Sleeping is not Julianna’s forte. Bedtime is 8 but she rarely falls asleep before 9:45. She has very little movement below the shoulders now, so someone sits at her bedside until she drifts off. Steve and I are supposed to take turns, but I volunteer for most of the nights. I know that my time on this earth with Julianna will be far shorter than I want, so these hours are a luxury.
She needs me to take care of all of her physical needs. I turn her, suction the saliva that she cannot swallow and I keep her clean. She also needs me to engage her mind. It is always active, and she needs to share.
Her physical body is profoundly weak, but, verbally, she is like an elite gymnast. Her words are rich and precise. She uses them to entertain, engage and to show her love. Above all, she wants to be understood. This is harder now. Her disease has also taken away volume and enunciation, but those who invest the time and effort are rewarded abundantly.
Her words about heaven prompted me to submit a story to The Mighty, a site that features many touching stories about people living with disease and disability. Before this, my only attempt at mass communication was the occasional group e-mail. Sharing this story was way out of my comfort zone, but I felt that I needed to share Julianna with the world.
The conversation posted on the Mighty occurred in May 2015, and it was not the first time we talked about heaven. The original heaven conversation took place several months earlier. I remember being overwhelmed by hearing my four-year-old daughter speak about her wish to go to heaven. I thought I was so stunned that I didn’t write it down. (This is how I documented it in my second story for the Mighty, “How Our Daughter Helps Us Face Our Greatest Fear” .)
Happily, this is not the case. As I went through my e-mails in preparation to start this blog, I found the conversation that started everything. It was all in an e-mail.
9 Feb 2015 – e-mail to my mom
Today was a little hard b/c J needed BiPAP so much. And she was upset for the first time in a while – it didn’t last that long, but it’s hard for me to see her upset at all. She said she was upset b/c George licked her foot (he has a rough tongue)… She was OK and playful after she got over everything.
Yesterday we read the heaven book. I’ve been wondering about our plan to take her to the hospital if she gets sick again – b/c it’s even harder now to imagine her suffering. So I decided to ask her. Her answers were fast and clear.
Me: Julianna, if you get sick again, do you want to go to the hospital again or stay home?
J: not the hospital
M: Even if that means that you will go to heaven if you stay home?
M: And you know that mommy and daddy won’t come with you right away? You’ll go by yourself first.
J: Don’t worry. God will take care of me.
M: And if you go to the hospital, it may help you get better and let you come home again and spend more time with us. I need to make sure that you understand that. Hospital may let you have more time with mommy and daddy.
J: I understand.
M: (crying) – I’m sorry, Julianna. I know you don’t like it when I cry. It’s just that I will miss you so much.
J: That’s OK. God will take care of me. He’s in my heart.