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How We Prepared Our Daughters for Their Baby Sister’s Risky Surgery

74727_2852121116907_768508602_n My wife remembers it all better than I do, and she could tell you about how all it went. The conversation we had with the girls. The Talk.

We’d spoken about Lucy’s surgery at different times with her sisters, usually at bedtime — after storytime and tickletime and joketime and that weird interlude of pell-mell delirium that spikes just before lights out. We never tried to avoid the subject, but we didn’t want it controlling us either. And when it came up, whenever the girls asked about it, it was always in soft and quiet tones we made sure spun seamlessly into prayer.

Missus and I were making small mention of it at different times, gauging one another for the necessity of a talk, sort of realizing we couldn’t feel quite certain we’d adequately prepared Lucy’s sisters for the possibilities of less than perfect outcomes. We were feeling, ultimately, that it would be unfair to them not to. So we engineered a two-part plan, and Part 1 would be The Talk. It would be naturally thorny and unpleasant, but then we’d move quickly on to Part 2: Having an awesome weekend. And we did.

We wanted to do lots of fun stuff together so if the worse happened, the girls would one day have some more fun memories of us as a family of five. We didn’t do anything out-of-the way amazing. We just decided it’d be an anything-goes kind of weekend. Whatever anybody wants to do.  Somebody mentioned bowling. We went bowling. Out to lunch. Many games of Twister. Dance parties. We considered a movie, but there wasn’t a thing playing, so instead we had dinner in the living room watching movies, like the girls love to do.

There were photo shoots. Lots of photo shoots: Lucy in cute costumes, all the girls together in pretty dresses, indoors and out. Lots of treats. If we went to Starbucks, they each got their own small no-coffee Frappuccino instead of one to share. There was at least one Sonic run for cherry Dr. Pepper and root beer or maybe slushes. Sometimes we get the cheese tots.

We did it after school on a Friday, the day after the pre-op appointment. One of those cool, early autumn afternoons. The air soft and mosquito-less. The sky a cavernous blue, striking against the grass, lush for that time of year. I did most of the talking while Missus held Lucy sitting in a white plastic adirondack chair. She had our oldest on her lap also, her head laying back near her mommy’s shoulder. Our middle daughter mostly doddled around us, seeming not too attentive but with one ear on the conversation always. She would chirp up occasionally for earnest clarification and pop over for hugs, but wasn’t letting things distract her too much.

Missus would come behind me occasionally and smooth out the rough parts of my explanations, fill in gaps. In this way we tried to tiptoe the nebulous line between frankness and quiet optimism. Still, our oldest cried some. And then Missus cried some. Our middle one was soon there with more hugs. I can’t explain the look that passed over her when she saw her mother’s tears. It was like she was seeing for the first time something she was certain didn’t exist. A live unicorn, perhaps , right there before her eyes.

What words were actually used it’s hard to say now, two years later. We just explained that the kind of surgery Lucy needed was a serious surgery, a very serious surgery, and that the doctor would be trying to fix the most important part of a person’s body — something that’s hard to do.  Especially hard because it’s so small in babies.

the Pruitts We told them the good news was that doctors had gotten good at doing this and almost always they get it perfect or almost perfect. And if they get it perfect or almost perfect, then Lucy gets to come home and live a good life in a good house with a great backyard with her awesome sisters and parents and with our whole good and loving family.

But we also told them that because it’s so hard to do this kind of surgery, sometimes things don’t go perfect. And if they don’t go perfect, instead of coming home to live with us, Lucy could go instead to live with God, if He thinks that it would be better for her. And we would all be sad about that because we all want Lucy to come home and live with us. And we would miss her, always, and it would be hard for a time. But if that happened, we explained, then we would all have to accept God’s decision. Because truly, if God chooses to have Lucy with Him in heaven, well, then we believe Lucy wins. Lucy wins either way.

This post is part of Greg Pruitt’s memoir-in-progress, On Loving Lucy.

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