Book Club Channel
The Angel Effect: Read an Excerpt
We were under unimaginable stress. Grabbing a few hours sleep at home one night, I experienced an episode of bioscopic feedback, where the events of the previous days were replayed at high speed. We consulted a minister, a social worker, a psychologist, none of it seemed to help. Some of our friends and family were supportive, my step-mum Jean flew in from Calgary to support us, others apparently despaired over what they could do or say, so said and did little. Many did no doubt pray for James, as did we. Marina was recovering, and she and I visited James together, as did our oldest son. We had plaster casts made of James' hands and feet. Very quickly the situation worsened, and ultimately the decision was taken away from us. I feel I bear some of the responsibility for this, for the delay in our attempts to understand what to do didn't help his chances, if there were any chances. To this day I don't really know.
James was slipping away, as were our dreams for him.
On his last day, I asked the attending physician if we could take James outside, just for a few minutes, but was told that was impossible. I wanted him to experience the warmth of the sun, to hear some birds, to feel a breeze. Instead, he was wheeled from the Critical Care Unit to another room just down the hall. According to the hospital record, "James was extubated while in his parents arms and he died approximately one hour thereafter." How could I describe that hour? A horror unlike any other, certainly. One without any of the consolations that accompany many deaths, such as thoughts of the long life well-lived variety. There were no happy memories to hold onto.
The hour was spent in a room specially designed for a child's death, with the sort of chairs, books on grief, hand-knitted throws, stuffed toys and other accoutrements that psychologists no doubt believe make the experience more comfortable, or bearable, or survivable. I shudder to think of the pain and grief that has been suffered in that room over time. At least we got to hold James finally. Our baby died at 11:11 PM on Thursday June 21.
Marina is a woman of faith, and derived strength from that. Hard as it was on her, and it was terribly hard, she was consoled by the idea that James was somehow in a better place. I admire her for that. I have never had such certainty or conviction, and in fact this experience left me feeling bereft, or abandoned by, faith, so I coped in other ways. I felt James had been denied the only chance he had at life. I was then, and to a certain extent remain today, angry about the situation, the injustice of his short life and his death. As far as I was concerned, the prayers had not been answered. A few days after that, on a sweltering June afternoon, we gathered around a tiny plot in a Toronto cemetery. We had a few words from Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows carved into James' gravestone. It comes from a chapter titled "The Piper at the Gates of Dawn": "Row on, Mole, row! For the music and the call must be for us."
Here's what I said at James' internment:
"We cannot but help ask ourselves. Why this boy?
"We seek the comfort of our faith. But still we ask ourselves: Lord, why this little boy?
"What could this innocent life have done to have earned such a fate: To have received the gift of life, and then have had it snatched back so soon, and frankly, so cruelly?
"And we think of the things that we can now never know: What would James Geiger have made of his life? What kind of journeys would he have undertaken? How would he have loved? How would he have lived, had he been given that chance?