She reminded me of Shirley Temple—three years old with a head full of tight brown curls. Ruby arrived in late October with her parents, Heidi and Justin; 18-month-old brother, Emmaus; and newborn sister, Noa—who was on life support in the neonatal intensive care unit at Randall Children’s Hospital. Though I saw her frequently, Ruby wouldn’t look at me and didn’t say a word.
After several weeks, Ruby began spying me warily through my office window. Playing peek-a-boo, she’d turn away the moment I raised my eyes—unwilling for me to catch her looking. Heidi—with identical curls and a charmingly gregarious nature—told me that Ruby had been referring to me as “her friend”—and that she’d been coveting a shiny Ronald McDonald ornament that hung on the wall behind my desk. I told her that if Ruby asked, the ornament was hers.
The child waited another week before timidly venturing into my office. Technically, she didn’t actually ask for the ornament. Rather, she pointed and nodded affirmatively when I alluded to it.
I took it down and handed it to her. That’s when Ruby spoke for the first time—whispering but a single word: Thanks.
It is better, said Gandhi, to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Heidi, Justin, Ruby, and Emmaus went home Tuesday. Sadly, Noa wasn’t with them. They finally got to hold her, though—shortly after she passed away. They were grateful for that.
Through grieving hearts, we can’t help but ask: Why?
There is no answer. But if we can summon a response, the best is but a single word, spoken softly by a three-year-old girl with a head full of tight brown curls: Thanks.
Thanks for what is. As hard as that may be for us to say, our healing truly begins when we’re able to acknowledge the life and love with which we remain graced. As Heidi put it—responding to my tears and not hiding her own— “Now we’re going to go home and just love our children and be thankful for them.”
In the last week of her stay, Ruby began waving as she passed. Once she started talking, she did plenty of that, too. The day before she left, she even let me hold her for a picture.
I’ll cherish my memories of Ruby. As I think of her in the months and years ahead, it will be with a much greater appreciation of this: It is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.
Tom Soma, Executive Director