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To me, God and death are intertwined because I found God when I first experienceddeath in the hospital ward at Southern, and then I faced God every time one of my babies diedwhen I worked in the ward for severely handicapped babies. Let me tell you a bit more about mywork because that job is responsible for the person I've become. At first, I welcomed having ajob, any job, because it filled my days and was something to look forward to. Without a job, Iwould have sat around with nothing to do, like many of the residents. I would have spent mydays sitting in the day room or on the ward or in the corridors, just staring into space. The poorpeople without jobs had no stimulation so they stagnated or even regressed. If you don't use

whatever intelligence you have, it rots and you get dumber. So many people at Southerneventually became better and better candidates for institutionalization. Believe it or not, in a waySouthern State School for the Feebleminded caused mental retardation.The residents at Southern were put to work, not to stimulate them, but to save the statemoney since no one was paid. And remember we worked seven days a week, eight hours a day,56 hours a week so we did more work than one paid 40 hour worker. When I first started in thebaby ward, I just did the dirty work. I changed diapers, cleaned up vomit, washed the kids,turned them to relieve their bed sores, changed their clothes, changed their sheets, anddisinfected everything in sight. I was a fast, thorough worker and never said no to any task thatwas given to me. I was a model worker. I smiled all the time and eagerly accepted anything I wastold to do. After a while I was given more responsibility, like feeding the babies. They couldn'teat solid food so they had to get all their nutrition from bottles. The nurses wanted me to prop thebottles, but I refused. By that time, I felt comfortable enough in my job that I could stand up tothe nurses. We finally worked out a schedule where I fed some of the babies one bottle a day. Icouldn't get to all the babies in one day because it took so long to feed a baby just one bottle andbecause of my other responsibilities. So for about 20 minutes a day some of the babies hadhuman contact. I rocked in a rocker as I fed them and sang or hummed or talked to them. Ididn't really know any lullabies so I sang songs I heard on The Hit Parade. I sang Mr. Sandmanand A Slow Boat to China and Getting to Know You. I avoided Elvis Presley songs, like HoundDog, even though they were the hottest songs of the day. I didn't think the babies cared how highthey were ranked on The Hit Parade. Most of the time, I just hummed these songs because Icouldn't remember the words. Some babies made eye contact with me when I held them, and Iknow they responded to me. Even those who didn't make eye contact molded their bodies tomine so I know they were responding to me in their own way. There were a few kids whocouldn't be held because their heads were too big or they were too twisted so I fed them in theircribs. But even with these kids, I sang to them and gently stroked their hands or their heads as Iheld their bottle. The nurses were always hurrying me to finish up because I was wasting time. Ijust ignored them. I think in their hearts they knew I was doing the right thing. Another job I waseventually given was putting salves and medicines on the kids' sores. Most of the kids had diaperrashes or bed sores or eczema that became open, oozing lesions. Sometimes when I touchedthem, they jumped with pain, and sometimes they cooed at the soothing of the salves.

At first I enjoyed my job because it was something to do. But quickly, it became morethan a job. It became a source of gratification because I realized that in my own small way I washelping these babies. I was making their lives just a tiny bit better. I was adding one grain ofsand to the beachhead of making the world of Southern State School for the Feebleminded abetter place. And my job became the reason I fell in love with myself because every time I didsomething for my babies, I did something for myself.

As I became more and more a part of the staff of the baby ward, I was givenresponsibility for helping the kids when they got sick, and that was a lot of the time. When theyhad high temperatures, I bathed them or sponged them to cool down their bodies. I learned howto tell if kids were sick by feeling their bodies or by looking at their stools or urine or by justlooking at their faces to see if they were showing any changes. Even though they were severelyhandicapped, they did show changes in facial expressions. You had to look at them carefully tonotice. I also learned to interpret their sounds. A lot of them moaned or made guttural sounds allthe time. After a while, I learned to differentiate sounds for pain. I would tell the nurses of anychanges I saw so they could be followed up by them or a doctor. Sometimes they ignored what Itold them, and sometimes they followed through and looked at the kids. They didn't send sickkids to the hospital even if they were contagious. There was a special room next to the nurserywhere babies were put when they had something contagious, but even this attempt at isolationdidn't stop sicknesses from traveling like wildfire from baby to baby. In those days no one woregloves and no one washed their hands so hands meant to help turned out to be the means fortransmitting diseases.

Occasionally, I criticized some of the attendants and even the nurses because they treatedthe babies roughly, especially when they changed their clothes. I told them that they were hurtingthem, but they said that they couldn't feel pain. How wrong they were! Every one of those babiesfelt pain. Although their senses of hearing and seeing were impaired, their sense of touch, theirtactile sense, was not. They felt hot, cold, sharp, dull, and pain. But most of all, they keenlysensed the softness of a caressing touch.

Let me tell you about the nurses and the attendants who worked on the baby ward. Noneof them, not one of them showed any affection toward those babies. They treated them like non-humans. They never really looked at the babies or talked to them. They viewed me as an oddball

because of my treatment of the babies, but I think some of them might have felt a twinge of guiltthat they weren't treating them better, but they didn't change. I've thought long and hard abouthow people who worked with such needy babies didn't respond with more feeling, but I've nevercome up with an answer. I know they worked at Southern because there were no other jobsavailable to them, but I don't understand how they couldn't respond to them as humans. I hid myanger when I heard workers talking about their feelings for animals. One nurse took in stray cats,and even slept with them. She risked getting fleas and who knows what else by putting her bodyclose to a mangy, filthy stray cat. How disgusting! She would never think of sleeping with one ofthe babies who was clean and couldn't scratch her. Another woman took in the runts of piglitters as house pets. She named them and fed them from the table. She loved them as pets untilthey were full grown when she slaughtered and ate them. She ate her pets! How cannibalistic!One woman wanted to have her dog stuffed when he died so she would always have him withher. She complained about not having enough money to buy her kids new school clothes, but shehad enough money to stuff her dog. Cuckoo! Cuckoo! These people showed more kindness toanimals than humans. Don't get me wrong, I like animals and I think they should be treatedhumanely, but they're still animals. The word human is embedded in the word humane. H-U-M-A-N. H-U-M-A-N-E. So it seems to me that all humans, even ones with no measurable IQs,deserve to be treated humanely.

The hardest part of working in that ward was coping with the deaths of the babies. Ifound God when I faced death with the people in the hospital ward, and I again found God everytime I faced death with my babies. But this was different. I knew these babies. I saw them everyday. I fed them. I kissed them. Over time, a number of them died. In fact, I would say that morethan half died within a year or two. It wasn't from neglect, or I don't think so. It was from theirsevere medical problems. I don't know if better medical treatment would have saved more lives.Either medical treatment wasn't available for their problems at that time, or if medical treatmentwas available, it wasn't made available to them. Remember, to most people these babies werevegetables.

Ruth was the first baby I lost. She had spina bifida, hydrocephalus, and constant seizures.When I came in one morning, Ruth's crib was empty. The nurse told me that she died during thenight. I was overcome with grief. I couldn't stop sobbing. The nurse told me that I had to control

my feelings or I'd have to leave. I stopped crying and did my duties until lunch time. As I wasleaving for the cafeteria, I asked the nurse where they took Ruth, and she responded that therewas a cemetery someplace on the grounds. I never saw that cemetery then, but I did a few yearsago. What an experience that was. I'll tell you about that later.The first child who died in my arms was Freddie. He had pneumonia and wasn'tresponding to antibiotics. I watched as his temperature skyrocketed to 105. His breathing waslabored and the nurse said that he would die soon. I took him out of his crib and rocked him inmy arms until he died. I didn't tell anyone when he passed so I held my dead Freddie for a while.I said prayers over and over until the attendant took him away. I knew that my prayers helpedease Freddie's way to heaven. I had a vision of God with His arms open welcoming Freddie witha kiss. After God touches His lips to Freddie's forehead, he is no longer handicapped. Hisgnarled body straightens. His stone face becomes animated with a huge smile. His mutenessturns to language. "Hello God." He takes God's hand and toddles off into the far reaches ofHeaven to live happily ever after, for eternity. I know you'll think I'm some kind of fanaticalmystic, but I really did feel God's presence when I witnessed a baby dying.Whenever I held one of my dying babies, I silently recited prayers that I had memorizedfrom the Bible. I didn't say them aloud because I thought that the attendants might make fun ofme. Those prayers are still with me and always will be because they guide my life. I started offmy silent funeral service with the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew:Blessed are the poor in spirit;

For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn (and that was me mourning my dying baby)For they shall be comforted (and God did comfort me as I gently rocked a dying baby).Blessed are the meek;

For they shall inherit the Earth.

Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness;

For they shall be filled (and that was me - my need for comfort was met by God).Blessed are the merciful;

For they shall obtain.

Blessed are the pure of heart; (and these were my babies)For they shall see God (I really believe that when they died, they went up to Heaven andsaw God).

Blessed are the peacemakers;

For they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake;For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And then I said the 23rd Psalm which guided me then and still does. I followed that upwith the beautiful verse from Ecclesiastes about how there is a season for everything. A time tobe born and a time to die. This was the children's time to die, but it came too early. But maybe itwasn't too early because they were going to a world that was much better than the world theywere living in.

I believe that good people, like these innocent babies, go to heaven, and I stronglybelieve that someday I, too, will go to heaven because I have devoted my life to doing what isgood, what is right, what God commands me to do. As I die, God will kiss my forehead and thenHe will take my hand and lead me to heaven. I know that sounds childish, but that beliefcomforted me then and it comforts me now. I was a teenager, and yet I had to cope with deathon a regular basis so I thought long and hard about the meaning of death and what happens to usafter life. I couldn't accept death without God. For me, there is no explanation for what happensto us in life and what death means unless we invoke God as THE EXPLANATION. Death andGod are not what most teenagers think about. I didn't think about typical things teenagers thinkabout, like who is going to the prom with whom, what color should my new sweater be, whichmovie I should go see. No, I thought about death and the afterlife. I became an adult at a very

young age. First, I had to cope with being a sex slave, and then I had to cope with death. Notexactly your average kid's life.

My experiences with death at Southern never left me. They made me comfortable with it,and not fear it. To me, death is part of life. It's the continuation from a known existence to a new,unknown existence - a new adventure that we can't know about until we step over the thresholdthat divides life from death. Two years ago when Judy's husband Leo died, I helped the familycope with their grief. I also faced my own grief because I dearly loved Leo. He was the firstperson I loved to die. He saved Judy's life, and he also came to my rescue when I was desperate,when I was at the lowest point of my life. Leo's daughter, Monica, is an oncology nurse and wasimpressed with how much I helped the family at their time of sorrow. She suggested I become ahospice volunteer. I was totally taken aback since this was something I never considered. I putthis out of my mind until about six months ago when I mentioned it to Charlie. He thought it wasa great idea because of my experiences at Southern. So I signed up for hospice training. I'malmost finished with it, and am looking forward to starting my volunteer work, but I have toadmit, I feel a lot of apprehension. I'm worried about doing the right thing until I remind myselfthat there is no one right thing. There are a number of right things.It's strange how differently Judy and I reacted to God when we were at Southern. Judywas an atheist. She could not believe in a God who allowed a place like Southern to exist. Shecould not believe in a God who stood by and did nothing to stop injustices, like the attendantwho made the sick woman lick the vomit off his shoes. She could not believe in a God wholocked people up for no reason other than there was no one on the outside to take care of them. Idon't know how she was able to develop her positive outlook on life and her kindness withoutGod. Where did it come from? Are some people just born optimists, no matter what happens tothem, no matter where they live? But I do know that if I had been an atheist at Southern, I wouldnever have been like Judy. Instead of kindness in my heart, I would have had indifference in myheart. I might have become like the attendants and viewed the residents as non-humans. Iwouldn't have cared about them or about anyone other than myself. I would have becomeselfish, only concerned about my survival. Or, instead of indifference in my heart, hate mighthave taken root. I might have become a cruel person who wanted to strike out and hurt thepeople around me even though they weren't responsible for where I was.

Over the years, I've thought a lot about God's existence in places that are hell on earth soI've read some books about people who survived concentration camps during the Holocaust.Being in a concentration camp was the ultimate hell on earth. Some people who survived kepttheir faith in God even after seeing the smoke of their loved ones rising from the chimneys ofAuschwitz, and some rejected God because they felt He had rejected them by what He hadallowed to happen. I've never been able to figure out how some people were able to find God,and others could not. What was it about them that made it possible for them to find God in hellon earth? What was it about me that made it possible for me to find God in my hell on earth?After we left Southern, Judy changed her view of God. She fell in love with Leo who wasa devout Catholic and a deep, deep believer in God. She knew he would never marry her unlessshe adopted the Catholic faith so she did. But along the way, she fell in love with God as well asLeo. She found God through his family, especially the love of his two children. She converted toCatholicism, married in the church, has always gone to mass on Sundays, and has been involvedin all social and benevolent aspects of the church. She had her son baptized in the church. It'sfunny because now we argue because I'm not attached to a church, and she feels that I should beif I am to show my love of God so we're back to arguing, but in a very different way than weargued when we were at Southern. I feel that God is in church, but more importantly He's wherehe's needed. He was needed at Southern where He cared for His children's souls. He was neededin the concentration camps where he helped people die in peace. I know that soundscontradictory. How could God be in these awful places? But He is and that is our challenge - tobelieve in Him despite the cruelty and ugliness and evil in the world. I believe in God despite theEileen Reillys and Jack Millers of this world.

I don't want you to think that I'm a religious fanatic because I talk about God all thetime. I'm doing this so you'll understand how I was able to find peace after the horrors of mychildhood. I don't share my religious beliefs with other people very often, and I think somepeople might be surprised to find the passion I have for God. I don't try to convert anybody tomy viewpoints, and I resent when people try to convert me to their interpretation of God. To me,God is personal. He is my constant companion. I talk to Him all the time and He talks to me. Wetalk about the little, everyday things and the big things, but it always comes back to the bottom

line. God commands me to do what is right and to love my fellow man and I obey Hiscommandments.