Many of you have been following the story about my sister’s death. If you’re new to this blog, I’d suggest you begin here. Child loss is such a complex grief that we could spend hours discussing this pain every day and still come up with the same conclusion: “Child loss is the worst pain that anyone will ever go through. It can’t fully be explained in words — ever. Losing a child is like having your heart broken into a million pieces!”
Carmella was diagnosed with asthma when she was six years old. She had severe asthma — her attacks were brutal. At that time, there weren’t as many medications available to help as we now have, so an asthma attack often meant a trip to the hospital to get immediate help. Any number of things could trigger an attack — even exerting a little too much energy would bring on wheezing and a tightening of the chest making it so hard to get air into the lungs. Of course catching a cold usually meant staying in the hospital for a week or more. A cold often went into bronchitis, and bronchitis went into pneumonia. Asthma is a word that my family grew to hate. We hated it because we saw what it did to this little girl. It ruled her life! She either lived by the rules or she couldn’t breathe.
The doctors remained hopeful, though. If Mellie used extra caution eventually they believed she would outgrow the asthma. So, we hoped. We prayed. If only we can get her into her teens then this misery will end. She will finally be able to breathe!
When Mellie was twelve, she went to the preacher in our church (an Italian man by the name of Aniceto Sparagna) and she boldly told him she wanted to be baptized. Mellie didn’t just want to be baptized. She wanted to be baptized now!
As custom had it in the church, the preacher always had a bible study with a person before baptizing them to make certain that they understood the committment being made. So, that afternoon Mellie and the preacher studied. She kept telling him, “I want to be baptized NOW!” She wasn’t waiting to study in two weeks or two days. She insisted that they study that afternoon. She might have been little in size, but she was mighty in power! She made her intentions clear! “We can study, but I want to get baptized today!”
Mr. Sparagna was a brilliant bible scholar. I honestly believe he thought my sister wasn’t ready to be baptized yet. She was twelve, but due to the asthma her growth was stunted so she wore a little girl’s size 8 in clothing. She looked about 7 or 8 years old — very, very tiny. But, I know that something extraordinary happened on that day!
I will never know the exchange that went on between Carmella and the preacher, but I do know when they walked out of his office, he was holding her hand and he said, “This young lady wishes to be baptized today and she is ready!”
That very day my sister was baptized! She was so happy! Honestly, she looked like a little angel being immersed into the water.
Later on that night after a full day of so much excitement, I asked her why she got baptized so fast. We shared a bedroom, so we always spent at least an hour talking before falling asleep. “You never told me you wanted to get baptized. How come you did it now? Why didn’t you wait until dad and grandmom and grandpop could have come to see you?”
“Because I needed to get baptized today. I’ve been thinking about it for a while and I knew today was the day I had to get baptized.” And, that was that. She made it clear to me that she knew what she was doing!
Four weeks later Carmella Lucca, my sister and best friend in all of the world, had an asthma attack that was her worst ever. She was taken to Hammonton Hospital and kept there for ten days. She was sent home for one day — her thirteenth birthday. Then a decision — the hardest decision my parents were ever faced with — was made.
Mellie’s asthma attack was so severe that it left her weak and on oxygen for several days. During that time the doctors told my parents that her heart and lungs were so damaged from so many asthma attacks that she could not survive one more spell like that. So, upon the advice of the doctors, a decision was made to send Mellie to live by the ocean in Atlantic City in hopes that some healing might occur and that she would live to see the time when she would “outgrow” the asthma.
We sobbed hysterically as we helped Mellie pack her bags to go stay at the Betty Bacharach Home by the Sea in Atlantic City – a place situated right on the ocean where she could smell the fresh salt air all day long. She looked so small and so alone. Yet she was so brave. God, was she brave! I just know that the angels of heaven were standing at the big iron gate with her the day we said good-bye.
Every day with her away seemed like a month. The days were horrible — nights were even worse. We missed her so bad. But, we held on to the hope and prayer that the salt air would heal her asthma! We daydreamed constantly about the party we would throw her on the day she came home!
That day never came. Six months and thirteen days later Carmella’s life ended when she had her final asthma attack.
I believe she knew she was dying. I believe with all of my heart she told our preacher she was dying. I believe she planned her baptism “right now” because she knew the urgency of what was happening. I believe she didn’t share with me because she knew I would not have known how to handle that news. In fact, I still weep over her death. I weep over the fact that she felt she couldn’t talk about what was happening to her. I weep because I miss her so much. I weep because she died away from home and away from all family. I weep because she is not here and our family was never a complete family again after she died!
That little girl with the big brown eyes and the beautiful smile was ready for heaven. Was it a premonition? Did she feel her body failing her? Did God give her a peaceful understanding of what was happening? We’ll never know for sure — not in this life.
But this I do know. Losing a child leaves a huge hole in the middle of our world. The void is one that can never begin to be filled. Our lives are never, ever the same again. A special part of me died the day Mellie died and that part of me will always be missing until the day we meet again in heaven.