The image of his twisted skeleton lying on the bed was to make a permanent imprint on my mind.
However, what will always impress me is the dogged determination of Braulito’s parents who barely ate and slept for more than a year; who forgot the rest of the world existed, who made huge personal sacrifices to care for their son.
The only thing they didn’t do was to allow Braulito the opportunity, during his life, to pursue his interest in the only One who could save him in death. That’s the real tragedy of the story.
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